Of Mortgages and Futures, by Russell Davis
When my wife and I purchased our home on a 30-year mortgage we discussed the upgrades we would make and things we would fix and I said the key was to spend our money wisely and, things being as they are with real estate, to do these fixes and upgrades as though we are going to live here for five years or thirty years.
That’s what I see in the James Neal and Matt Niskanen for Alex Goligoski trade. None of these young players are rentals. Neal and Goligoski can be both short term boosts and long term investments that pay off big in the end.
Dallas Stars GM Joe Niuewendyk did Neal a real favor here and traded him to a real contender and did a smart thing by trading him to the East. The chances of these two teams meeting in the Stanley Cup Finals are very slim. Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero did no one any favors as the Stars are struggling to remain in the hunt for the second-season and until injuries start to heal and the defense improves, they may find themselves on the outside looking in for the third year in a row. Goligoski is meant to be that improved defense. That’s some pressure to put on the 26-year old. However, Goligoski will have plenty of opportunity to show what he’s capable of as part of Dallas’s defense.
Pittsburgh and her fans will be getting in Neal what may be in the next couple of years one of the last remaining power forwards (unless of course things change and with hockey they always do, in which case Pittsburgh may have on their hands one of the most seasoned power forwards) in the league.
But anyone who’s been watching Neal knows how incredibly streaky he can be. He’s big, fast and has hands and we’ve all seen him score and score well but he’s amassed only 3 game-winning goals and has put together several goal scoring droughts this season including two, 10-game streaks without scoring a goal. Some Pittsburgh fans will at times find themselves frustrated with James Neal but at the same time most fans will forget he’s not scoring in bunches by the way he plays and camouflaged by his linemates and their productivity.
For Dallas, the hole left by Sergei Zubov since his 46-game season in 2008, has never been filled. The Stars have not been able to fill it with home-grown drafted talent like Daley and to a degree, Niskanen and has never budgeted for it; instead opting for inexpensive players and their potential like Karlis Skrastins and Jeff Woywitka.
Joe Nieuwendyk though is not without criticism here as the need for a top-two defenseman and/or power play quarterback has been glaring, he has instead opted for, as mentioned, inexpensive talent and to trade for goalie Kari Lehtonen late last season without trading soon-to-be UFA goalie Marty Turco, and passing on the remaining top talented defensemen in last year’s draft again opting for, albeit talented, another goalie in Jack Campbell.
Alex Goligoski is to be that top talent and eventually, as Dallas Stars commentator Darryl Reugh put it, “the Zubovian Man,” if not in deed, then definitely expectation.
As for Niskanen, neither Nieuwendyk nor Shero did Niskanen any favors. Niskanen has had some trouble staying in the lineup this season on a defense rife with what most would consider second-tier and second-but-mostly-third defensive pairings on one of the lowest defensive payrolls in the league. Goligoski who has managed to score plenty of points with Pittsburgh’s 15th rank power play unit, struggled to find his place in a deep Penguin blueline corp. This will be a very tough challenge for young Niskanen to find a way to stay with the club and make an impact or this might be the near-end of his so-far brief career. Because no one is doing Niskanen a favor, the next step in his career will depend solely on him.
Looking at this simply; the future, as the term goes, has not been mortgaged.
Burying the Lead
No one wants to be accused of “burying the lead” as it were and lost in the Neal and Niskanen for Goligoski trade may be the most-shrewd maneuver of all by Nieuwendyk and that is the trade in cap space.
Some people know and some might not yet be aware that come trade deadline one of the most valuable commodities a club can have is cap space. The more cap space you have, the better your chances of taking on a top-talented player from a team that can no longer afford two or three players making franchise money; see also Brad Richards trade.
In this situation however, we have a team in Pittsburgh that has the space to take on Neal and Niskanen’s prorated cap hits because of Malkin’s season-ending injury but next season Niskanen’s $1.5 million and Neal’s $2.8 million cap hits are being exchanged for Goligoski’s $1.83 million cap hit; a $2.5 million savings.
We live in a pre-Copernicus time on a Richards-centric orbit where the Stars revolve around him. Everything we see the Stars do, we ask ourselves how this will affect the re-signing of Richards. I don’t believe it’s a big mystery to anyone but if this club is going to have any real shot at winning the Stanley Cup again in the next few years, it will hinge on Richards and his roster status: Is he on it, or not.
To the end that we know the future of the club will depend on whether or not the Stars will get a new buyer, we know the Stars have been green-lighted to negotiate with Richards by the current ownership group. Was this a salary dump to make room? Was Neal a “cap casualty?” (Which is difficult to say considering they aren’t close to the cap currently.) If he was, how does Richards feel about that? How does Neal?
We may not know all or some of the answers for sure until everything is said and done. There are multiple options here for speculation but in the end, the Stars will be lighter $2.5 million in cap space next season and that could potentially be the difference in re-signing or not the Stars fans’ lynch-pin of hope.
Richards will be the subject of a lot of speculation between now and the trade deadline and potentially through the end of day July 1 (and not much after that, I’m sure) and whether the Stars are playing in April and beyond will have everything to do with that but this trade and its effects, will help the Stars both short term and long.