Dallas Stars Acquire Alex Goligoski: Was James Neal Worth It?

RALEIGH NC - NOVEMBER 29: Brad Richards #91 and James Neal #18 of the Dallas Stars celebrate Neal's first period goal against the Carolina Hurricanes at the RBC Center on November 29 2010 in Raleigh North Carolina. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Today the Dallas Stars traded for defenseman Alex Goligoski, sending James Neal and Matt Niskanen to the Pittsburgh Penguins. While Neal's name has been mentioned more than a few times over the past few months, it's easy to say this trade was certainly a surprise when first mentioned by TSN's Darren Dreger this morning. 

Dallas Stars fans didn't want to give up a favorite like James Neal, especially for a young defenseman like Goligoski who isn't exactly the savior on the blue line that many felt the Stars so desperately needed.

Now that the trade is completed, we have to ask ourselves whether Joe Nieuwendyk received the value in return that he gave up for James Neal. Was it worth it, giving up a young power forward with great upside in return for a defensive with good offensive ability who struggles on defense? 

My initial reaction is that the Stars likely undervalued James Neal too much in order to get a defenseman like Goligoski. If you look at the reaction that is now exploding all over the hockey world. it's apparent that many feel that the Dallas Stars were robbed by Pittsburgh. Was James Neal worth losing for this trade? Right now, it doesn't appear to be the case.

No doubt Ray Shero is excited about what Neal can bring to the Penguins and I have no doubt that Neal will have an impact for a team that is decimated by injuries right now. Unfortunately, Neal was not having an impact on the team he was playing on already -- that itself was decimated by injury. 

That fact alone, more than anything else, is what hurts the most. There's a very good chance that Neal will be the player for Pittsburgh that he never was for the Stars. That right there is most likely the reason Nieuwendyk was trading him. For now, the general consensus is that the Stars were fleeced.

Perhaps it wasn't near as bad a trade as people are saying it is. 

The general consensus around the NHL's media world is that the Pittsburgh Penguins have acquired the power forward they so desperately needed, the "hungry" winger that can be paired with Sidney Crosby to become a 40-goal scorer in no time at all. Consider these tidbits:

From the Globe & Mail:

Still, the cost was high - and the good news from the Penguins' perspective is that once Sidney Crosby returns, he may finally have a winger to play with. Neal has a little bit of Bill Guerin in him. He is primarily a finisher, and on a Pittsburgh team that is woefully weak on the wing, he will be a welcome addition.

Puck Daddy:

So has Ray Shero finally found a guy that can be consistently productive next to Sidney Crosby? Neal's posted 20-plus goals in each of his first three seasons in the NHL and already Penguins fans are salivated at the thought of him playing alongside Crosby. If Neal could put up 20 goals playing next to Brad Richards, who's to say 35 isn't in reach next to a healthy Crosby?

You also have any number of local media writers, guys who cover the Blue Jackets, the Flyers, the Wild, among others, that are all of the opinion that Ray Shero completely robbed Joe Nieuwendyk and that the Stars should be ashamed of even answering the phone. It's been a near unanimous decision on who "won" this trade and right now the Penguins are looking like gold coming out of the transaction.

Forget the fact that it's impossible to judge a trade before either player even sets foot on the ice for his team, but it's amazing to see just how one-sided the reaction.

All of this tells me just how esteemed James Neal was around the NHL, just how much people who cover the NHL think of him and his potential as a forward and it makes me wonder just how much the Stars could have received in return for Neal if they had only been keen to his true potential.

Of course, the writers covering the NHL don't make these trades. These guys aren't the ones who put the real value on James Neal -- the ones that are running these teams are the ones who determine the trade value of players around the NHL and in this trade James Neal was only worth half of Alex Goligoski.

To be clear, I feel that the Stars did not receive the value they could have for Neal. I wasn't a fan of Neal for Goligoski straight up and I'm certainly not a fan of giving up two players for the defenseman. You have to wonder, however, if this is what Neal's true value really was around the NHL and that this is what Joe Nieuwendyk could get for the winger.

James Neal has been dangled about in trade talks for months now. This is not the the first time that his name has been brought up in rumors and you know that over the past month Nieuwendyk has been shopping around and determining exactly what sort of value Neal might have in a trade. As offensive defenseman began to be traded left and right this weekend, many felt the Stars missed out on a prime opportunity to nab one of the top defensemen that were available.

In the case of Erik Johnson, the Stars would have had to give up Neal and Philip Larsen and even then it might not have been enough. It's very likely that the Stars even proposed that trade and were turned down, although no one has mentioned anything close to that happening.

When you look at the reaction to this particular trade, however, you wonder just how there could be such a difference in the perceived value Neal has and what his actual trade value turned out to be. If Neal were as valuable as many make him out to be, then why haven't the Stars landed a better return before now? You know that the Stars were fishing, determining his worth and now this is what we have to show for it.

Somewhere in there lies Neal's true worth and while I think it's higher than Alex Goligoski, I don't think it's anywhere near as high as most as making it out to be.

You also have to consider the worth that Joe Nieuwendyk has put in Alex Goligoski. Per ESPN:

"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. He's a two-way defenseman that is really going to help getting the puck to our forwards. He is a smart player. I think that's been a big need for us.

"Obviously it comes at a cost. 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. I really feel it is a big need for us. I am happy about acquiring Alex. I've talked to him and he is really excited.

"As far as Matt is concerned, it's been a little bit of trying times for Matt the last couple years. 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."

It's obvious that Nieuwendyk was frustrated with Matt Niskanen and that he felt there was nothing more the Stars could do with him at this point. It's also very obvious that he values the upside that Goligoski brings to the Stars, especially on the power play and it's also obvious that he feels he's a better two-way defenseman than others have made him out to be.

The Stars had a vast need on defense for this sort of player and while he's certainly not the big upgrade many wanted, he's better than all but two defensemen on the Stars and more than has the potential to develop into a top player for the Stars.

If you want to read my specific thoughts on Neal and his value to the Stars, you can read my post from this morning here. The point is that while his overall numbers may look great when first viewed, there is more to playing hockey than how many goals you can score while those around you create the prime scoring chances. While Stars fans are noticeably upset and feel that Neal was most definitely NOT worth the trade that was made today, I saw there is likely a very good reason that Joe Nieuwendyk felt this was the return he could get for him.

Nieuwendyk isn't trading with the fans and he's not trading with the hockey writers of the world. He's trading with fellow general managers who have their own views on players' worth. You also have to consider the fact that a puck-moving defenseman, especially a young one with a low cap hit, is a valuable commodity in the NHL right now. While Kris Versteeg was traded for much more than James Neal, it's very easy to argue that Versteeg is a much more proven scoring winger than Neal has been in just three seasons.

You also have to consider the financial aspects of this trade. By trading Matt Niskanen, along with James Neal, the Stars will save $2.5 million in salary next season. That is not an inconsequential number when you consider who the Stars will be trying to re-sign this summer.

I understand the frustration many Stars fans have in seeing Neal go. Yet when you really think back, when you really analyze his play over the past two seasons, there's no doubt that James Neal is not the player that many think he really is. While the potential is certainly there, he wasn't living up to that potential here in Dallas.

Perhaps he'll turn it all around in Pittsburgh.

Perhaps Alex Goligoski will find the same success in Dallas.

One can only hope.

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