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Pens GM Shero's Transcript Following Neal, Niskanen Acquisitions

by Staff Writer / Pittsburgh Penguins
Below is Penguins general manager Ray Shero's transcript following the team's acquisitions of James Neal and Matt Niskanen from the Dallas Stars.

On how this deal came about:

I had talked to Joe (Nieuwendyk) a little bit over the last month or two about several different scenarios, and he’d expressed some interest in a puck-moving defenseman. And really, probably just about 2-3 days ago we had another conversation where we exchanged names – one being Goligoski and one being James Neal. To me, a lot of teams have called about Alex in the last couple of months and I made it clear to every team that called that I was not looking to trade him. Our defense was playing well as a group; the strength of our team was our defense and our goaltending. In the back of my mind, if I was ever going to move Alex it was going to be for the right forward, and with James Neal I think we’ve found that up-and-coming winger. His best days are ahead of him. And it’s difficult to give up Alex. He won a Cup with us here and he’s a really good young defenseman. So they’re difficult to give up, but getting Matt Niskanen in the deal was also important to us, especially by trading Alex during the season. It’s hard to get defenseman at this time of the year, so we’re looking forward to having Matt join us. He’s a young guy, only 25 years old, and he’s had some pretty good years so far in the NHL.

On how the emergence of the Pens’ young defenseman – namely Goligoski – had them feel comfortable trading Ryan Whitney for Chris Kunitz and Eric Tangradi, and if there was any player development that made him feel comfortable with moving a guy like Goligoski, who was part of that group:
I think the emergence of Kris Letang. He certainly took another step this year. He’s a guy that we’re building around. When we signed his extension last year, he was not at the level he is right now. But we were hoping when we signed him to that (extension) that he would grow into it, which he has. So that’s really important. Obviously signing Martin and Michalek in this offseason to go along with Brooks Orpik I think has given us a strong group here. We’ve got some other young defensemen coming along. But having said that, that’s why getting Niskanen in the deal was very important. He’s another young guy that can play for us right now and help out. So as I said, it’s difficult to give up Alex but there’s not many of these young power guys in the game, and Neal, on our list, is one of the better ones in the game and he’s got some room to grow. So that’s why, when you can get a guy like Neal – if I wait, the opportunity might not be there again. So for both sides – for them getting a puck-moving guy and us getting a power forward and a defenseman – made sense for both teams.

On if the Pens’ injuries changed the way he’s approached the deadline, and when he looks at Neal, who does he think his style complements long-term with on his team:
The injuries have not had a lot to do with who I’m looking at. We’ve had so many guys out – I think 8, 9, 10 forwards, and tonight Paul Martin’s out but hopefully it’s just a day-to-day type of thing – plus, this is a hockey trade that is for now, plus down the line with both these players, so that’s encouraging. And for who Neal might play with, I always say that goes to Dan (Bylsma) and what he wants to do. He can mix and match with some guys. We’ve got some pretty good center-ice men here that when they’re healthy, (Neal)’s going to be able to have a chance to play with and make them all better, I hope.

On if he envisions still being busy between now and Monday and where his cap situation is regarding that:
Cap-wise, we’re still in decent shape. We have some room to continue to look at some pieces that might help us. But we’ll see between now and 3 o’clock on Monday. There’s a ways to go here, and we’ll let the dust settle here a little bit and get together with our coaches and scouts again over the next couple of days and continue to work on it and see if we can get better.

On if there’s any needs he thinks he needs to address right now with the injuries:
I think you’re just looking for good players and if there’s a fit and keeping in mind that you have a cap situation moving forward. So we’ll continue to listen, if there’s something that makes sense we’ll try to do that. I think our group has done a really good job. There’s so many injuries here that the guys that we’ve called up have done a very good job. It’s great to see these guys from Wilkes-Barre get an opportunity and I think our coaching staff has done a fantastic job. I think Dan’s been really good here with our group and both our goalies have been good. We’re getting our points here and there, and with our guys out it’s been pretty encouraging, because their work ethic has been there every night. So I’m encouraged by that.

