The dust has now settled on the busiest trade deadline for the Toronto Maple Leafs in recent franchise history.
In came Nick Foligno, Riley Nash, David Rittich, Ben Hutton, Stefan Noesen, and Antti Suomela. Out went six draft picks, plus Alex Barabanov.
Let’s dive right into some initial thoughts.
An easy player to root for, Nick Foligno is a defensively responsible forward who makes the Leafs a better team. He was not my top deadline target, but I called him my plan “C” option over the past month, and I was set on acquiring a reasonably valuable forward no matter what. He’ll bring a physical element to the table, and he’ll be a great teammate by all accounts.
Giving up a first-round pick, along with two fourth-round picks, for one playoff run of Foligno is a bit of an overpay. As Foligno has scored under 0.5 points per game in four straight seasons, giving up a first-round pick normally lands you a better rental. However, given the Leafs‘ current situation, I did prefer a slight overpay over doing nothing significant at all.
In a vacuum, I’m not too concerned about what the Leafs gave up. We tend to overvalue late first-round picks, and given how strong this Leafs roster is, I was always willing to move the pick. I certainly prefer this trade to the Plekanec and Boyle trades, where the Leafs gave up a second-round pick to improve flawed rosters. The 2021 Toronto Maple Leafs roster is completely deserving of a significant addition, and the addition of Nick Foligno makes them a better team.
The trade will definitely help Kyle Dubas’ approval rating, both with the players and with the fan base. Doing nothing wasn’t an option. Foligno seems like an incredibly popular teammate, and the majority of Leafs fans will value his grit, leadership, and physical play. Can you imagine what the reaction would have been if the Leafs lost in the first round after doing nothing (or next to nothing) at the deadline in a year with this kind of opportunity in front of the team? At this point, Dubas can feel like he did his job. It’s up to the players to make a deep run from here.
While this was a bit of an overpay, the big question here is: What were the alternatives? I would have definitely preferred to add Taylor Hall, who I think is a much better player. I like the physical play and leadership that Foligno brings, but the talent gap is wide enough that I take Hall every day of the week. Hall carries the potential to be Toronto’s third-best forward. Calling him a reclamation project is a bit ridiculous given that he has three more points than Foligno this season in five fewer games despite a 2.3% shooting percentage.
If Kyle Palmieri was willing to waive his no-trade clause to come north of the border, I probably would have preferred him over Foligno as well. However, it sounds like Jaden Schwartz wasn’t available, and there wasn’t exactly a long list of good forwards who were moved.
Hall carries a full no-move clause, so if his agent wanted him to go to a place where he could potentially sign an extension, the Leafs were probably out. This is a player who signed with the Buffalo Sabres, presumably in an attempt to rack up points with Jack Eichel and earn a Jeff Skinner-type of extension from a desperate team. Was he willing to come to a team with little-to-no future cap space?
It would be interesting to know the specific reasons why the Leafs didn’t or couldn’t acquire Palmieri or Hall this deadline. With Palmieri, perhaps they decided to wait out the market in case they could land someone like Foligno or Schwartz for a bargain price. Perhaps they don’t see a huge difference between Foligno and Palmieri in terms of ability and prefer Foligno’s skillset and leadership skills. Perhaps Palmieri didn’t want to play in Canada. Who knows if he was even an option?
With Hall, perhaps his agent only wanted him to go to 2-3 teams and didn’t have the Leafs in the conversation, or perhaps the Buffalo Sabres didn’t want to trade him to their fanbase’s biggest rival. Perhaps the Leafs have legitimate reasons to believe that Hall wouldn’t be a good fit in the room. It’s tough to pinpoint exactly what their reasons were. We will probably never know.
Every contender should have been able to beat the Bruins’ offer for Hall. I would have strongly preferred to add him all things being equal, but it’s tough to be too outraged without knowing what exactly happened here. Perhaps Boston was his first choice all along.
I was fine with passing on Palmieri last week, but in hindsight, acquiring him might have been the better move. If neither player wanted to go to Toronto, Foligno was likely the next best forward available.
Essentially, I’m not exactly partying in the streets because of this deal, but I’m okay with overpaying slightly and I’m happy that they made some sort of forward addition of note. I definitely prefer the Foligno deal to what the Golden Knights gave up for Mattias Janmark.
Where Does Foligno Fit In Toronto’s Lineup?
The Leafs gave up a first-round pick for Foligno, and as a result, I won’t be surprised if they start him in the top six. I’m willing to experiment with just about anything, but I’ve liked Hyman with Matthews and Marner and Galchenyuk with Tavares and Nylander. Foligno really hasn’t produced a ton offensively at 5-on-5 in recent years, which leads me to believe he’s probably best suited on a third line that can match up against tough competition.
