The Devils and Penguins combined in a trade of defenseman that could accomplish important (if quite different) things for both teams. At first, it seemed like the Penguins sought out salary cap space. Yet, later on Saturday, it became clear the actual goal was to make space for an additional trade that sent out Mike Matheson for Jeff Petry.
Devils trade for: John Marino (25, $4.4 million cap hit through 2026-27)
Penguins receive: Ty Smith, 2023 third-round pick
With Marino trade, Devils could end up with strong right-side defense
Curiously, the Devils are a team that possesses at least one (relative) strength that other teams seek out: right-handed/right-side defensemen.
In this case, the Devils move out a young right-handed defenseman who struggled (especially in 2021-22) for a more established RHD in John Marino.
While the Devils boast a fancy stats dynamo — almost curiously so — in Jonas Siegenthaler on the left, the rest of their most noteworthy defensemen play on the right: Dougie Hamilton, Marino, and Damon Severson.
[Related: 2022 NHL Free Agency Tracker]
In the cases of Hamilton (29, $9 million cap hit through 2027-28) and now Marino, the Devils are paying out significant term and money for those defensemen. Severson’s situation is cloudier, as the 27-year-old carries a $4.16667M cap hit — but just for next season.
Although it likely stings to miss out on Johnny Gaudreau (for whatever reason[s]), the Devils have been active this offseason. Between Ondrej Palat and Marino, they’ve added $10.4M and some support to their roster.
Marino brings quite a bit to the table.
Here are John Marino's microstats from the 2021-22 season, courtesy of AllThreeZones: pic.twitter.com/lVWez00wmu
— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) July 16, 2022
Penguins clear cap space to eventually trade for Petry
After tensions rose, the Penguins convinced Evgeni Malkin to stick around. Even with all of Malkin, Kris Letang, and Bryan Rust taking less in salary cap terms than they (likely) would’ve fetched as free agents, the Penguins still likely realized that those retentions would mean someone else would be out.
(Really, they might have viewed their defense that way even without those signings.)
That became even clearer when the Penguins somewhat-surprisingly signed Jan Rutta to a three-year deal with a $2.75M cap hit.
Eventually, it wasn’t just John Marino who shuffled out. The Penguins used that space and a Mike Matheson trade to add Jeff Petry. Understandably, Ty Smith may feel like an afterthought in all of these moves, but he could be interesting too.
A reclamation project in Smith?
From Justin Schultz to John Marino himself, the Penguins display a recent history of getting the most out of intriguing-if-struggling defensemen. Maybe they can work that magic again with Smith?
Smith, 22, carries some pedigree as the 17th pick of the 2018 NHL Draft.
Alarmingly, Smith sunk as a sophomore after a reasonably promising rookie season. That can be seen in many ways, including Smith’s ice time slipping from 20:07 per night in 2020-21 to just 17:30 per game last season.
Rookie season was better but Smith played like he had no confidence in his game last year. Knocked off the puck constantly & botched a lot of routine plays. https://t.co/ERmowqeVDc
— Corey Sznajder (@ShutdownLine) July 16, 2022
Yet, the primary goal of the Marino trade was to gain salary cap space for the Penguins. If they can unlock some untapped potential in Ty Smith, it could be a really nice move.
As it stands, this seems like strong work by New Jersey, and Pittsburgh deal with cap realities.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.