On if there’s been any discussion about Eric Tangradi in this deal:
I’m not going to talk about other players. Eric’s a guy we inquired about a couple years ago, and he’s made good progress for us. He’s a good player for our organization, so we’re looking forward to getting him back healthy here. That’s what I’m looking forward to.

On how much the unknown quantity of Crosby’s return plays into this:
It’s the unknown, so I’m looking to add different pieces to this hockey team that might make sense short-term and long-term – Neal and Niskanen being more long-term, I think. What might be available between now and Monday, I’ve got a little idea, but based upon Sid, it’s hard to make that determination because I really don’t know. So I think a lot of this goes to what we may want to give up at the end. I haven’t been looking to trade our first-round pick or anything like that at this point, so we’ll continue to try to see if we can improve ourselves by Monday. And as I said, I go back and our team’s played pretty well and hard and we’ve had a good year for ourselves and had all these injuries. Our top-two centers are out, but our coaches and our defense and our work ethic and the guys coming from WBS, they’ve all done a really good job here. But I’ve got to try and give them some help, so the trade itself is a hockey deal. I’m looking forward to Neal and Niskanen adding that into our group here moving forward.

On when they’ll be here:
Yeah, they actually should be here (Monday), so I would hope they’d be on the ice (Tuesday) for practice and be ready to play Wednesday.

On Niskanen’s offensive production having tailed off and what that was a result of, and if he’ll have a chance to play some PP time here like where Goligoski played:
I think so. That’s the great question. He started off as a 20, 21 year old in the league, had two real good years offensively and was a real plus player. I know he played with a couple guys that were here in (Philippe) Boucher and (Darryl) Sydor, and I know he played alongside (Sergei) Zubov for a while. He’s a righthand shot that can play the left side, which he might have to do here. He’s a guy that can play in the second unit on the power play or the first unit if he has to. He can shoot the puck a bit and can kill penalties; he did that earlier in his career. So I think the thing with Matt is whether it’s a confidence issue or maybe just a change, (coming here) might be good for him – that’s what I’m hoping. I think we have a pretty good coaching staff here and pretty positive people. And we’re all (from the) U.S., so good for Matt. So that’s in his favor, so hopefully he can get back to where he was early in his career and help us out.

On if both teams making moves that have ramifications for the long run is a coincidence with the league’s other big trades leading into the CBA:
You’re seeing a lot of these (trades) you don’t usually see, especially well before the deadline it seems. There’s been a lot of hockey deals here. I’m not sure (about) the CBA, at least in this deal (it) never came into consideration. It was really a hockey trade. As we all know, Pittsburgh is looking for good wingers or whatever, and this seemed to make sense for us. I’m really not sure. I think every team’s a little bit different and I think we’ll see a lot more of these rental players go here between now and Monday, obviously. Now some of the games go with some of the teams still vying for position, but I think this is really somewhat out of the ordinary for all of these hockey deals to happen during the course of the season.

On if he made the deal assuming Neal fits in for the long run:
Absolutely, and that’s the reason to do the deal for us. Neal is signed for another year and we know what the money is. And we have an idea as to who might be available come July 1 free agent-wise if they don’t get signed by their team before then. But this is a totally different angle for us. Usually on July 1, we’re looking at the market for these older guys maybe looking at rebounds. But if you just look at the player, this is really the first young player we’ve gone out and got. I think Kunitz was maybe 27 or 28 when we got him. Neal is in mint condition, obviously just being 23 years old. This is the hockey trade that we’ve been looking for. And I think he’ll be a good fit here in the long run, when we get Crosby and Malkin back, with (Jordan) Staal and guys like this. It’s a pretty good forward unit. James has shown some really good things in his career. He’s a young guy, he’s got to find that consistency and take it to another level in his career. And hopefully this is a place he can do it.

On if Malkin’s injury allowed him to make this deal:
Correct. Timing-wise for us and cap-wise for us, this really wasn’t a possibility before these guys were injured. We were just going to be looking around a little bit and maybe looking for a small piece. But that was good, we liked our team and we were playing well. This might have been a year I didn’t do anything. But with the injuries, especially the long-term one to Geno with the LTI situation, gave us an opportunity to make a deal like this. So hopefully a good came out of a bad.

