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The Devils fleeced the Penguins in the John Marino trade

The Penguins traded 25-year-old John Marino for Ty Smith and a third rounder in 2022. One year later, they should be regretting it.

NHL: MAY 01 Eastern Conference First Round - Rangers at Devils Photo by Andrew Mordzynski/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

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

Third-string goaltender Akira Schmid made 31 saves to shut out 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: the Rangers are out of the playoffs. Bad news for Pens fans: John Marino is doing so well that they’re calling him “Johnny Hockey” in Newark.

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

The Penguins dealt 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 Marino’s $4.4 million cap hit so that they could pick up Jeff Petry’s $6.25 million by trading Mike Matheson to the Canadiens.

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

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

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

The problem here is similar to the common gripe with Norris Trophy voting: why are evaluations of defensemen centered around offense? 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 has become the kind of player you feel relieved to see is the first one back to defense an odd-man rush.

The frustrating part is that this isn’t new for Marino. This past season with the Devils has been the best of Marino’s career, but he was solid for the Penguins at 5v5 even as they struggled against the Rangers in last year’s first round. He could maintain possession, 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 are seeing Marino become a true top-four defenseman in New Jersey instead of Pittsburgh. That’s asymptomatic of a larger problem for the franchise, which has moved away from developing young players and leant toward acquiring veterans over the past few years. Marino’s success with the Devils on a relatively affordable contract shows why that’s a bad idea.