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Pens trade Goligoski

| Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2011

For the second time in three seasons the Penguins have traded a young puck-moving defenseman for a scoring-line winger to complement one of their cornerstone centers.

The question now is if left wing James Neal, acquired today from the Dallas Stars, will have to wait until next season to play with either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin.

A season-ending injury to Malkin and the unknown status of Crosby wasn't enough of a deterrent today for Penguins general manager Ray Shero to hesitate on trading his second-leading scoring defenseman, Alex Goligoski, for Neal and defenseman Matt Niskanen.

“A lot of teams have called about Alex in the past couple of months,” Shero said. “I made it clear I wasn't looking to trade him. Our defense was playing well as a group. That was the strength of our team along with our goaltending.”

Added coach Dan Bylsma after the Penguins' 1-0 loss last night to the Washington Capitals: "(Neal is) the kind of player we've been looking to add for a while. His name didn't come up in the last week. He's been on our radar a while."

The potential for Neal, 23 and already with 72 goals in parts of three NHL seasons, to become a long-term power player on the wing was simply too great for Shero to ignore when Stars general manager Joe Nieuwendyk brought up Neal's name a few days ago.

“There's not many of these young power guys in the game,” Shero said of Neal, who is 6-foot-2 and 208 pounds. “He's one of better ones in our opinion. The chance might not be there again.”

Nieuwendyk had been seeking a puck-moving defenseman, and Goligoski said he knew if the Penguins were to make a trade that he would “be one of the guys.”

“It's just kind of with the way the team was set up in terms of strengths and needs,” he said.

Goligoski was part of a stout five-man core of defensemen along with Brooks Orpik, Kris Letang, and offseason acquisitions Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek. Only Goligoski, 25, was set to enter the final season of his contract, which would have counted $1.83 million against the Penguins' salary-cap total.

He was the Penguins leader among defensemen with nine goals and his 31 points were second to Letang at the position.

Neal and Niskanen, 24, each have one year remaining on their respective contacts. Neal's salary-cap hit is $2.875 million, and Niskanen counts $1.5 million.

Neither Neal nor Niskanen will be available for the Penguins for a home game tonight against the Washington Capitals.

Niskanen will likely slot into the No. 5 defense spot previously held by Goligoski. He described the last two seasons with the Stars as “a little bit of a tough go.”

“I'm excited for a fresh start,” said Niskanen, who began his NHL career in 2007 with a 26-point season and followed with a 35-point campaign.

He has six assists this season.

“Things just went well for me early, but a tough start last year just seemed to snowball and I've just been digging my way out since,” he said. “When I'm effective I'm really moving the puck well, getting involved in the attack. I pride myself on moving the puck and taking care of the little things.”

That description fits the style of defensemen Shero prefers.

Shero said he will “let the dust settle” on this trade, but did not rule out making other moves before the Feb. 28 deadline. He acknowledged the team has enough remaining salary-cap space to consider other offers, and described this transaction as “a hockey trade for now and down the line.”

Shero declined to provide the Penguins' remaining salary-cap space.

Injuries to several key players – notably Malkin (right knee), Crosby (concussion) and left wing Chris Kunitz (lower body) – have depleted the Penguins of offensive punch. Those three players have combined for 65 goals, and the Penguins are also without a 10-goal scorer in rookie center Mark Letestu (left knee).

Malkin and Crosby each are on the long-term injury list, thus keeping their respective $8.7 million cap hits off the Penguins' books. Malkin's $8.7 million salary will stay off because he won't play again this season, but Crosby's status is uncertain because he continues to experience symptoms from a concussion.
He hasn't played since Jan. 5.

Shero declined to comment on if prospect left wing Eric Tangradi, out with a concussion, was part of talks with Dallas.

The Penguins are believed willing to part with Tangradi, 21, who was once their top forward prospect.

Tangradi was acquired two years ago along with Kunitz from Anaheim in exchange for defenseman Ryan Whitney. Ironically, Goligoski's quick development that season as a rookie led the Penguins to believe Whitney was expendable.

The development of Letang, signed to a four-year extension late last season, into a Norris Trophy candidate made moving Goligoski easier on Shero.

“He's certainly he's taken another step,” Shero said of Letang. “He was not at the level his he is now.”

Star turns

A look at the newest Penguins -- left wing James Neal and defenseman Matt Niskanen -- who were acquired Tuesday from the Dallas Stars for defenseman Alex Goligoski:

James Neal

Age: 23

Height, weight: 6-2, 208

Shoots: Left

Contract status: Expires after next season

Salary-cap hit: $2.875 million

This season/career: 21 goals, 39 points, plus-8 in 59 games/72 goals, 131 points, minus-8 in 214 games

Notable: He has never played in the Stanley Cup playoffs. ... He has scored 11 goals and is a plus-6 on the road this season.

Quotable: "He's got the skill to make plays as well, but really he likes going to the net and getting those dirty goals - but if he gets open ice in the offensive zone, he can score from anywhere." - defenseman Matt Niskanen

Matt Niskanen

Age: 24

Height, weight: 6-0, 200

Shoots: Right

Contract status: Expires after next season

Salary-cap hit: $1.5 million

This season/career: 0 goals, 6 points, minus-1 rating in 45 games/16 goals, 82 points, minus-5 rating in 277 games

Notable: He has been minus-27 since finishing his rookie season with a plus-22 rating. ... He fought center Sidney Crosby in a game at Dallas on Nov. 3, 2010.

Quotable: "A change might be good for him. We have a good coaching staff here and pretty positive people. We're all U.S. guys, so good for Matt. Hopefully he can get back to where he was earlier in his career." - General manager Ray Shero


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