Revisiting The James Neal Trade

On the heels of yesterday’s news that the Pittsburgh Penguins have re-signed their star power-forward James Neal to a six-year, 30 million-dollar contract, I thought I would revisit the trade that brought Neal to the Penguins in the first place. I considered calling the blog “Bad Trades, Revisited,” but I wanted to save the suspense that comes with unveiling my opinion for the fourth line of the blog.

That’s right, I believe the Dallas Stars should have never traded James Neal (and Matt Niskanen) for Alex Goligoski. It’s pretty simple: a top-line sniper, especially a top-line power forward, well, really you shouldn’t trade them at all, but if you are going to trade one for a defenseman, a top-line sniper should equate to a #1 defenseman, or a good #2 at worst. Just like a second-line forward equates to a “top-four” defenseman, usually meaning a #4 – #3 type of guy. The Stars mistake was in trading a top-line power-forward for a “top-four” defenseman in Alex Goligoski instead of a “top-pairing” guy.

Now I know all these hockey terms can be confusing, and maybe that’s where the misunderstanding happened for Dallas’ management team, but… Oh, wait, what is this I’m hearing? Dallas’ GM is an ex-hockey player? He knows the lingo? In that case, there is no excuse.

To be fair, most GMs make the mistake of overvaluing their players time and time again; it seems Joe Nieuwendyk’s “rookie” mistake as GM was to do the opposite. Just a really costly mistake for the franchise, especially when Nieuwendyk had to know his top-line center Brad Richards would probably walk in unrestricted free agency at the end of the year. At the time the Stars had one of the best top-six forward groups in the league, but it doesn’t matter who you are, when you lose two of your top three-four guys up front, it’s going to destroy your forward depth. Obviously you won’t have as many top-six guys left to produce, and even the guys who are left are stuck with worse line-mates, with more of the opposition’s focus aimed squarely at them.

Joe Nieuwendyk’s mistakes aside, Jamie Benn is developing into one of the best forwards in the NHL, period, and Michael Ryder was a very good signing (as I predicted it would be) to help replace some of the production lost in Neal and Richards. I’m also still a fan of the Sheldon Souray signing, but he really needs to pick it up. We saw what he can do early in the season, when he was on an absolute tear; problem is, he’s not doing it anymore!

Overall, the Stars are an average team in the West again. Last year they had a better top-six forward group, and much worse depth passed that; now it’s the opposite, their lower-line depth improved while their top-six declined, but the end result is the same: Dallas still would not be good enough to beat most teams in the playoffs if they even made it.

What they needed to do was fix their depth problems in the bottom-six while it still would have mattered, back when they also had a good top-six, and then they might have been able to keep the improved roster together after having success and earning playoff revenue. See, an Eric Nystrom-like waiver pickup would have really helped… last year… But Joe Nieuwendyk didn’t seem to understand that, and here we are. Stars fans just have to hope that their owner will allow and encourage Nieuwendyk to pursue some big fish free agents in the offseason.

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Written by Shark Circle

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