NHL trade grades: Utah makes big moves with Mikhail Sergachev, John Marino deals

The trades

Utah Hockey Club gets: Defenseman Mikhail Sergachev

Lightning get: Defenseman J.J. Moser, forward Conor Geekie, 2025 second-round pick, 2024 seventh-round pick (No. 199)

Utah Hockey Club gets: Defenseman John Marino, 2024 fifth-round pick (No. 153)

Devils get: 2024 second-round pick (No. 49, used on goalie Mikhail Yegorov), 2025 second-round pick

Eric Duhatschek: No matter how closely you scrutinized the trade boards, you probably could find no mention of Sergachev potentially being on the move — to anyone, let alone to the Utah HC. Sergachev seemed like a core piece on a Lightning team that isn’t backing down from its goal of competing annually for the Stanley Cup. He’s not quite at the Nikita Kucherov-Brayden Point-Andrei Vasilevskiy level, but he’s close to it.

So that’s the starting point — how quickly things can change in the NHL and how differently things are going to be done in Utah, with new ownership in place. Suddenly, they’re not sellers. They’re buying. And on Saturday, they went big-game hunting.

In Sergachev, Utah gets a player who checks every box, except the one for durability. He was a true No. 2 in Tampa Bay and that’s only because the Lightning had a true No. 1 in Victor Hedman, the perennial Norris Trophy candidate. There were times, two years ago, when the Lightning deployed Sergachev on the top power-play unit, which is how he led the team’s defensemen in scoring with 64 points (Hedman was next at 49). Last year didn’t go nearly as well. He played only 34 games and scored only 19 points — a difficult year in which he broke his leg in February and was wheeled off the ice on a stretcher in his first game back after previously missing 17 games with a lower-body injury. On some levels, Tampa Bay never really recovered from Sergachev’s prolonged absences.

Now, of course, they’ll have to muddle along without him. But he carries an $8.5 million cap charge for the next seven years, which is not unreasonable for a player of his pedigree and age (26). But it’s one that Tampa Bay just couldn’t afford. So his availability helped contribute to a massive upgrade for Utah’s defense, which previously had only the useful Sean Durzi in place as the nominal No. 1. By adding Sergachev and then John Marino in a separate deal with the New Jersey Devils, Utah’s defense becomes deeper, more experienced and just flat-out better. If Utah’s goal is to finally compete for a playoff spot after years wandering around the NHL wilderness, these two moves will give them a chance to do so.

But Tampa Bay got what it needed, too, clearing out cap space today as if they were using a snow plough. Tanner Jeannot, an addition that was far too aggressive (they gave up five total picks to Nashville to get him), was arguably the biggest mistake they ever made to stay in win-now mode. He’s now an L.A. King.

Moser, meanwhile, is just two years younger than Sergachev and is a restricted free agent coming out of his entry-level contract. He won’t do what Sergachev does, but he was second on Utah in time on ice this past year, just behind Durzi, and still seems to have an upside. Plus, most importantly, he’ll come cheaply, at least in the near term. Tampa Bay’s prospect pipeline, which was laid bare by all their win-now trades in recent years, gets replenished a little with the addition of Conor Geekie, younger brother of Morgan, who was the No. 11 draft choice in 2022, plus a second-rounder in 2025 (originally Toronto’s) and a seventh-rounder in 2024.

In all, two teams made two moves each on the second day of the draft, the first one so bold that it’ll have hockey fans talking all summer and into the season. It’s the sort of trade we’d all like to see more of, one that theoretically is going to help both teams better adjust to their developmental trajectories.

Having to move Sergachev is the price Tampa Bay pays for being so aggressive in keeping their core together for as long as they did. Finally, you run out of options. There’ll surely be a little bit of Schadenfreude around the NHL when this one sinks in — the fact that the Lightning had to give up such a key piece. But it gives them breathing room, too — to potentially help them get back into the conversation to sign pending UFA Steven Stamkos. And if Tampa Bay’s cap savings aren’t enough to keep Stamkos in the fold, then they could use the extra cash to potentially get in the bidding for Jake Guentzel or any of the other A-list free agents that could go to market on July 1.

