The 2021 trade deadline will be remembered in many ways for Leafs fans. It was a time when they pushed their chips to the center of the table and tried to move all-in on a team that was well on their way to winning their division. They took the opportunity to polish the edges and bring in enough depth to help prepare for what should have been a long playoff run.
And it will be best remembered for a successful move that they did and did not.
Toronto’s big slash on deadline was acquisition of former Blue Jackets captain Nick foligno for a hefty price that included a first-round pick shipped to Columbus. Not even hours after this trade fell, the biggest available prize went to Boston as the Bruins held on Taylor Room for a roster and a second round pick.
At the time of the exchange, I criticized the decision to go with Foligno over Hall, as the best solution was to provide as much offensive depth as possible and there aren’t many opportunities to acquire a former Hart Trophy winner at a reduced price (because the Sabers were garbage in 2021). To me, it didn’t make much sense to acquire a player like Foligno for a first-round player when you could have used it to trick Buffalo into closing the deal and saving the second round for a player like Foligno.
It was only natural that the two players were compared at the end of the home stretch and the playoffs, which turned out not to be close at all. Not only has Hall largely outperformed Foligno (14 points in 16 games compared to four points in seven games, respectively), the Bruins have gone further than the Leafs in the playoffs. Hall also had a strong playoff performance scoring five points in 11 playoff games, compared to Foligno who was only four and scoring a meager point. And to top it all, Hall told media he would like to stay in Boston and would be prepared to take a pay cut for his next contract.
Foligno’s overall struggles to produce was one factor in a team-wide issue that emerged in the playoffs: the lack of side points beyond their big four players. Considering how Toronto’s game plan went out the window once Jean Tavares injured, one has to wonder if Hall’s presence could have altered Toronto’s collision course and minimized the damage caused by the loss of their captain.
We could go on with guesswork and ways to reverse the curse, but the main focus is whether or not the Leafs should keep Foligno for next season and / or beyond. Because they spent so much capital to acquire his services, Toronto must make this investment more meaningful by signing him a one-year contract. It certainly helps that he showed flashes of work well in the top six substitute for Zach Hyman towards the end of the season.
I love this whole sequence
Foligno finds Marner along the wall. Matthews (making him inside) walks over to the net and almost gets another deflection pic.twitter.com/LFe2U9M89s
– Omar (@TicTacTOmar) April 23, 2021
Although he was only able to register four points in seven regular season games, all four came in his first four games as the Leaf in which he spent mostly alongside Auston matthews and Mitch marner. Foligno’s playstyle is similar to Hyman’s performance, so he seemed like a natural fit on the top unit early in his tenure. An injury in his fifth game interrupted the momentum and being forced to play center following Tavares’ injury took his focus away from production to defense. Who knows what sort of numbers Foligno might have posted had he remained healthy, but the point is, he could have brought a lot more to his new team with circumstances beyond his control preventing it from happening.
So while there is a small sample size to analyze, there is enough to convince Kyle Dubas and company to keep Foligno on board for at least another year. But it is worth mentioning that he will be 34 years old around a month after the start of the 2021-22 season, already starting to experience injury issues, and yet to pass the 40-point plateau. since registering 51 points in 2016-17. This means that Foligno will have to settle for short-term contracts with lower wages for the rest of his career.
That will be good for a cap-strapped Leafs team, currently at just under $ 11 million ahead of Kraken’s expansion draft. Evolving Hockey projects that Foligno would sign for a two-year contract with an AAV of around $ 2.9 million. It’s a number that’s on the upper side limit for mid-six forwards, but shouldn’t be considered an anchor, given it won’t be on the books for long. This is something Dubas would likely see as fair value and would likely want to sort out the deal around that price bracket once Seattle puts their roster together.
It’s fair to say that the Leafs (again) made the wrong decision as to which player to acquire at the deadline and management will likely regret dropping Taylor Hall when his market value was at an all-time low. . But that doesn’t mean Nick Foligno was bad, as he showed flashes of strong play before injuries to himself and the captain brought his production to a screeching halt.
At the very least, the Leafs should try to keep Foligno in blue and white so they can somehow justify the high cost they paid to acquire his services.
Unless otherwise stated, all statistics are from Hockey-Reference.com.
Unless otherwise noted, all salary information is sourced from PuckPedia.com.