The Dallas Stars made a move to upgrade their defense Monday, but it cost them one of their top young forwards. The Stars sent defenseman James Neal and defenseman Matt Niskanen to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Alex Goligoski, a skilled 25-year-old blue liner.
"Anytime you do a trade you are trying to make your hockey club better. I think when you add a guy like Alex Goligoski it really improves your defense,” said Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk. “He's a smart, two-way defenseman that is really going to help getting the puck to our forwards. I think that's been a big need for us.”
Goligoski flew to Dallas on Monday and was expected join for the Stars for Tuesday morning’s skate at American Airlines Center. He is expected to play against New Jersey Tuesday night.
Goligoski, a 5-11, 180-pound left shot, played 60 games with Pittsburgh this season, registering 31 points (9 goals, 22 assists) and a plus-20 rating. He had 37 points (8 goals, 29 assists) in 69 games last season. In 177 career games he has 23 goals and 67 assists.
“He’s got puck moving ability, power play presence. He has all that,” said Nieuwendyk. “He makes the right plays with the puck.”
While Goligoski’s offensive abilities are highly regarded, his defensive play has been questioned at times. Nieuwendyk said Goligoski, a native of Grand Rapids, Minnesota, has shown progress in that area.
“I’ve watched a number of games and our scouts have kept a close eye on him. He’s improved in that area,” Nieuwendyk said. “He’s a smart, heady player. He’s only going to get better with strength and experience. I feel that’s not going to be an issue.”
To get the puck moving defenseman he has been seeking, Nieuwendyk had to give up Neal, who ranked third on the team with 21 goals this season and has scored 72 goals in just under three full NHL seasons. He’s hit 20 goals in each of his first three seasons in the NHL.
"Obviously it comes at a cost,” said Nieuwendyk. “You give up a good young player like James Neal, but that's the way these things work - you can't get something unless you give something up.”
Penguins GM Ray Shero said there had been a lot of interest in Goligoski in recent months and that his response had been he wasn’t looking to move the young defenseman.
“In the back of my mind, if I was ever going to move Alex it was going to be for the right forward, and with James Neal I think we’ve found that up-and-coming winger,” Shero said. “There aren’t many of these young, power guys in the game and Neal on our list is one of the better ones in the game. He’s got some room to grow.”
The Stars also gave up Niskanen, who has had his ups and downs and his found himself scratched several times this season.
“It's been a little bit of trying times for Matt the last couple years,” said Nieuwendyk. “He hasn't been able to regain the form he broke into the league with and this is a good opportunity for him to get a new look with another team and hopefully get his career going."
Shero also believes a change of scenery might be good for Niskanen.
“I think the thing with Matt is whether it’s a confidence issue or maybe just a change, (coming here) might be good for him – that’s what I’m hoping,” said Shero. “I think we have a pretty good coaching staff here and pretty positive people. And we’re all (from the) U.S., so good for Matt. So that’s in his favor, so hopefully he can get back to where he was early in his career and help us out.”
Goligoski, who is making $1.5 million this season, will make $2.75 million next season, which will be the final year of his contract. Monday’s move will save the Stars a little money this season and has freed up $2.5 million in salary room for next season’s roster.
The small savings this season could give the Stars some room to make another move. Nieuwendyk would only say he is keeping his options open.
“I’m keeping everything open,” said Nieuwendyk. “There’s still a week before the trade deadline and there’s been a flurry of activity in the league already. GMs are still talking.”