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Pens manage multiple concerns with trade

3/24/2011

PITTSBURGH -- So once again Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero jumps from the horns of a dilemma and lands if not in the clover, then pretty darned close.

Without former NHL scoring champ Evgeni Malkin for the rest of the season and with captain Sidney Crosby out indefinitely with a concussion, Shero had to wrestle with how to improve his team short-term should Crosby return for a playoff run but without squandering assets should Crosby's injury keep him out of the postseason and thus limit the team's chances of a long playoff run.

Bingo.

Monday afternoon Shero added a big, talented young forward in James Neal from the Dallas Stars along with defenseman Matt Niskanen in exchange for offensive defenseman Alex Goligoski.

All three players are signed through next year and, while Goligoski has turned into a valuable point producer, Shero was dealing from a position of strength along the blue line with Kris Letang having a season worthy of Norris Trophy consideration and last summer's free-agent acquisitions Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek anchoring one of the top-rated defenses in the league.

Clearly the Pens' needs were up front, where they have been decimated by injuries, most notably to Crosby and Malkin.

What Shero managed to avoid in this deal was giving up young assets for a rental player.

Neal, 23, was the 33rd overall pick in the 2005 entry draft and has 21 goals this season, although he did go through a stretch recently in which he went without a goal in 10 straight games.

Neal scored 24 times in his rookie season and 27 in his sophomore season and will play top-six minutes for the Penguins.

"His best years are ahead of him," Shero said after the deal was announced Monday.

Niskanen, 24, has also shown some offensive pop, producing 35 points in his sophomore season in Dallas. The Virginia, Minn., native's numbers have fallen off the past two seasons though.

Shero said Niskanen will get a chance to get back on track offensively in Pittsburgh.

From the Stars' perspective, GM Joe Nieuwendyk was able to address a glaring need -- point production from the back end. Goligoski, a swift-skating defenseman with 31 points, instantly becomes the Stars' leading point producer along the blue line with five more points than Stephane Robidas.

Goligoski, a regular on the Penguins' power play, should aid in that area as well as Dallas' struggles to stay in the top eight in the tightly packed Western Conference. The Stars have gone 1-7-1 in their past nine and were tied for eighth heading into play Monday.

Shero said he'd been fielding calls on Goligoski, a Penguins prospect, for a couple of months but wasn't interested in moving him unless the right forward became available. Shero believes that player is Neal.

While the Stars look to be life and death to make the playoffs let alone go on a long playoff run, the Penguins' future is much more interesting.

If Crosby comes back to the form he was at the time of his injury, given the team's strong defensive play and goaltending and now the addition of a strong scoring winger, the Penguins would be considered once again a Cup contender.

Without Crosby in the lineup that outlook changes dramatically and makes the trade deadline trickier for Shero.

While Monday's deal satisfies immediate and long-term needs, Shero may not yet be done.

"I've got a little idea," Shero said. "But based upon Sid it's hard to make a determination because I just don't know.

"I have no inside information on Sidney Crosby and when he's coming back."