The New Jersey Devils had a season for the ages. Everything seemed to go right. It even led to most of its stars receiving awards votes, but the wrong defenseman ended the season as a top-six Norris Trophy candidate.
Dougie Hamilton had a rough first season in New Jersey. He was really good at the beginning of the season, especially when he was paired with Ryan Graves. Then, Hamilton hurt his toe and his jaw in quick succession. He was never the same, and the second half of the season went terribly. The New Jersey Devils season as a whole was pretty terrible, so it seemed par for the course.
Last season, Dougie Hamilton bounced back in a massive way. He proved he was worth every penny of his $9 million cap hit. Hamilton was one of the best offensive defensemen in the league, driving the offense from the back end. He finished the season with 74 points while playing all 82 games.
The offense led to a few votes for the Norris Trophy. Hamilton even finished with three first-place votes. Overall, 75 voters had Hamilton on their ballot. Erik Karlsson was always going to win the award, finishing the season with more than 100 points, but Hamilton was getting buzz all season. One Devils player who didn’t get much buzz is John Marino.
Marino joined the Devils last offseason when Tom Fitzgerald traded Ty Smith and a third-round pick for the young defenseman. The Pittsburgh Penguins were trying to add Jeff Petry, and they needed to shed salary. It was a bad trade from the start that only got worse as time went on. Now, the Devils have a great defensive defenseman who can transition Luke Hughes into the NHL signed through 2027 for just $4.4 million per season.
Marino was fantastic last season. He did miss time, which might be why he ultimately didn’t get Norris Trophy votes, but he had stretches in the season where he was a brick wall. Obviously, Marino doesn’t have the offensive chops of Hamilton, but one could argue he impacts wins and losses more than Hamilton.
The biggest reason was Marino’s impact on the penalty kill. The Devils scored 5 goals shorthanded with Marino on the ice, and there were 20 goals against. He’s allowing a goal basically one every 10 PK shifts.
Nobody is arguing that Marino should have won the Norris. He had some issues in the middle of the season around his injury. However, there was a stretch where he was the best defenseman in the league. That is what the Norris Trophy is all about. Hamilton never really felt like that, but Marino did.
Luckily for the Devils, they have both Marino and Hamilton on the roster for a long time. They don’t have to choose one or the other. Even if the salary cap gets hazy, neither of these players is going anywhere.