NHL trade grades: Penguins, Devils swap John Marino and Ty Smith in win-win deal

The trade

devils get: Defenseman John Marino

Penguins get: Defenseman Ty Smith and a 2023 third-round pick

Corey Pronman: Ty Smith didn’t take a step forward this season as a player, but still remains a promising young defenseman. He’s a highly intelligent puck-mover with legit offensive creativity. He’s a strong skater with good speed and better edge work who can elude pressure at a high level. But Smith is an undersized defenseman and hasn’t defended well as a pro. He may not be the high-end defenseman some scouts he’d be when he was in junior, but I could see an offensively tilted second pair defenseman at his peak.

John Marino is a tall, mobile defenseman who has brought a lot more offense as a pro than I once thought he would. He’s definitely more of a stopper than a skill type, but he has sneaky good hockey sense and can make some tough plays. He’s not as good as the hype machine for him in his rookie NHL season portrayed him to be, but he’s a very solid top-four defenseman who can complement the high-end skill of Dougie HamiltonLuke Hughes and Simon Nemec very well over the coming years.

I know it’s corny, but I like this deal for both teams. New Jersey gets a good veteran defenseman to help turn the corner as a franchise; Pittsburgh clears cap space and gets a rare talented young player into the organization, plus they added a high draft pick instead of trading one, which is all kinds of new.

New Jersey Devils: B+
Pittsburgh Penguins: B+

Sean Kind: The logic on both sides here is easy enough: the Devils get the right-shot defenseman they sorely needed, and the Penguins opened more than $3 million in cap space while adding a higher-upside player.

Where is gets a little hinky for Pittsburgh: moving out Marino — who has been fine the last two seasons but fallen short of the promise he showed as a rookie — cleared a (recently created) right-side logjam but gives them five NHL-caliber guys on the left. They’ve now got Brian Doumilin, Mike Matheson, Marcus PettersonSmith and Pierre-Olivier Joseph in that spot. The thought, especially recently, was that they’d send one of the left-side holdovers out for cap relief and, potentially, a forward.

Obviously, that’s not how it worked out. Ron Hextall, should he wish, can still try to move Pettersson. It’s not a necessity, but it’s an option. If that were to happen, Joseph and Smith would compete for playing time on the bottom pair — and it’s hard to imagine one of them not being in the lineup come November. In the meantime, Hextall can use that space on a depth forward.

Smith is coming off a horrific second season, but showed promise as a puck-moving, offense-first rookie. Assistant coach Todd Reirden has helped Matheson develop a similar skillset, and the thought — no doubt — is that he’d have a similar effect on Smith. That upside, combined with the cap space, makes this a sensible deal for the Penguins, who set this up by signing right-side, top-four option Jan Rutta on the first day of free agency.

Marino, meanwhile, is a cost-controlled guy who’s worth his AAV, even if he continues to stagnate. He’ll complement the rest of the Devils’ core.

It’s a good deal for both sides today, and the grades reflect that. Down the line, depending on what happens with Smith, it could swing hard in either direction. Pittsburgh doesn’t get an A because of that risk; New Jersey doesn’t get one because of Marino’s stagnation.

New Jersey Devils: B+
Pittsburgh Penguins: B+

Shayna Goldman: This is an interesting one featuring two young defenders and I … actually think I like this deal for both sides.

From the Devils’ perspective, they were considering moving Ty Smith at the deadline and obviously waited until a deal like this materialized. In his rookie year, he showed flashes of offense, even though his play in his own zone was a bit suspect — but this was an inexperienced player on a very bad team. This past season, Dougie Hamilton shook up the blue line as the leading offensive defenseman, which moved Smith down the depth chart but also eased his quality of competition. His production slide as a result (and not just because of his reduced power play ice time), as did his play in transition. New Jersey risked moving on from him too soon, but for the return of John Marino, it makes a ton of sense.

Marino isn’t as offensive, which is fine considering their forward group and other defenders who can push the pace of play, including prospects Luke Hughes and Simon Nemec, who will be in the mix soon. But he can still move the puck, is strong in his own end, and can absorb tougher minutes — all of which bolsters this team. New Jersey was able to leverage cap space to upgrade their blue line, it seems.

For the Penguins, this cap-clearing move carries even more risk than their trade partner. Marino was probably the easiest contract for them to move on defense, and it’s possible management felt he hasn’t met the expectations he set for himself with such a strong start to his NHL career. Smith isn’t as established and has some gaps in his game, plus he’s coming off an awful season. But there’s a ton of upside if they can help him channel that potential and show more than just glimpses of his skill. And under Mike Sullivan and in the Penguins’ system, there’s a really good chance of that happening. That uncertainty is why getting a third-rounder back helps, whether they actually use it or flip it for other assets as they keep trying to extend their Cup window.

New Jersey Devils: HAS-
Pittsburgh Penguins: B+

(Photo of John Marino: Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images)


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