Sheldon Keefe could ask Foligno to replace Hyman on the “HEM” line. He could also play on the left side of Alex Kerfoot, who is responsible defensively and brings some transition ability to the table. Foligno actually played on a line with Auston Matthews on Team USA at the 2016 World Championships, but I’m not sure if he’ll bring enough to the table offensively to warrant a permanent top-six role.
I saw a few people calling Foligno the “left-handed Zach Hyman”. As much as I like Foligno, people are underestimating just how good Zach Hyman is. Foligno is probably closer to a prime Leo Komarov than a prime Hyman at this point in his career:
|Player||Two Seasons||5v5 G/60||5v5 A1/60||5v5 P1/60|
|Foligno||’19-’20 and ’20-’21||0.51||0.39||0.9|
|Komarov||’15-’16 and ’16-’17||0.61||0.29||0.9|
Both players will kill penalties, match up against top competition, and throw plenty of hits. I do give an edge to Foligno offensively — Komarov was helped by a slightly inflated shooting percentage over those years — but I think it’s at least somewhat close. Foligno’s career 5-on-5 primary points per 60 is 1.13, so there’s at least slightly more potential for strong offensive production, but he’s always been more of a defense-first player.
Komarov was a valuable player for Toronto in his two best years and was even named to the All-Star team in 2015-16 (I still can’t believe that happened!). He was never going to be a legitimate top-line player, but he certainly helped the Leafs.
If Toronto fans think they’re getting a 50+ point two-way forward in Foligno, they will probably end up being disappointed. If they think they’re getting prime Leo Komarov with a little more playmaking talent, they’ll likely appreciate what he brings to the table. Foligno is an easy person to root for and a player his teammates will love playing with.
The Riley Nash trade made a ton of sense for both sides.
From Columbus’ perspective, they save close to $700k by moving a player who was out for the rest of the season and fetch a late-round pick as a bonus.
From Toronto’s perspective, they add excellent right-handed center depth for the playoffs for next to nothing, with minimal cap implications. The Leafs seem to prefer to play all of Jason Spezza, Joe Thornton, and William Nylander on the wing, and after Travis Boyd was claimed on waivers by Vancouver, it left them lacking in quality depth up the middle.
By the numbers, Nash is a God defensively. By Evolving Hockey’s RAPM, his impact on expected goals against is outstanding year after year. He’s nothing special offensively, but his skillset essentially makes him a human fast-forward button who the team can trust to match up against opposing top forwards.
If the Leafs continue to be relatively healthy and everyone is playing relatively well, they don’t even have to play Nash if they don’t want to. Who cares about the seventh-round pick? If a center gets hurt and Keefe wants someone who he can trust for the playoffs, Nash will come in handy. This is an incredibly low-risk move for the Leafs, one that is tough to dislike.
Nash’s defensive reputation matches the numbers:
More Sheldon Keefe on Riley Nash:
“He has a history of being a very reliable defensive player,who knows exactly who he is and what to do to help the team win. It’s great for us to add somebody with his experience. The priority is to get him healthy and take it from there.”
— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) April 10, 2021
Mitch Marner on Riley Nash taking Patrice Bergeron’s spot on the Bruins top line:
“He’s very good defensively as well. He’s in the right position at all times, I’d say. Obviously, Bergeron has a very elite skill offensively, but he’s not far behind.”
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) April 20, 2018
Nash helped to knock the Leafs out of the playoffs in two of the past three seasons, first with Boston and then Columbus. If nothing else, at least the Leafs won’t have to deal with him this year.
I spoke to multiple NHL goaltending scouts to gather some key insights on Rittich. What I learned was groundbreaking:
- His name is Dave.
- He makes big saves.
The Leafs haven’t told us much about Frederik Andersen’s injury status, but we know that he’s still not skating. Jack Campbell has battled injuries throughout the season as well and hasn’t proven that he can handle the starter’s workload physically. It’s certainly better to be safe than sorry when it comes to the goaltending position — and “safe” in this case means ensuring the Leafs will never need to throw Michael Hutchinson into the net for a playoff game.
Who knows what happens with Andersen, but this tweet made me think that they would trade for a goalie:
Just to be clear, the Leafs could not have made the Nash trade without Andersen on LTIR. That means they cannot activate Fred from LTIR, without removing $1.35m from the roster (or waiting for playoffs). Losing accrued space makes it even tougher, but that’s a long explanation pic.twitter.com/59UH4B1L8q
— Earl Schwartz (@EarlSchwartz27) April 9, 2021
Earl is much more knowledgeable about the salary cap than I am, and if the Leafs know that Andersen will miss the rest of the regular season, they had no choice but to make a trade. Given that the Sabres want to work out a contract with Linus Ullmark, their options probably came down to Rittich or Bernier (a Bernier reunion always felt a bit weird).
