The New Jersey Devils and Pittsburgh Penguins executed a trade involving a swap of defensemen on July 16. Devils general manager (GM) Tom Fitzgerald acquired a blueliner in John Marino, who is entering the prime of his career at 25 and has been a member of an organization that has had regular season success over the last few years. Penguins GM Ron Hextall acquired Ty Smith and a 2023 third-round draft pick for the 25-year-old defenseman.
The Devils acquired a defenseman who will be entering his fourth NHL season in 2022-23. They have another blueliner with some playing experience to join Dougie Hamilton, Damon Severson, Ryan Graves, Jonas Siegenthaler, and Brendan Smith. The acquisition of Marino raises the question about the future of Severson, who along with Graves, is entering the final year of his contract before he is due to become an unrestricted free agent (UFA). Siegenthaler is also entering the final year of his deal before he will be a restricted free agent (RFA). Let’s take a look at why the trade for Marino creates uncertainty around the future of Severson with the club.
Marino and Severson Have Similarities Between Them
Marino has an average annual value (AAV) of $4.4 million per season for the next five years which is slightly more than Severson’s $4.166 AAV that he will be earning in 2022-23. The Devils’ new defensive addition is three years younger than the Melville, Canada native but did not have as many points as him in any of the last three seasons. The two players are used on the penalty kill (PK) often as both totaled the most minutes of any other defenseman on the PK for their respective organizations since 2019-20.
Marino can be viewed as a potential replacement for Severson should the Devils decide to let him become a free agent next offseason if they are unable to come to a new contract agreement with him or do not have an interest in bringing him back. After the trade, GM Fitzgerald commented about the former Penguins blueliner, “John is a competitive, highly mobile defenseman who strengthens our back end. He takes pride in his game away from the puck and his puck management and ability to transition play will fit in nicely with our style and the strengths of our forward group. This is another move focused on improving our club today, while also providing certainty and stability for roster flexibility as we continue to build.”
Marino commented about the new team he is now a member of and the trade process, “You expected it with all the rumors going into it. You mentally prepare yourself for when it happens. You knew a trade was coming eventually with the situation. Luckily enough I was able to land in a great spot, and I’m looking forward to it. They’re a young team. But obviously the talent is there. They score a lot of goals. Hopefully, I can help out with my role in the defensive end and win some games next year.” He said he has a goal to improve his game, “Offensively, I can still improve a little bit. Being more consistent and having that right mindset each and every game is huge at this level. It’s such a long season. The biggest difference between college and this is being able to be consistent. It’s something you always have to work on.”
The North Easton, Massachusetts native is looking forward to playing with the Devils’ offensive players after competing against them while on another team in the Metropolitan Division. If he can improve his offensive totals, it will make the Devils feel secure they have a sufficient replacement for Severson should he leave next season in free agency or be traded by next year’s trade deadline. They have a good mix of defensemen in their prime in Hamilton, Siegenthaler, and Graves aside from the other two blueliners on the roster.
Marino Has Played With Three Great Players in Pittsburgh
Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang have been one of the best core of players on a roster for more than a decade, and Marino learned a lot from his time with the Penguins. Even though they have not had much postseason success over the last few years since the last series they won was during the 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs, the club has a history of playing well during the regular season during the tenure of the three future NHL Hall of Famers as they have qualified for the postseason on an annual basis since 2006-07. The Devils are attempting to break their postseason drought and Marino is eager to take what he learned from his playing experience with the Penguins and be an effective acquisition for his new franchise.
The Devils have increased their depth at the defensive position with a more experienced player in Marino in comparison to the younger blueliner in Smith. They are attempting to be in the mix for a playoff spot next season and have brought in some players in Marino, Vitek Vanecek, and Ondrej Palat who have been members of organizations that have sustained regular season success, which include the Penguins, Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning, respectively. Adding another defenseman in Marino, who has experience racking up minutes during the PK, gives the Devils more depth on the blue line, in addition to Severson in that part of their game.
Whether the new defenseman will serve as a replacement for Severson remains uncertain, for now, but they have strengthened their backend with the acquisition after Smith struggled last year for them. There are many similarities between the two blueliners, so it would not be surprising if he serves as a replacement for their 2012 second-round draft pick.