I'm going to make this one short and sweet.
I could go and look up a wealth of advanced stats and metrics to help determine just what sort of season Alex Goligoski had for the Dallas Stars in 2013, but in the end those won't really factor much into this conversation. This is about perception vs. reality vs. expectations.
There's no doubt there has rarely been a player for the Dallas Stars as polarizing as Alex Goligoski, who has now essentially played two full seasons with the Stars after he was acquired from the Penguins in 2010. He will likely forever be linked to James Neal's success in Pittsburgh, no matter how much people want to forget such comparisons, and as such has had some wholly unrealistic expectations placed upon.
So let's forget about James Neal and the trade and focus on Goligoski the player, and his rollercoaster of a season in 2013.
The Dallas Stars put a number of young and inexperienced defensemen on the ice in 2013 and Goligoski struggled with the changing roles and challenges associated with such an endeavor. Expected to help lead these young players forward, Goligoski did not fare so well with the added defensive responsibility that came with being paired with a young player and essentially found himself far from the comfortable role in which he is most successful.
These struggles led to Glen Gulutzan scratching Goligoski for a game, which created some major headlines at the time. Would the Stars trade Goligoski? Was this the most disastrous trade of all time? Would he ever recover and be the sort of player the Stars expected he was acquired just two years prior?
While the offense on the power play never truly developed, Goligoski found some consistency and some confidence as the season progressed. Perhaps the healthy scratch worked, not so much in "sending a message" to the young defenseman as it was an opportunity to take a step back and regroup and regain the level of play he showed when he put up 15 points in 23 games the season of the trade.
Goligoski finished the season with three goals and 24 assists, which put him among the top ten defensemen in the league in helpers for the season. While he'll never be confused with a shutdown defensemen in his own zone, Goligoski found a good chemistry with Brenden Dillon in the final months of the season that allowed him to free up his own play moving the puck up the ice.
Unfortunately, Goligoski arrived with the expectations of a power play quarterback that could solve all of the Stars' offensive problems on the blueline. Forget James Neal and forget the need for the next "Sergei Zubov" defenseman; Goligoski, when he is confident and playing in the role in which he is best suited, is still an impressive puck-moving defenseman with above-average skill and a booming shot from the point.
There's no excuse for the puck gaffes committed throughout the season, but there's no doubting on a balanced defensive group Goligoski is still an incredibly valuable player. Until some of the prospects show the ability to produce at the NHL level, he remains the lone offensive weapon the Stars possess on the blue line and will remain the key to the transition game moving forward.
The big goal of the next coaching regime is to find out how to best maximize the potential that Goligoski possesses. When he first arrived in Dallas the pressure on his shoulders was considerably lower and you could see those heightened expectations weighing on him the first few months of this season. Let's hope this season, as it should be for many players, was a valuable learning experience for a player who is better than the sum of the 2013 season.