Trading deadline gets general managers going, or in case of Kings, not going

A general manager identifies a need for a productive left winger. He decides to trade a valuable asset to fill that need but gives his team a better chance to go deep in the playoffs this season and in the future.

Congratulations, Ray Shero of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

What, you thought it might be Kings GM Dean Lombardi shaking off his paralysis by analysis?

While the Kings sit outside the top eight in the West and Lombardi dithers about filling a hole he recognized last summer, Shero’s Penguins on Monday acquired power forward James Neal — a three-time 20-goal scorer — and defenseman Matt Niskanen from the salary-dumping Dallas Stars for defenseman Alex Goligoski. It’s a great deal for the Penguins, who lost Sidney Crosby indefinitely to a concussion and Evgeni Malkin to season-ending knee surgery.


The Stars, hamstrung financially while seeking a new owner, get dollars off their books and a puck-moving defenseman. The next question is how long they’ll wait to move Brad Richards, who’s earning $7.8 million and is eligible for unrestricted free agency. In a hockey sense, the Stars can’t afford to lose a franchise player, but financially they can’t afford to keep him.

Goligoski will earn $1.5 million this season and $2.75 million in 2011-12. Neal will earn $2.25 million this season and $3.5 million next season, and Niskanen will earn $1.25 million this season and $1.75 million next season. All three can become restricted free agents on July 1, 2012.

“There aren’t many of these young, power guys in the game. Neal is on our list [and] is one of the better ones in the game,” Shero told reporters in Pittsburgh. “This is the hockey trade that we’ve been looking for.”

And so continued the buildup to next Monday’s noon (Pacific time) NHL trade deadline. The trends: Defensemen are going at a premium and teams aren’t afraid to move so-called cornerstone players, as in the St. Louis Blues’ trades of team captain Eric Brewer to Tampa Bay and 2006 No. 1 overall pick Erik Johnson to Colorado.

Youngsters are being swapped with surprising frequency. Neal is 23, Goligoski is 25, Niskanen is 24. The late-night deal between Colorado and St. Louis last weekend that sent 22-year-old Johnson to the Avalanche also sent to St. Louis 23-year-old power forward Chris Stewart, who scored 28 goals last season, and 22-year-old defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.

There’s plenty of action to come as teams decide whether they’re close enough to a playoff spot to be buyers or if they’d benefit from joining Colorado and Ottawa as sellers.

Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Brian Burke said he’s seeking a defenseman after trading Francois Beauchemin to the Ducks Feb. 9 and sending Tomas Kaberle to Boston last week for a first-round pick, a conditional second-round pick and prospect Joe Colborne. The Vancouver Canucks, plagued by injuries to defensemen, might be in the market for moderately priced help.

The New Jersey Devils figured to be sellers before mounting a strong playoff push, but no matter what, they’re not trading Zach Parise. Minnesota might pursue a center after losing Mikko Koivu to a broken finger for a few weeks. Colorado center Paul Stastny has been mentioned in some rumors, but his cap hit of $6.6 million through 2014-15 is too rich for most teams.

The Kings, who were interested in Neal but not at the cost of a top defenseman, have looked at Florida’s David Booth and Edmonton’s Ales Hemsky but have made it known they won’t trade prospect Brayden Schenn. It would be surprising if Lombardi does anything bigger than his usual and tedious mid-range deals. The Ducks thought they’d be buyers, but if goaltender Jonas Hiller continues to be plagued by lightheadedness they’ll fall too far out of contention for anything to make a difference.

Slap shots

Blackhawks Coach Joel Quenneville, hospitalized last week because of a bleeding ulcer, is expected to return behind Chicago’s bench on Thursday.

Veteran defenseman Sean O’Donnell is expected to be out of the Flyers’ lineup up to two weeks after injuring his left knee Sunday, but Philadelphia’s depth should cushion the blow. Amazing stat: O’Donnell, 39, hasn’t missed more than four games in a season since 2002-03.