The President's Day holiday didn't prevent the Pittsburgh Penguins and Dallas Stars from conducting some trade business, as the Penguins dealt defenseman Alex Goligoski to the Stars in exchange for winger James Neal and defenseman Matt Niskanen.
Earlier in the day there were reports the two clubs were talking trade but when the deal was announced it came as a surprise to many observers, with the general consensus being the Penguins "fleeced" the Stars by landing both a quality scoring winger along with a depth defenseman for a good young blueliner.
Yet the suggestion the Stars "overpaid" for Goligoski, spurred by panic over their free-fall in the standings, appears an unfair assessment.
While Neal is only 23, in the midst of his third consecutive 20-plus goal season and has the potential to become a 35-40 goal scorer the Stars are already deep on left wing with Brenden Morrow, Loui Eriksson and the promising Jamie Benn, who's two years younger than Neal and also more affordable to retain than Neal, who's currently earning $2.875 million per season through to the end of next season.
Given the uncertainty over the Stars ownership situation, management still has to consider its budget for the next season or two, and with Neal eligible for restricted free agency next summer the possibility existed a rival club could swoop in with an offer sheet too expensive for the Stars to match.
Benn meanwhile is on the second season of his entry level contract earning over $821K, meaning a raise could be much more affordable for the Stars than one for Neal.
Niskanen, 24, was once considered a promising young mobile blueliner by the Stars based on his 26- and 35-point performances in 2007-08 and 2008-09, but he's struggled since then, falling to only 15 points last season and only 6 this season.
It could be a case of too much, too soon for Niskanen, who could settle into a more comfortable spot on the Penguins second defense pairing and rediscover his game without the pressure and expectation to be an offensive anchor on the blueline.
Moving Niskanen also removes his $1.5 milllion per season salary from the Stars' books for the rest of this season and all of next.
Another factor is the uncertainty over Brad Richards' future with the Stars. He would prefer to stay (he has terrific chemistry with Eriksson) and management hopes to re-sign him but of course much will depend on their ownership situation and their budget going forward. Any amount of savings they can find now could make the difference in their attempts to retain Richards.
This move addresses the Stars need for a skilled puck-moving defenseman, which they've been seeking since last summer. In 60 games this season with the Penguins the 25-year-old Goligoski has 31 points and is on pace for a career-best 42 points. He also has 4 game-winning goals this season.
It's possible his numbers could fall a bit moving to Dallas but they do have a considerable number of scoring forwards who could benefit from Goligoski's breakout passes.
He also comes with a more affordable $1.833 million per season salary through the end of next season.
This move also can be considered a bit of a "shakeup" for the struggling Stars, who've fallen from third overall to eighth in the Western Conference and are in danger of dropping out of the playoff race.
As for the Penguins, GM Ray Shero has not only addressed a need to bolster his offensive depth, it appears he's finally found that scoring winger to compliment team captain Sidney Crosby, plus he replaces Goligoski with an NHL caliber defenseman.
In the short term this deal favors the Penguins, but it could have benefits for the Stars on the ice and going forward with their budget this off-season.