Nick Foligno had big plans this season.
After going through a rough stretch with the Columbus Blue Jackets, they traded him to the Toronto Maple Leafs for two draft picks including a first-round pick in 2021. This was the chance for him to make a deep playoff run up north.
However it never came to pass. The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Maple Leafs in seven games to end Foligno’s dream once again of lifting the Stanley Cup.
Where To Now?
That’s the ultimate question. Where will Foligno choose to sign this offseason now that he is an unrestricted free agent? Considering where his heart is and the circumstances out there, three teams leap to the top of the list. Other teams could swoop in and make a good offer. But at the end of the day, it’s reasonable to think it will be one of these three teams.
The Toronto Maple Leafs
Although this will be tough for the Maple Leafs to pull off given their cap situation, there is a scenario that exists that sees Foligno coming back. It comes down to one important thing.
That thing is to win the Stanley Cup.
Of the three teams that make this list, the Maple Leafs have the most high-end talent on their roster. Given the trajectory of where the Maple Leafs seem to be heading, a return trip to the playoffs seems a formality barring some major injury to one of their stars.
If Foligno’s main objective is to win the Stanley Cup, then he could choose to leave some money on the table. If he’s willing to sign for cheap, then staying in Toronto becomes a greater possibility.
And then there’s this. Think of just how gut-wrenching a feeling it was for Foligno and the rest of the Maple Leafs to lose the way they did. They were up 3-1 in games and in overtime in Game 5. If they score, they’re into the second round. But they lose. Then they lose again in Game 6 in overtime. Then the Canadiens finished it off in Game 7.
Is there a part of Foligno that wants to give it another go with the Maple Leafs given how it ended? He wasn’t healthy and it showed. Remember when he first got to Toronto he admitted that it felt right in his heart to go. Perhaps he has some unfinished business to take care of.
I’d put the odds of a Maple Leafs’ reunion for Foligno at 10%. But if he decides it’s not about the money and is willing to take a huge pay cut, I could see this happening.
The Columbus Blue Jackets
Return of the captain? There is a strong possibility that this one becomes reality. Recall that prior to the trade to the Maple Leafs, Foligno said that he would be interested in coming back to Columbus if given the opportunity.
Now let’s look at the state of the Blue Jackets. Seth Jones said he intends to test free agency. It was presumed he had the inside track to becoming the next team captain. But with that possibility all but gone, there’s an opening on a very young roster who could use the veteran and leadership presence Foligno brings.
Foligno would also reunite with some of his best friends on the team including Cam Atkinson and Boone Jenner. Plus if Elvis Merzlikins is the one not traded, we would get the postgame jump hug back.
It’s no secret Foligno’s heart is in Columbus. He poured everything he had into the Blue Jackets to help get them to where they are today. His family is still there. So there is plenty of reason to believe that a return will happen.
But Foligno will have to answer a couple of big questions. First, would he be willing to re-sign with the Blue Jackets given where they are at as a team? If his goal is to win the Stanley Cup, coming back now doesn’t seem like a fit. Second, if he does have the same interest as before, will the team offer him a fair contract? Cap space shouldn’t be an issue with the Blue Jackets. But what would GM Jarmo Kekalainen actually offer him?
I put the odds of a reunion here at 45%. It would be higher if it wasn’t for the third team on this list. Still given the history here, there is a strong possibility Foligno comes back. And it would be to the surprise of no one if he does. Even Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston recently told Steve Dangle he thinks Foligno will return to the Blue Jackets. If he does re-sign, that would make a lot of fans happy.
The Minnesota Wild
If there’s one thing that Foligno has always wanted to do, that’s to play on the same team with his brother Marcus. With Marcus entering the first year of his new deal with the Wild at $3.1 million, Nick has a golden opportunity to join his brother if the price fits.
The Wild do have some important offseason business to attend to namely new contracts for both Joel Eriksson-Ek and Kirill Kaprizov. Once those are done, they can turn their attention to finalizing their roster.
The Wild enjoyed a good regular season and are heading in the right direction. Adding a player like Nick Foligno to the mix would give them a defensive boost who can play almost anywhere on the ice while bringing more leadership in. Plus he’ll realize his dream of playing with his brother Marcus trying to make a run together.
I put the odds of this at 45%, the same as rejoining the Blue Jackets. It’s not an easy decision. Joining the Wild might be Nick’s only chance of playing with his brother. Plus the Wild are in a better position as a team to make a run.
Go back to the team who traded for you? Go back to the place where he was a captain and leader? Or go join his brother for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity? No matter what he decides, Nick Foligno has some solid options to choose from. But it will not be an easy decision.
To me, it’s the Blue Jackets or Wild. Both have an equal opportunity to land him. Where will Foligno’s heart lead him? I’m not sure even Nick knows the answer to that yet.
I am a fully credentialed writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Monsters and Erie Otters as well as the Ontario Hockey League and NHL Draft. The 2021-22 season will mark eight seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager.