At the 2021 trade deadline, there was some real optimism surrounding the Toronto Maple Leafs, and for good reason. General manager Kyle Dubas had one of the biggest pickups throughout the entire league, acquiring Nick Foligno from the Columbus Blue Jackets. Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned and the Maple Leafs were shocked in the first-round by the Montreal Canadiens who defeated them in seven games.
While there were many to blame for the Leafs disappointing effort, the Foligno acquisition and the player’s failing to live up to expectations are high up there on the list. The 33-year-old, who was brought in to provide secondary scoring, didn’t put up a single goal in a Leafs uniform. In seven regular season games he had just four assists. While those totals weren’t ideal, they were far better than his one assist in four playoff games. In his defence, he was slowed down by a lower-body injury, but it was still a very rough showing for a player they paid a big price to get.
Given both the poor showing and the fact he is a pending unrestricted free agent, most expected him to join a different team this offseason. According to Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston however, that may not be the case. Speaking recently on ‘The Steve Dangle Podcast’, Johnston said that the veteran forward may want to return to the team to try and make up for his lackluster performance.
When asked about rumors that Foligno was dealing with an injury before coming to Toronto, Johnston says that’s not entirely accurate. The NHL insider notes that Dubas probably wouldn’t do the deal again if he had the chance to go back, but the Leafs were not aware of a pressing injury and Foligno wasn’t dealing with anything that would have posed concern. The injury occurred after the deal and this just simply didn’t work out as expected. While many believe the player will lean towards a return to Columbus, there’s a potential appetite by both sides (the Leafs and Foligno) to make this deal right.
While the Leafs would likely be open to the idea of having him back, it may be tough given that they have many other notable free agents they would like to bring back as well, most notably Zach Hyman. This means that if Foligno did want to return, he would have to take a deal significantly lower than his current salary of $5.5 million. Johnston wonders if Foligno would be willing to sign a low-cost, one-year deal, simply for a chance to win and to essentially re-write this disastrous storyline.
Important Leadership Qualities
When he is on top of his game, Foligno is a responsible two way player who in the past has been capable of putting up some pretty big offensive numbers. Another big thing he brings, which is arguably more important to this Leafs squad, is leadership.
Prior to the trade, he had been the Blue Jackets captain since 2015, and those leadership qualities were a big reason why Dubas chose to trade for him at the deadline. This was on display in Game 1 of their series versus the Habs when Foligno stood up for his injured teammate in John Tavares and fought Corey Perry after an accidental but devastating collision. While some questioned whether or not the fight was necessary, it was clear just how far he was willing to go to stick up for his teammates.
On top of the leadership skills, he has been in the league for a very long time, playing in 957 games to this point in his career. While the Leafs have added some veterans in recent years with players like Joe Thornton and Jason Spezza, having one extra wouldn’t hurt given all the young talent they have in their locker room. It remains to be seen on whether or not a return will happen, but it says a lot about Foligno’s character that he was wanting to come back and make up for his underwhelming short stint with the team.
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