With an eye on a protracted run at the Stanley Cup, the Maple Leafs added another veteran presence to their locker room on Sunday when they acquired Nick Foligno, the long-time captain of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The 33-year-old forward is a strong defensive player who will add needed grit to an explosive lineup that lacks much fortitude. He has appeared in more than 1,000 NHL games during his career, and helped seemingly undermanned Columbus teams topple Pittsburgh and Toronto in postseason series in each of the past two years.
“This is an opportunity for me,” Foligno said during a virtual call with journalists after the three-team deal was announced. As part of it, the San Jose Sharks also sent forward Stefan Noesen to Toronto. “It has been a tough year in Columbus, and it is an opportunity I’m not going to waste.
“I’m grateful to have a chance to chase my dream with a team that has a chance to win a Stanley Cup. It means a lot to me.”
To land Foligno, the Maple Leafs traded their first-round pick in the 2021 draft to Columbus, as well as a fourth-round selection next year. They sent a fourth-rounder to San Jose in 2021 in exchange for Noesen, who has played 204 games with four teams.
Foligno is in the final season of a six-year contract that pays him US$5.5-million. The three teams will share in paying his salary, with the Maple Leafs’ portion coming to roughly US$1.375-million.
He joins Blue Jackets teammates Riley Nash and David Savard in being dealt ahead of Monday afternoon’s NHL trade deadline. Nash was traded to Toronto on Friday, while Savard was acquired by the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday. Columbus is seventh among eight teams in the Central Division standing.
“We felt we were on the way but unfortunately things didn’t work out this year,” Foligno said.
He said he didn’t know there was a possibility that he would be traded to the Maple Leafs until nearly the last minute. His father, Mike, played in Toronto in parts of four seasons, including the team’s 1993 playoff run that ended with a loss to the Los Angeles Kings in seven games in the conference finals.
“I know how passionate the fans are, and know the reach this team has,” Foligno said. His younger brother, Marcus, plays for the Minnesota Wild. “I will never forget my dad’s playoff run 1993, and look forward to going on one myself.”
Foligno appeared in 42 games with Columbus this season and had seven goals and nine assists. He has 482 points in 850 regular-season games, and 22 points in 51 playoff games.
He said he became impressed with the Maple Leafs after playing against them in the NHL’s Stanley Cup play-in tournament last year.
“I am a guy that plays off my heart and my guts and this felt like the right fit to me,” he said. “I am excited to join a team that is talked about as one that can do some damage in the playoffs.”
He said a number of Toronto players had already reached out to welcome him into the fold. The Maple Leafs are first in the seven-team All-Canadian North Division, and are led by young superstars in Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. But the team added 41-year-old veteran Joe Thornton and 32-year-old Wayne Simmonds in the off-season, and have received stellar play from 37-year-old Jason Spezza.
The three old hands provide a balance that the team has lacked in its recent futile attempts to win a playoff series. The last time Toronto made it beyond one round was in 2004. It claimed its last Stanley Cup in 1967.
“They are focused on the task at hand and line up mentally with where I am,” Foligno said. “I have respected them from afar. They have a nice mix of players that give them an opportunity to win in a lot of different ways, and that makes them dangerous and bodes well for us in the playoffs.
“I’m there to pull on the rope the same as those guys are. I look forward to hit the ground running.”