Finally, Toronto Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas pulled the trigger on a couple of big trades when he picked up Nick Foligno from the Columbus Blue Jackets, Stefan Noesen from the San Jose Sharks, and goalie David Rittich from the Calgary Flames. In short, the team pulled in the talent it needed to fill holes and did it by engaging in brilliant cap space management and out-of-the-box thinking.
In this post, I’ll share generally about the deal in a logistical way, a little bit about what the players coming mean to the team, and speculate whether Dubas’ moves are done.
Item One: Maple Leafs Bring in Character Veteran Forward Nick Foligno
Yesterday, the Maple Leafs acquired Foligno from the Blue Jackets and Noesen from the Sharks in a three-team trade. In that trade, the Maple Leafs sent a first-round pick in 2021 and a fourth-round pick in 2022 to the Blue Jackets and a sent the Sharks a fourth-round pick in 2021.
Although the deal might seem complicated, the Maple Leafs wanted Foligno (whose father Mike Foligno played with the Maple Leafs for parts of four seasons from 1990 to 1994) but couldn’t fit his entire contract under the upper limit of the salary-cap rules and needed the Sharks to help them by retaining some of Foligno’s salary.
Basically, the Noesen trade was a within-the-rules, but a smoke-and-mirrors way to bring in a player with a contract that won’t count against the team’s salary cap (that’s Noesen) and get the Sharks (who basically sold the Maple Leafs the salary-cap space the team coveted to make the deal) to retain part of Foligno’s salary.
In the end, the Maple Leafs picked up Foligno, who’s scored seven goals and nine assists (for 16 points) in 42 games this season. As noted, Foligno is the type of player the Maple Leafs have brought in to do short-term roster building for this one season’s Stanley Cup push. The veteran former Blue Jackets’ captain can fill in throughout the lineup as needed; he also plays a solid defensive game and provides secondary offense. At 33 years of age, his high-scoring days are behind him (he scored 31 goals in 2014-15), but he still can contribute.
Foligno is likely a rental for this season and will probably become an unrestricted free agent after the 2020-21 season ends. Because the Blue Jackets retained 50% of Foligno’s salary and San Jose retained another 25% more, so the final cap hit for the Maple Leafs is just $1.375 million.
Foligno was highly sought after at the trade deadline, and the Maple Leafs were reportedly one of a number of teams willing to offer Columbus a first-round pick for him. Because Foligno also had to waive his no-move clause for the Blue Jackets to make the deal, he probably had a choice where he landed. Given that he was born in Buffalo in 1987 when his dad Mike played with the Sabres and was basically a child when his family lived in Toronto, his memories of the Maple Leafs as a kid might be a bit spotty. That said, I wonder if he sought his father’s (who’s currently a scout for the Vegas Golden Knights) input.
The 33-year-old winger is considered a strong defensive forward, and he’s currently recovering from upper-body injury but should be ready to play after his seven-day quarantine is completed.
In addition, Foligno is the kind of a player who should fit in well with the Maple Leafs’ team ethos. At the 2016-17 season’s end, Foligno was awarded the King Clancy Memorial Trophy, which is a Community Service Award given to the NHL player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and who’s made humanitarian contributions to his community. That same season, Foligno was also awarded the Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award, which is presented to the NHL player who exemplifies leadership qualities to his team both on and off the ice during the regular season. By the way, Foligno is not the only Mark Messier Leadership Award winner on the team. Wayne Simmonds won the award in 2018-19.
I personally applaud Dubas for this deal for two reasons: (a) the salary-cap magic and (b) adding a character player to the ice and the dressing room.
Item Two: Stefan Noesen Comes as Part of the Foligno Trade
The Sharks moved Stefan Noesen to the Maple Leafs for a fourth-round pick in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft in 2021. The 28-year-old Noesen has split the season between the Sharks (five games) and their AHL affiliate the San Jose Barracuda where he’s scored six points in 112 games. He’ll probably report to the AHL Toronto Marlies.
Item Three: The Maple Leafs Bring in David Rittich to Shore Up Their Goalie Corps
In a second major move, and from my perspective one that’s as important as the Foligno trade, the Maple Leafs brought in David Rittich from Calgary in exchange for a third-round draft choice pick in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft. This is probably a win-win for both Rittich and for the Maple Leafs.
Not only did the Flames retain 50% of Rittich’s contract, but Rittich likely saw the writing on the wall in Calgary after the Flames signed Jacob Markstrom as their long-term goalie. Maple Leafs’ fans might not recall, but “Big Save Dave” (his nickname) was a member of the NHL All-Star Game in 2020 so he’s had a history of being a good goalie.
In an article I read to do my research on this post, he was also quoted as saying “the guys in front of me are doing a really good job and helping me out every time.” Who does that remind Maple Leafs’ fans of?
Although in my estimation there was little chance Frederik Andersen would have been back with the team next season because I think the organization will trade Andersen’s salary-cap hit for the money to resign Zach Hyman, this move might offer a hint into Dubas’ plans moving into next season.
After playing in over 45 games each of the last two seasons, Rittich had clearly become Markstrom’s backup on the Flames’ depth chart. The 28-year-old had a put together a meagre 4-7-1 record, a goals-against-average of 2.90, and a save percentage of .904 in 15 games on a weak Flames’ team. This season he’ll likely backup Jack Campbell and be insurance in case Campbell’s still banged up from his injury.
However, Rittich will get some playing time. I’m just speculating here, but is there a chance the Maple Leafs plan to go with Campbell as their starter (or even 1A) next season and re-sign Rittich as its backup (or even 1B)? Given Rittich’s record this season and the impact of COVID-19’s flat salary cap, it isn’t as if he’ll be able to pull a raise over this season’s $2.75 million contract. Might he sign a short-term, bet-on-yourself, lower-value contract with the Maple Leafs (whose strong team would likely offer him a solid chance to succeed)?
I’m only guessing here; however, I think there’s a chance Rittich might be more than a rental for the Maple Leafs? Even if I’m wrong, it was a good move for Dubas and the organization. It was also a move I anticipated might be coming. I had mentioned in an early Maple Leafs’ Lounge podcast that I thought that Maple Leafs’ fans might keep Rittich on their radars given his status in Calgary. I only mention that because usually I’m wrong when I predict what Dubas will do.
Item Four: Are More Trades Coming? There Is Salary Cap Space Left
The question that’s remaining is whether Dubas will make another trade. He did leave room with his salary-cap manipulation. Still, even if the team doesn’t, he’s done well to fill the holes the team needed to fill.
Better yet, from my perspective, the Maple Leafs didn’t have to trade any of the team’s current roster to land these players. Specifically, no high-end prospects were moved. I’m also pleased Alex Kerfoot remains a Maple Leafs’ player. Ditto for Rasmus Sandin, Nick Robrertson, and Timothy Liljegren.
The one move that might still be in the range of possibility is upgrading the defense. Toronto-native and 6-foot-7 defenseman Jamie Oleksiak is on my radar. The Dallas Stars are only playing at .500 hockey and might be sellers this season. If so, the 28-year-old defenseman (who’s also an upcoming UFA) would add to the team’s defense as a rental.
To keep up with the latest trades, click this link to access The Hockey Writers’ trade deadline tracker: https://thehockeywriters.com/2021-trade-deadline-deal-tracker/