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2011 NHL Trade Deadline: Trading James Neal Makes Sense For Dallas Stars

We knew it was coming, but I figured most of the crazed trade talk when it comes to the Dallas Stars would revolve around Brad Richards.

Instead, this morning we were hit with a rumor from a substantial news source saying that the Stars are possibly discussing a trade that would involve James Neal in return for Alex Goligoski from the Pittsburgh Penguins. As expected, this has set the Dallas Stars fan world into fits as many feel that trading Neal for a player like Goligoski is definitely not in favor of the Stars.

I'll leave the merits of that specific trade rumor along, especially since I believe there would be more to that trade anyway. It's impossible to truly judge a trade until it's completed and official.

Instead, I wanted to touch on something that was a bit surprising to me: Stars fans feeling that James Neal is a vital part of the future of the team and close to "untouchable", and if traded would need to net a player much more impressive than Alex Goligoski.

The fact is...James Neal is possibly just not as good as we had all hoped he would be and there's a good chance that his value will never be higher than it is right now.

More after the jump.

James Neal, in theory, is a power forward with a sniper-esque wrist shot who is adept at "finishing" plays, taking advantage of the scoring chances created by his linemates. He's a big body, he skates well and he has a wicked wrist shot that is accurate, deadly and has the potential to be one of the best in the NHL.

Neal took the Stars and the NHL by storm three years ago when during his rookie season he was one of the most dynamic and exciting forwards we'd seen in a very long time. Not only did Neal score 24 goals that first season, but he was one of the hardest hitting and physical forwards the Stars had seen in years. 

The problem is, Neal hasn't exactly lived up to the potential he showed that first season. Last year he played with Loui Eriksson and Brad Richards to form one of the most offensively dynamic top lines in the NHL, scoring 27 goals in 78 games. The numbers look good, but once more we return back to the "potential" he displayed early that season. 

In the first few months of the 2009-10 season, Neal was off to a torrid start and looked as if he would threaten 40 goals. He was physical and more than any other player on the ice was capable of taking over the game with his powerful forechecking and playmaking ability. There were times as if he'd play like a player possessed and appeared to be capable of spurring the Stars to success all on his own.

Unfortunately, those few months were all we had. Since his suspension early that season, Neal has been nothing but a shadow of his former self. 

We keep talking about his "potential" as a game-changing power forward, based on those flashes from near two years ago, yet the Stars cannot wait forever. He has 21 goals this season and is on pace for the most goals of his career, but once again you wonder just how much that production is a product of playing with Brad Richards and not so much his individual ability as a forward to create -- and finish -- scoring chances on his own.

Stars fans talk about Neal as a "vital piece of the team's future" and a player the Stars should build around in the future. If that were the case, then he should be more than capable of stepping up and shouldering more of the load when things get dicey and especially if the team is dealing with injuries.

In the 11 games since that great start in January, he has just one goal and two assists. There are times when Neal appears to be invisible on the ice and more than at anytime during his time in Dallas it's looking more and more like he relies on Brad Richards and Loui Eriksson more than we ever realized. 

There have also been many times during this season when Neal has disappeared, even with Richards and Eriksson on the ice.

Let's not kid ourselves, either. James Neal has shown himself to be more of a one-dimensional forward than we ever thought. He's not exactly the best backchecking, defensive forward the Stars have and when you play the system the Stars do, the ability to backcheck is more important than ever. If Neal were much more consistent a goal-scorer and more able to create offense on his own, then those shortcomings could be overlooked. He's not, so it's impossible to overlook what he's not doing and as of now all we have is talk about his "potential".

All of this isn't to say that Neal is not a good player. He's a very good forward and he's certainly a top-six forward in the NHL. 

Right now, however, his value is still high around the NHL based on two years ago and the potential everyone says he still has. Teams would love to have a hard hitting, power forward with sniper abilities on their team -- especially if they have a capable center to pair him with. 

This is why Neal's name has come up more than any other player when it comes to trade talks surrounding the Dallas Stars. I guarantee you that of Eriksson, Jamie Benn, Tom Wandell and Steve Ott the Stars see Neal as much more expendable -- especially considering his potential value in a trade for a defenseman.

James Neal is a fan favorite, mostly based on what we saw from him his rookie season and the start of last year. Since then, all we talk about is "potential" while we wait for the old Neal to show back up. There's a very likely chance that Neal's value will plummet as he continues to struggle to create offense on his own and now more than ever the Stars are looking at the highest value they'd get for him.

Of all the forwards the Stars could use in a potential trade, James Neal makes the most sense. He has fallen from untouchable status to expendable while the rest of the NHL still covets the potential he brings to the table. If you think about it, a player like Goligoski in exchange for Neal makes sense and to expect anything more in return is asking way too much.

Whether it's in a trade for Alex Goligoski or any other defenseman, Stars fans should be ready to deal with a trade that sends Neal packing.