On changing up the defensive personnel:
It’s really hard during the year, and that’s why Niskanen had to be part of the deal. Now we’re not chasing a defenseman the rest of the week, because that would be really hard to do. We like Niskanen, so I think that worked well. But it’s hard. It’s a tough one for Dan as well. Dan had a tough one getting his arms around this one, because he really liked Alex. I really liked Alex. He won a Cup here, and he’s a great kid. From a Dallas standpoint, I think he’s going to be a great addition there. He’ll play a higher role than he did here, and I think he’s going to look back a couple years from now – and Dallas will too – and say it was a good trade for both teams. He can play a more prominent role there, maybe offensively. He’s always behind here with (Sergei) Gonchar or Letang now – or maybe Paul Martin in terms of minutes. I think this will be good for (Goligoski)’s career. He’s very deserving of it. He’s a heck of a hockey player. It was a difficult thing. I talked to Joe last night. We kind of got the parameters down pat. And when you trade these guys, for both organizations, it’s a big deal. We said, ‘Let’s just sleep on this, and we’ll talk in the morning.’ So we both did and it’s a difficult thing, but we had to make the call.

On if there’s less of an appetite for the rental players this time of year:

That’s a good question. I don’t know. Every team is a little bit different, but looking back on the trades the past few years, this is the soonest all these deals have happened. As you mentioned, between now and Monday there will be plenty of rental guys going. I hope so, so some of those shows on Monday will have something to talk about.

On if this deal will end the talks about Pittsburgh needing a winger for Crosby:
I don’t know. It’s hard to specifically look for just a winger for a certain player, because you never know how guys will mesh. I’m not that smart. I just figure you get a few good players, throw them on the ice and they’ll figure it out. James is just a good player to add to our mix – a guy with good size and (he) can skate and shoot the puck. He’ll play a physical game. He’s not the finished product. He’s only 23, and he’s got to find some other parts of his game to take it to the next level. That’s the challenge for him, and that’s the excitement for us.

On what he thinks Neal can improve on:
I think with James, it’s just consistency like any young player. It’s no different than with Alex as a young player. He found it this year, and he’s been a really good player for us. Alex, I think, is 25, and James is 23. As a forward, we’ve really liked what we see in James. He’s at the top of our list for any young power forward in the league. To be able to add him is a really good addition for us moving forward. But, like I said, the excitement for us is that he’s only 23 years old, an unfinished product. What can we do with him? What can he do here in his own career, to turn him from a 28-goal scorer to something else and really take off? We’ll see in time how it goes. He’s certainly got that ability and talent. But I don’t know him personally. I’ve talked to plenty of people that know him and vouch for his character and work ethic. So, we’re excited about that.

On if he made this deal because he’s optimistic that Crosby will come back:
No, not at all. I have no inside information on Sidney Crosby, honestly, as to whether he’s coming back. For me, this is a deal I would have done in the summertime, and I’d do now to get James Neal, and obviously with Niskanen. I believe this is a good hockey deal for us. As we move forward, it’s not just for this year, it’s for the next two years, adding these players. Especially with this forward group. I think I’ve read a couple times that we’re looking for a winger or that I have to find a winger. So it’s a step in the right direction. As I mention, it’s a hockey deal that makes sense for us in the short term and the long term, regardless of whether Sid’s back or Geno’s back.

On how this will go over in the locker room:
I don’t buy into it that much, in terms of showing the players something. As I mentioned, if we didn’t have these injuries, I might not be doing anything because I’m going to show these guys that A.) We don’t have cap room and B.) They’re doing a good job. But in this case, I mentioned earlier that everyone has worked extremely hard this year in some adverse circumstances. Guys just stepped up and played well. Dan’s job is to get the best out of the players – which, I think he’s doing – and my job is try to compliment that the best I can. Through all these injuries, unfortunately we’ve had some fortune to have some cap space to make a hockey deal, which we did. We’ll see what we can do between now and then. Our goal is to get into the playoffs and we’re going to be a hard team that is going to give some teams some problems. That’s what we’re going to look to do.

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