Rittich was outstanding against the Leafs this season, as he shut them out back on February 22nd and almost did it again on the 24th. He saved 31 of 33 against them on March 20th and also played outstanding against them last season. Much like Nash, he seemed to have the Leafs number, and at the very least, they won’t have to face him anymore.
The Leafs know what Rittich is capable of, and while his career save percentage of .908 isn’t fantastic, they at least know that he can potentially steal a game or two if called on. He’s 6’3″ and has proved that he can handle a starter’s workload if needed.
Rittich is a capable backup, and if both Campbell and Andersen can’t play, at least the Leafs won’t feel like their season is over. Hopefully, Campbell stays healthy and continues to win a ton of games, but it’s nice to have an insurance policy. Giving up a third-round pick for goaltending depth makes plenty of sense for a contending team with injury question marks.
Alex Barabanov and Ben Hutton
The Leafs made two small trades in the final minutes on deadline day, as they traded Alexander Barabanov to the San Jose Sharks for Antti Suomela and acquired defenseman Ben Hutton for a fifth-round pick. I saw the Barabanov trade coming, as the Leafs simply weren’t going to have much of an opportunity for him:
I wouldn’t be shocked if the Leafs traded Alexander Barabanov today.
I like him as a depth winger, but similar to Mikko Lehtonen, they could look to find him a better opportunity to play.
— Kevin Papetti (@KPapetti) April 12, 2021
I like Barabanov’s forechecking ability and work ethic, and I do think he could potentially stick in the NHL for a few seasons. Similar to Josh Leivo and Mikko Lehtonen, the Leafs are simply giving the player a chance to play elsewhere. Suomela is highly likely to play for the Marlies, but even if he never plays a game for the Leafs, this is a good move.
It’s important to consider the human element in these small trades. As Kris Versteeg noted on the Sportsnet broadcast, other players notice these gestures. Moves like this will help Kyle Dubas land KHL free agents in the future, which is far more important than the trade return.
My hope and expectation is that Ben Hutton won’t play all that much. I like Toronto’s six current defensemen, and if they stay healthy, Hutton will probably end up as a healthy scratch on most nights. There is a lot to like about Rasmus Sandin’s game, but he’s still not back from injury and contenders need to be at least eight or nine players deep at this position. I like Timothy Liljegren as well, but I don’t think they wanted to throw him in a NHL playoff game given his lack of NHL experience.
In terms of alternative options, it didn’t make sense to me to give up a second-round pick to rent Jamie Oleksiak. One of Dermott or Sandin should be in the lineup, and I didn’t want to give up a good asset for someone who would be the seventh defenseman. I don’t have any strong opinions on Hutton, but getting him for a fifth-round pick seems like a reasonable trade.
The Leafs are a better team today. This roster earned the benefit of trading the organization’s 2021 first-round pick in order to aid its playoff push. Foligno is an easy player to root for, but the Leafs overpaid, as giving up a first-round pick for a rental usually lands you a more productive player. In a vacuum, I’m fine with what they’ve done, but if they passed on Taylor Hall, they might regret it down the road if the offense dries up in the playoffs.
I’m not a fan of the post-trade mental gymnastics that some like to do after giving up a first-round pick. I hear fans saying things like, “It’s a weak draft anyways,” or, “They would have traded down,” or, “They’ll still get a good player in round two”. They gave up a good asset, plain and simple, and there’s no need to dance around that fact. However, all of us should be okay with trading that pick to improve this year’s roster.
Of course, I would have preferred to make a trade that made them even better. I would have loved to add Jaden Schwartz if he was available, but it sounds like he really wasn’t. I would have paid a little bit extra for a player with an extra year of control, even though there’s an expansion draft this season. It’s tough to know what their options were. However, I do think the team is better today than they were last week, and that shouldn’t be lost on anybody.
By all accounts, Foligno seems like a great person and a great leader. I don’t know too much about Rittich, but every reporter out of Calgary seems to rave about his character. The leadership on this team is phenomenal, and it’s so easy to root for players like Jack Campbell, Jason Spezza, Joe Thornton, Zach Hyman, Morgan Rielly, and Foligno, among others.
I can’t wait to watch the Amazon Prime series on this team. I’m even more excited to see what it can accomplish in the playoffs.