Much of the attention on yesterday's trade has been focused on James Neal and the impact he'll have on the Pittsburgh Penguins. While I'm excited for Neal and the opportunity he'll have in Pittsburgh, the truth is that he had likely reached his peak in Dallas. For whatever reason, he wasn't able to get past the "potential" talk of the past few years and was way too inconsistent to be as effective as those around the country seem to think he is. This is likely a case of where a change in scenery will do him some good, as it's been very clear that the past few months he's been frustrated and just wasn't evolving into the player he could be.
That's not the Stars' concern any longer. Whatever Neal does in Pittsburgh should not be a judgment on the merits of this trade, as he's making the only step up a player can make in teammates -- going from Brad Richards to Sidney Crosby.
Instead, whether this trade is truly a success or not depends on just what sort of impact Alex Goligoski has on the Dallas Stars.
More after the jump.
After the trade there was plenty of talk about how Goligoski is just a 5th defenseman who gets easy minutes and doesn't play against top competition. He'll certainly be facing some tougher opponents in Dallas, but it's important to look at where he was playing in relation to the rest of the team he was on in Pittsburgh. Goligoski was playing behind Kris Letang, Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek and still was able to put up some impressive offensive numbers.
The Dallas Stars do not have any defensemen of the caliber that the Penguins boast and while it is true that Goligoski was a 5th defenseman on the Penguins that doesn't exactly mean that's all he is as a defenseman in the NHL.
On the Dallas Stars, he instantly becomes the second best defenseman on the team and is the highest scoring defenseman the Stars have. No matter what sort of role he may have had in Pittsburgh, this is the upgrade the Stars were desperately needing and he provides the offensive boost we've been waiting for.
One of the concerns about Goligoski is that despite his offensive capability, he's not as well rounded defensively as many would like. He's struggled as a young player in his own end and while that is certainly a concern for the Stars, Goligoski has been improving defensively the past few seasons and that is one reason why Joe Nieuwendyk was looking to make this trade.
"I've watched a number of games and our scouts have kept a close eye on him. He's improved in that area," Nieuwendyk said. "He's a smart, heady player. He's only going to get better with strength and experience. I feel that's not going to be an issue."
Goligoski is not Stephane Robidas and we shouldn't expect any great defensive plays on a regular basis from him. What we should expect is a player that can move the puck up the ice in transition, sees the ice well, has great skating ability and has a great shot that he's becoming more and more comfortable in using. He's a very smart player who uses his head more than his body and will make smart decisions with the puck, springing his teammates for prime scoring chances from the back end as well as being able to jump up in the play and provide offense on his own.
More importantly, he has a knack for providing game changing plays at the right time. Four of his nine goals this season have been game-winning goals.
In short, Goligoski is a player that the Dallas Stars did not have. He is the defenseman they've needed and his addition on the blue line should provide a balance on defense that we haven't seen in a very long time in Dallas.
I know that many comparisons will be made to Sergei Zubov. While Goligoski is certainly not on his level as a total defenseman, the impact he can have on the Stars should be very comparable. Goligoski's ability to provide offense from the blueline and push the puck up ice is very similar to that of Zubov's and the sort of impact the Stars have been searching for ever since the veteran left for the KHL.
Goligoski was not at the morning skate today so there's no word yet on just who he'll be paired with. With Nicklas Grossman still out with a hip injury, the speculation is that he could join Stephane Robidas on the top pairing until Grossman returns. No matter where he is placed, there is no doubt that his presence allows the rest of the Stars defensemen to ease up a bit and not feel as much pressure to provide the offense the Stars were desperately needing.
Over the past month, as the offense has sputtered we've seen the defense start to fall apart. Trevor Daley and Stephane Robidas have not been having the impact we enjoyed early in the season and it seemed at times the defensemen were pushing too hard to provide offense and sacrificing defensive responsibility in order to do so. The addition of Goligoski should alleviate that pressure and allow Daley and Robidas to relax and return to the comfort of the level of play they are capable of.
Robidas, more than any other player, should benefit the most from the trade. Goligoski will ease the burden from Robidas of being the #1 defenseman and having to be more offensive than he is really capable of. Robidas is asked to play top minutes in nearly every situation and the Stars best defenseman was suffering from having so much pressure to perform at a consistent level that he is unable to sustain over the course of the season. When Robidas was at his best was when he wasn't asked to be the absolute top blueliner for the Stars: he had Phillipe Boucher and Mattias Norstrom and while Grossman has certainly improved, Goligoski provides the balance that Robidas so desperately needs.
It's on the power play where we'll most feel his presence. The Stars have been looking for a true "power play quarterback" for two seasons now and while Brad Richards is great he can't do it all on his own. This is Goligoski's specialty and while he'll have the opportunity to provide more minutes at even strength, this is where he is most needed.
It's important to remember that the Dallas Stars didn't trade for a 30-year old defenseman that is a seasoned veteran where you know exactly what to expect. Goligoski is just in his second full season in the NHL and at 25 years of age is still growing and improving as a player. While his addition provides an instant boost to the Dallas Stars on defense and on offense, the fact that he still has all the potential to become better as a player should be more exciting that most fans realize.
It's also important to say that Alex Goligoski is not the cure-all that the Dallas Stars need. He's a valuable addition that will provide great balance on the blue line, but the Stars still need at least one other defenseman -- a big body that can punish opponents in front of the net would help -- but this was a move the Stars needed to make and Goligoski provides a caliber of player the Stars have not had in some time.
The only question that really matters, however, is just what number he'll wear in Dallas.