The Devils and Penguins combined in the trade of defensemen who could accomplish important (if significantly different) things for both teams.
Devils trade it for: John Marino (25, hits $4.4 million cap by 2026-27)
Penguins receive: Ty Smith, 2023 third round pick
With Marino traded, Devils could end up with strong right-side defense
Curiously, the Devils are a team that has at least one (relative) strength that other teams look for: right-handed/right-sided defenders.
In this case, the Devils take out a young right-handed defender who struggled (especially in 2021-22) for a more established RHD in John Marino.
While the Devils boast a fancy stats dynamo – almost curiously – in Jonas Siegenthaler on the left, the rest of their most notable defenders play on the right: Dougie Hamilton, Marino and Damon Severson.
In the cases of Hamilton (29, a $9 million cap hit by 2027-28) and now Merino, the Devils are paying significant periods and money for those defenses. Severson is in dire straits, as the 27-year-old has hit a $4.16667M cap – but only for next season.
Although it is likely to miss Johnny Goudreau (for whatever reason)[s]), the Devils have been active this off-season. Between Ondrej Palt and Marino, he has added $10.4M and some support to his roster.
Marino brings quite a lot to the table.
Penguins clear up cap space after putting most of the band together
As tensions rise, Penguin convinces Evgeny Malkin to stick around. Even with all of Malkin, Chris Letang, and Brian Rust taking less than the terms of the salary cap they would (likely) receive as free agents, the Penguins still realized that those retentions meant Maybe someone else will be out.
(In fact, he would have seen his defense the same way even without those signatures.)
This became even more apparent when the Penguins, somewhat surprisingly, signed Jan Rutta on a three-year deal with a $2.75M cap hit.
[Related: 2022 NHL Free Agency Tracker]
It is possible that there could be further changes. Cap Friendly lists Ty Smith, Jan Rutta and Chris Letang among the eight defensemen, and is without Pierre-Olivier Joseph in that mix.
Can the Penguins clear the pay cap space (and also the spot in the rotation) by moving one or more Mike Matheson, Brian Dumoulin and Marcus Peterson? All three have a $4M+ cap hit. Dumoulin has a no-trade clause, Patterson’s tenure can scare teams, and Matheson features both trade protection and a term that makes trading more challenging.
Therefore, it may have been easier to remove the merino from the books earlier. Maybe there’s room for one more? Kasperi Kapanen’s salary is pending an RFA with arbitration rights, so if the Penguins don’t move, they want extra breathing room. The cap friendly merino puts Penguin’s salary cap space at $3.34M after the trade.
An improvement project in Smith?
From Justin Schultz to John Marino, the Penguins display a recent history of getting the most out of intriguing-if-conflicting defensemen. Maybe they can work that magic with Smith again?
Smith, 22, has some pedigree as the 17th pick of the 2018 NHL Draft.
Alarmingly, Smith sank into a sophistication after a reasonably promising rookie season. This can be seen in many ways, with Smith’s ice time slipping from 20:07 per night in 2020-21 to just 17:30 per game last season.
Even if Hamilton ate those numbers, his decline in the game justified the low reps.
Nevertheless, the primary goal of the merino business was to secure a salary cap spot for the Penguins. If they can unlock some untapped potential in Ty Smith, that could be a really good move.
As it stands, it feels like strong work by New Jersey, and tackles the Pittsburgh cap realities.
More NHL News
Free agent moves highlight Kraken’s mixed current, future outlook
trade: Devil’s Land Marino, Penguin gain salary cap space Originally appeared on NBCSports.com