Stars-Pens deal debunks myth

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:08 PM ET

After a brief respite for some bad uniforms and bad ice in Calgary at the Heritage Classic, the NHL has resumed its regular programming.

Which is to say "24/7: Trading Places."

The Dallas Stars finally got their hands on the offensive defenceman general manager Joe Nieuwendyk had identified as a top priority earlier this season when he obtained Alex Goligoski from the Pittsburgh Penguins Monday. The price wasn't cheap as he gave up forward James Neal and defenceman Matt Niskanen.

What makes this deal different from the vast majority of the trades we have already seen go down in the runup to next week's deadline is this is a "hockey" trade.

This isn't a rent-a-player type deal we see so often at this time of year, or a shedding of salary. It's the exchange of young players who conceivably fit into their new club's longer-term plans.

This should stand out as the argument to all those statements by general managers who insist they can't make a "hockey" trade any more because of the salary cap.

Goligoski is just 25.

Niskanen is 24.

Neal, who is on the cusp of being legitimate power forward, is the youngest guy in the deal at 23.

They are all under contract for next season. The Stars earned some cap space in the deal, losing Neal ($2.87 million) and Niskanen ($1.5 million) and taking on Goligoski ($1.833 million). In real dollars, Neal gets a bump to $3.5 million next year and Niskanen to $1.75 million while Goligoski will make $2.75 million.

So, the Stars have saved about $2.5 million in cap space. Maybe that helps a bit in signing potential free agent Brad Richards, though the Stars had been running about $6.4 million under the cap before the trade, according to Capgeek.com.

The Stars had been looking for a good, young, puck-handling defenceman for most of this season and, according to one QMI Agency source, had set their sights earlier this season on Los Angeles Kings defenceman Jack Johnson. At that point, said our man, the Stars were dangling the likes of Neal and possibly Loui Eriksson (really?) or Jamie Benn (more like it).

From the Stars' standpoint, they obviously felt they had lots of depth among their young forwards and could afford to part with a potentially good player in Neal and a depth player in Niskanen to address their need for an offensive defenceman.

Niskanen, the Stars' first-round pick in 2005, has been looking like a guy who might not live up to his draft status. He was the Stars' sixth defenceman (less than 16 minutes a game) and had just six assists this season.

The Penguins had to reluctantly part with Goligoski, who was second on the team in defenceman scoring, but with the likes of Kris Letang and, to a lesser extent, Paul Martin, they still have players around to provide points from the blueline.

"Alex is a legitimate top-four defenseman who will have a positive impact on our entire corps of blueliners," said Nieuwendyk on the Stars' website. "He has averaged over 20 minutes per game and can play in all situations."

With 21 goals, Neal becomes the second-highest scoring player on the Penguins, who have seen their forward ranks ravaged by injury. Their three top-scoring forwards have been out, so Neal's arrival will help immediately and he looks like a guy who could thrive beside Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, whenever that opportunity presents itself.

You can bet Penguins general manager Ray Shero, who's been crafty at the trade deadline, isn't done, though the rumours of an imminent deal to acquire Alex Kovalev from the Ottawa Senators might be premature. There was some discussion earlier this season, according to one source, but no discussions between the two sides lately.

In light of Monday's development, something else might have had Shero's attention.

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/CJ_Stevenson


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