By Tim Benz
You gotta hand it to Ray Shero Penguin fans. He makes the trades you want him to make. In 2007 you asked for a veteran power forward and a fighter. He got you Gary Roberts and Georges Laraque.
In 2008 you wanted Marian Hossa and a big defenseman. Well Shero got you Hossa, Hal Gil, and Pascal Dupuis too. In 2009 you wanted Bill Guerin, and Billy G helped get you a cup.
Heck, earlier that year you demanded a Ryan Whitney trade too. You didn’t necessarily know who wanted in return, you just wanted Whitney run out of town. Well Shero did that to the tune of Chris Kunitz and Eric Tangradi, which seems like a pretty good swap…even if the collective hatred of Whitney was a little too much.
Similarly, Shero has made folks in Penguin country grin in 2011. Once again this year Penguin fans were calling for something…anything…out of Shero as the trade deadline approached. And as was the case with the Whitney move, ten different Pens fans tossed out the names of ten different players they wanted.
Weiss, Stillman, Kovalev, Penner, Perry, Arnott, etc. One name and one name only seemed to be discussed as the player heading out of town: Alex Goligoski.
Well Shero accommodated Monday afternoon. That’s when the Penguin general manager dealt Goligoski to Dallas in exchange for winger James Neal and defenseman Matt Niskanen. The deal was instantly heralded a major success in the microwave analysis of Penguin fans.
Granted, some Penguin fans had no idea who James Neal was before 3:00 Monday. And most of those same people just know Niskanen as some dude Sidney Crosby beat up once.
But most Penguin fans wanted to see their injury plagued front line get help somehow, some way. And they wanted to see GoGo…well, go.
And that’s not really fair to Goligoski. Goligoski wasn’t great. But he was getting better. And he was never quite as bad as Penguin fans made him out to be.
It was just a classic case of the team overselling what they had in Goose when he was a prospect, and the Penguin faithful gleefully lapping it up….until of course they watched him play. It was then Pittsburghers saw how little Goligoski was, how much polish he needed on the power play, and how vulnerable he was in his own end.
Those criticisms got magnified this year when Goligoski had to take on a much greater role in the wake of Sergei Gonchar’s departure. While the 25-year old got incrementally better, defensive partner Kris Letang took off like a rocket by comparison. Letang made the All Star team. And that made Goligoski’s more subtle improvement (I.e. his team best +20) look meager.
But a lot of Penguin fans just hated Goligoski. He was to the Penguin fan base what Willie Gay is to the Steeler fan base. When it doubt, just scream about how bad of a player Gay or Gogo are. You may not be entirely right. But it’s always a safe bet that no one will call you out if you are ever wrong.
“Someday, Alex is going to look back at this day and realize this was something that was best for both teams and probably him too,” said Shero. “He’s going to take on a greater role in Dallas, and he is probably going to get better with increased ice time.”
Goligoski was likely never going to be more than a fifth defenseman here anyway. And the Penguins seem to have more faith in Letang and Paul Martin in the offensive end of the ice. So for that reason it made sense to part with him when Shero knew he could get another fifth D-man back in Niskanen, plus a potential long-term top six forward in Neal.
But Shero insisted it was still hard to send GoGo out west. In part, it was hard to convince his coach this was the right move
“This was something that was very hard for Dan (Bylsma) to get his arms around this. He really liked Alex. I really liked Alex,” said Shero in a conference call Monday. But ultimately the potential return was too much to ignore at the expense of giving up on the wait for Goligoski to turn into the Brian Rafalski clone we were told he would become.
“This was a hockey trade,” said Bylsma. “Both teams think they are going to get better adding a player who could do more for them after the trade. We feel that way about James Neal, and I’m sure Dallas feels that way about Alex.”
Penguin fans are heralding this trade right now. And they probably should. Goligoski was the right guy to deal given Pittsburgh’s depth on the blueline and the money tied up in other players.
But much like with the Whitney trade, the long term grade on this trade won’t be measured on whether or not Penguin fans immediately notice Goligoski’s absence for better or worse. Rather, it’ll be measured on whether or not we notice the presence of Neal and Niskanen.