On Saturday, the Pittsburgh Penguins made an unexpected deal with an in-division rival, sending John Marino to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for a draught pick. Ty Smith, a 22-year-old former first-round pick in 2018 who is also a third-round pick in the 2019 NHL draught, will be returned to NJ.
Even though Marino was one of the most sought-after defenders on the Penguins’ roster, his move to a division rival is what’s most surprising about it. Pittsburgh already had Brian Dumoulin, Mike Matheson, Marcus Pettersson, and Pierre-Olivier Joseph inked for next season and left shots in the left-handed defensive position.
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With Kris Letang, Chad Ruhwedel, and Mark Friedman on the right side of the defense, the Pittsburgh Penguins still have a lot of depth the right side of their defense. As long as Letang is there, there’s no need to worry about the team’s depth beyond him.
Hextall and the Penguins are clearly preparing to trade a left-handed defender by making this move. The good news for the Penguins is that they now have more room on the salary cap since Marino’s $4.4 million cap cost for the next five years is gone, while Smith’s $863k cap hit is only $863k.
With 12 forwards, eight defenders, and two goaltenders on the roster, Pittsburgh has just over $4 million in cap space. CapFriendly is taking Drake Caggiula out of the NHL cap projection for the time being. This is not the case for me. The bad news is that Smith has struggled to make a name for himself as a solid NHL defenseman in New Jersey.
At this point, Marino is a superior player than the draught pick that went from New Jersey to Pittsburgh. However, Smith is only 22 years old and has only played two seasons in the NHL – both of which were spent with the New Jersey Devils, one of the weakest clubs in the league. We don’t know what he’s capable of since we haven’t seen him in a competitive setting with high-quality coaching and teammate play.
Clearly, the Penguins believe they can get more from Smith in a new environment and as he develops. Though he did not have a great season in 2021-22, he was still good enough to be a first-round draught pick and never play in the AHL during his time in the Devils’ system before being selected in the top spot.
While we’ll have a lot more on Smith and the details of this deal later, we can say for now that the Penguins have made yet another move that raises more questions than it does answers. This will almost certainly lead to further movement this summer for the Penguins to trade at least one more defenseman before the 2022-23 season.