Devils mowed Penguins in John Marino trade

The 2023 New Jersey Devils did what the 2022 Pittsburgh Penguins couldn’t by beating the New York Rangers with a third-string guard.

Third-string goaltender Akira Schmid made 31 saves to blank the New York Rangers, 4-0, in Monday’s first-round Game 7, at least in part because of the solid defense in front of him.

Good news for Pens fans: Rangers are out of the playoffs. Bad news for Pens fans: John Marino is doing so well they call him “Johnny Hockey” in Newark.

In Game 7, Marino recorded two assists, including this clean back pass into the paint from the corner on his own rebound. But his points weren’t the most notable aspect of his game.

The Penguins traded Marino to New Jersey, in exchange for Ty Smith and a 2023 third-round pick, in July 2022. That wasn’t the full extent of the trade — the Penguins wanted out of the cap. $4.4 million from Marino so they can scoop up Jeff Petry’s $6.25 million by trading Mike Matheson to the Canadiens.

Given that Smith spent most of last season in the AHL, the immediate impact of the trade can be gauged by comparing Petry to Marino.

It’s easy to see what the Penguins were considering at the time of the trade: Petry had more offensive upside than Marino.

Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, Marino is better defensively. He is almost ten years younger. And he signed a $4.4 million AAV through 2026-27.

The issue here is similar to the common gripe with Norris Trophy voting: why are defender ratings focused on attack? Yes, Marino’s two assists on Monday helped the Devils win 4-0. But what helped them keep the shutout was Marino’s reliability on defense. He’s become the kind of player you feel relieved to see being the first to come back on defense after an odd rush.

The frustrating part is that this is nothing new for Marino. This last season with the Devils was the best of Marino’s career, but he was solid for the Penguins at 5-5 even though they struggled against the Rangers in the first round last year. He could hold the ball, transition the puck and had the potential to continue to improve.

Even though the Devils are currently struggling in the second round against the Carolina Hurricanes, the Penguins see Marino becoming a true top-four defenseman for New Jersey instead of Pittsburgh. It’s a symptom of a larger problem for the franchise, which has moved away from developing young players and focused on acquiring veterans in recent years. Marino’s success with the Devils on a relatively affordable contract shows why it’s a bad idea.

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