In short, it’s one of the rare times when we can grudgingly admire what both teams did to help themselves.

As for the Devils, them getting value back — of any kind — for a player they were ready to move on from is a tidy, if unspectacular, bit of business.

Utah grade: A-plus
Lightning grade: A
Devils grade: B

Shayna Goldman: After a quiet Draft Day 1, Tampa Bay and Utah just gave Day 2 a jolt.

Before even getting into the nitty-gritty of the deal itself, there is one overarching theme so far for Utah — new ownership is bringing a total change of pace from the Arizona era. The Coyotes had cap space but weren’t willing to use it on active players. Utah is already swinging big to invest in their on-ice product, which makes this relocation and change of ownership all the more exciting.

And talk about investments, with Utah bringing in Mikhail Sergachev and John Marino.

Utah had zero signed NHL defenders signed for next season, so there was a ton of room to make a splash with big free-agent signings or trades.

Sergachev comes to Utah in the second year of an eight-year extension, carrying a $8.5 million cap hit. The big question is how he can handle playing tougher minutes. That was the task for him in 2022-23, when the Lightning moved Ryan McDonagh, and ultimately Victor Herman had to absorb some of that workload when Sergachev seemed to struggle. But that midseason usage adjustment allowed Sergachev to flourish offensively and play to his strengths. The problem is that the Lightning (and the rest of the league, really) didn’t get to take another look at how Sergachev could shoulder those minutes this year because injuries held him out for almost the entire season.

But maybe Utah won’t need him to play that role, because it’s not like they have a Hedman ahead of him on the depth chart. As it stands, between their restricted free agents, trade acquisitions and even prospect pipeline, Sergachev is now Utah’s No. 1. So they may be able to maximize his usage in a way Tampa Bay couldn’t.

The Sergachev addition is all the more interesting with Utah’s next step in mind — bringing in the righty Marino.

Marino is an intriguing bounce-back candidate. He plateaued in Pittsburgh after a promising start to his NHL career and then thrived in his first season in New Jersey. But he took a major step back this past season. Maybe losing his mainstay partner, Ryan Graves, had a bigger impact on his game than the Devils could have anticipated, or the cracks in the coaching strategies wore on him. Whatever the case, another fresh start could be good for him. Utah could either throw him right into matchup minutes on the second pair, or pair him with Sergachev for a balanced top pair. There are a lot of possibilities here, and Utah didn’t over-leverage themselves to make these deals, considering their pool of assets.

As for Marino and the Devils, from New Jersey’s perspective, this deal makes some sense — especially if they want to pursue a free agent such as Brett Pesce. From a cap perspective, this deal had to happen. Two second-rounders isn’t a bad return, but it just doesn’t do much for the team right now other than move out salary. But with Marino’s no-trade clause kicking in on Monday, management may not have had the time to find a more perfect return.

The Lightning faced a similar situation, with Sergachev’s no-trade clause also activating on Monday. The goal with the Sergachev and Jeannot trades seems clear: move out some cap space. With the return of McDonagh, the Lightning have a lefty for the second pair, and $8.5 million is a hefty price for a third-pair defenseman, if the idea was to keep Sergachev on his natural side. Still, it feels as though management should have instead been focusing on moving on from Erik Cernak’s salary, considering his ceiling and how his style of play might age.

Moser should be a welcome addition to bolster the Lightning’s depth, which was their biggest weakness last year. He played some tough minutes in Arizona without the best results to show for it, but he may not be as exposed on the Lightning.

We can’t give Tampa Bay an incomplete — that’s now how these grades work — but it’s tricky to judge this in its entirety until we see what the Lightning do with this cap space. Is it enough to extend Stamkos? If not, could it help the team land another top scorer on the free-agent market? If management fails to do something worthwhile with the salary flexibility, the Sergachev trade won’t age too well.

Utah grade: A-minus
Lightning grade: C-plus
Devils grade: B

(Photo of Mikhail Sergachev: Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)

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