John Marino trade is just the beginning of New Jersey Devils defensive overhaul

At the 2024 NHL Draft, the New Jersey Devils traded right handed defenseman John Marino to the Utah Hockey Club in exchange for draft picks. Earlier in the week they sent Kevin Bahl to the Calgary Flames. With two of the most common Devils on the backend gone, there are rumors that the defensive overhaul is just getting started.
New Jersey Devils v Carolina Hurricanes - Game Five
New Jersey Devils v Carolina Hurricanes - Game Five / Jaylynn Nash/GettyImages

Back in the 2022-23 season, the New Jersey Devils' main defensive rotation consisted of Dougie Hamilton, Damon Severson, Ryan Graves, Kevin Bahl, John Marino, and Jonas Siegenthaler. With the trades of John Marino at the NHL Draft and Kevin Bahl earlier in the week, only Hamilton and Siegenthaler remain. Only a year removed from a playoff-round win, the Devils find themselves in a familiar position with massive roster turnover.

There was also Luke Hughes and Brendan Smith in the rotation at that time. While Hughes is now a roster mainstay, Smith is also on his way out the door as the Devils will let him walk to free agency. That leaves only three players in the defense from just a year ago. Simon Nemec emerged as a key contributor on the backend this past season, which now gives the Devils four NHL regulars.

Now, with Bahl and Marino out of the fold, how will the Devils replace them? Giving Kurtis MacDermid an expanded role seems like a disaster waiting to happen. Nick DeSimone is a nice depth option who should be limited to an injury replacement or the seventh spot in the lineup. With free agency looming in the next few days, the Devils are linked to two defenseman who would provide the team with upgrades.

The first defenseman is Brett Pesce. Pesce is a right-handed two-way defenseman who has played his entire career in Carolina. The Devils are very familiar with Pesce, as he was a key cog in the defense that traumatized them for the last few years. He is older than Marino but a defensive upgrade. He is a better penalty killer than Marinio and should be able to make the Devils tougher on the back end.

He is not going to light the lamp on the scoreboard, but his defensive play will turn heads. He has received Norris Trophy votes in the past before and is considered an underrated player in the league. He fits in better with the analytical side of things the Devils want, including covering the slot, something Marino was not good at. Pairing him with Jonas Siegenthaler should give the Devils a complete shutdown pair.

Although his contract might hurt, he will be a great addition and upgrade to the right side. Hamilton, Pesce, and Nemec on the right side make the Devils' defense more formidable. It will also let Nemec have less defensive pressure on him, allowing him to continue to hone his game.

The other rumored target for the Devils is former Winnipeg Jets defenseman Brendan Dillon. Once again, someone who will not have offensive input on the game but will make the Devils a more formidable opponent. He is a hard-nosed, defensive-minded player who will step in and defend his teammates when he has to, something the Devils have severely lacked the last few years.

He is prone to taking penalties, something the Devils are used to with Brendan Smith. But with Pesce seemingly in the fold, it is something the Devils can afford. With Siegenthaler, Pesce, and Dillon presumably as the defensemen, they can primarily handle the defensive side of things while Hamilton, Hughes, and Nemec can focus on offense.

With Bahl, he was just big but did not play like it at times. Dillon and Pesce will play with their full size and make the Devils' defense more formidable. The overhaul on the backend has seemed to just start. It is yet to be seen if Pesce or Dillon will actually become Devils when free agency opens. But if the rumors are true, the Devils defensive core becomes one of the best in the league.