Originally written on Red Light District Hockey  |  Last updated 11/12/14

MONTREAL - JANUARY 24: James Neal #18 of the Dallas Stars skates during the Honda NHL Superskills competition as part of the 2009 NHL All-Star weekend on January 24, 2009 at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Canada. (Photo by Dave Sandford/Getty Images)

At the end of last season, it looked like Dallas got the better of their mid-season trade with Pittsburgh. Alex Goligoski was a perfect fit with the Stars, while James Neal really struggled after his move to the Steel City. However, when you look at the trade now, Pittsburgh could have gotten the upper hand.

When the Pittsburgh Penguins acquired forward James Neal from the Dallas Stars last February, many in the hockey community were surprised Dallas would give up on a player previously considered to be an 'untouchable'.
After all, the burgeoning young power forward was a key contributor to a Stars offense that was struggling to score goals, finishing in the bottom half of the Western Conference in goals scored last year. With the knowledge that they had no realistic chance of re-signing pending unrestricted free agent Brad Richards, it was indeed a gutsy move on the part of GM Joe Nieuwendyk. He saw the lack of a puck-moving, offensive-minded defenseman as a major shortcoming on his club, and Alex Goligoski fit that bill.

Goligoski, the Penguins' second-round selection in the 2004 draft, is an excellent skater, moves the puck well, and excels at the point on the power play. Nieuwendyk saw him as a good fit.

The need for the Penguins to replace a portion of the offense lost with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on the shelf for such an extended period of time with major injuries was obvious. Head coach Dan Bylsma had done an excellent job of holding things together in the aftermath of such key losses, keeping his squad in contention for both the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference crowns through the extreme adversity. But it was evident that at some point, additional goal scoring from a patchwork roster of forwards, which contained a large number of call-ups from their Wilkes Barre-Scranton farm team, would be a necessity.

GM Ray Shero also picked up Matt Niskanen in the deal to take Goligoski's spot on the Pens' blueline. There was no need for Niskanen to come in and take on a role that he couldn't fill, as Pittsburgh already had the all-everything presence of Kris Letang.

Even though at the time the consensus was that Shero had gotten the better of Nieuwendyk, sometimes trades have a way of taking time to show their full impact.

Goligoski thrived in his new surroundings, scoring five goals -- three while on the power play -- and 15 points in 23 games. Once thought to have no chance to qualify for the postseason, Dallas made a mad dash for the finish line. They got themselves into a win-and-you're-in situation on the season's final day, only to drop a 5-3 decision to the Wild in Minnesota.

The beginning to Neal's time in Pittsburgh didn't go nearly as well, as he managed only one goal in the 20 regular games after the trade. When he followed that up by scoring just once and adding an assist in a seven-game first round loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, it appeared that maybe he wasn't such a good fit in Pittsburgh, after all.

That's why getting off to a good start this season was so imperative for the 24-year-old Whitby, Ont., native. And he has done just that. Neal scored five times in his first six games, and his nine goals in 12 games currently places him tied for first with Toronto's Phil Kessel in the early stages of the NHL's goal-scoring race.

Dallas signed free agent defenseman Sheldon Souray over the summer, and with his booming shot from the point on the power play, has assumed much of the offensive responsibilities for the Stars' corp of blueliners.

Neal has been skating with Malkin and Steve Sullivan, making up the most-productive forward unit the club possesses. It remains to be seen if Neal will continue to play on Malkin's flank if and when Crosby returns, but in either scenario, he should get a ton of scoring opportunities. As he continues to blossom in his role with the Pens moving forward, the Stars' second-round draft pick in 2005 (33rd overall) could eventually push the boundaries of 30-40 goals in a season.

The trade appears to have worked positively for both sides, as they both sit atop their respective conference standings. But who should be considered the winner in this trade?

The old adage regarding sports trades is that whichever team acquired the best player wins the deal, and Neal would certainly seem to be the gem of this transaction. Add in the fact that Niskanen (12 games, 1 G, 3 A, 4 P, +3) has actually outscored Goligoski (10 games, 1 G, 2 A, 3 P, -4) thus far in the early going, and the pendulum has swung in Pittsburgh's favor -- for the time being. Any trade should be judged over the long-term, and this trade is only in the neighborhood of 30 regular season games old.

But it sure is looking good for the Penguins so far.

Photo credit: Getty Images

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