Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Shero works magic again

By Jeff

At the rate he's going, Pittsburgh Penguins General Manager Ray Shero will have a street named after him in this town.

The man was at it again yesterday. In case you haven't heard, the Penguins traded friend of the blog, Swan... er, defenseman Alex Goligoski to the Dallas Stars for 23-year-old winger James Neal and 24-year-old defenseman Matt Niskanen yesterday.

I haven't really seen Neal or Niskanen play, but this deal has me excited for a number of reasons.
Neal has Pens fans excited,
 even if they've never seen him play.

The team is still playing for this season despite a season-ending knee injury to Evgeni Malkin and a potential season-ending concussion to Sidney Crosby. They could have packed it in and used the trade deadline as a time to bolster the team for next year, but I don't think that's what this deal is about. Both players the Pens acquired in the deal are signed through next year, which is great, but I think it'd be foolish to think Pens are only looking to the future with this move. Neal will instantly improve an offense that has lacked a viable scoring option from the wing this season. With the way the defense and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury are playing, the boost Neal provides might be all the team needs.

As for who the Pens are giving up, it's not that big of a loss. The Pens didn't need Goligoski. He was the fifth defenseman on one of the best defenses in the NHL. Shipping him does not hurt the unit as a whole when you consider their top four d-men are still here and Simon Despres is on the way soon. Goligoski is a solid offensive defenseman who does well on the power play and moving the puck up the ice quickly. He is kind of a liability on defense at times and he is not capable moving big bodies off the puck. He will be missed, but he's replaceable.

Niskanen is just an afterthought in this deal. The former first-round draft pick has a measly six assists this season, is said to have confidence issues and tends to be a liability on defense. Sounds like a poor man's Goligoski. There are already rumors that he could be a part of another deal Shero is planning. 

If the Pens add another scoring winger to this mix, the team could make some noise in the playoffs this year even if Crosby doesn't come back. There are constant rumblings that Shero is targeting Alexei "I refuse to call him Alex" Kovalev from the Ottawa Senators for a low-round draft pick. The move would reunite Kovalev with the club he had his best seasons with. Granted, that was when Kovalev was a lot younger. The potential reward, especially if Crosby returns, would greatly outweigh the risk.

Of course, Shero knows a lot more than me and he might not agree with that assessment. Either way, I trust Shero to do what's in the best interest for the Pens.

As for the future, I really like this move. Neal could be that winger to grow with Crosby that this team has lacked since they drafted Crosby. Imagine the fits the Pens would cause other teams if Crosby had someone finishing his plays on a consistent basis. It's scary.

Neal will be a cap hit of around $2.8 million next season, which is a little more than Goligoski's $1.8ish million. But with Neal filling the need for a scoring winger, players like Max Talbot, Tyler Kennedy and Pascual Dupuis become expendable. I love Talbot and Dupuis, but the Pens are not going to be able to resign these guys unless they take some major discounts.

On paper this looks like a great move for the Pens. On the flip side, I'll hurt myself if Neal turns into Alexei Ponikarovsky.

Belle & Sebastian - Expectations

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