Toronto Maple Leafs bet on Nick Foligno’s versatility and defensive touch

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The Toronto Maple Leafs probably don’t need more offensive firepower to get out of the North Division. But it’s a season underpinned by Stanley Cup expectations, and therefore the measuring stick for Kyle Dubas’ front office is how his roster will stack up against teams like Tampa Bay, Carolina, Colorado and Vegas further.

It’s a tall order, and undoubtedly one of the reasons the front office is actively working to consolidate its roster despite serious salary cap constraints. Dubas struck a notable deal on Sunday, engineering a three-team trade that saw the Leafs acquire winger Nick Foligno (with significant salary retention) from Columbus. The cost was three picks in the draft, including a first-round pick in this year’s draft.

Foligno will undoubtedly be a pure hire – it has already been reported that Foligno is a likely candidate to return to the Blue Jackets via an unrestricted free agency. Even if the Maple Leafs wanted to bring back the 33-year-old veteran, they’re unlikely to have the flexibility to do so.

So why were the Maple Leafs so aggressive in their pursuit of Foligno? A lot of that is down to its versatility and defensive impact. The Maple Leafs have forwards who can score in spades – the team is comfortably third in the league in scores (3.4 goals per 60 minutes), and that’s part of a multi-year trend.

(Note: Some attention will be given to whether Foligno can be a goaltender presence for the Maple Leafs as well, which is no different than Toronto’s intentions when they signed Wayne Simmonds. may debate Foligno’s effectiveness in this role, but Columbus has failed on that front.)

The versatility argument is rather obvious. Foligno can play any front position and is a regular with both special teams units. Over the past three seasons, Foligno has averaged 2.3 minutes per game on the power play and 1.4 minutes per game on the penalty kick. The productive mid-six forwards who can be deployed in any situation with some degree of coaching confidence aren’t pushing trees.

But I think it’s more about the defensive skills he can bring to the Maple Leafs roster.

If we look at the numbers on the ice from Foligno – this time focusing on even-handed play – we can see that the positive play he has typically created is in the defensive third with the teams unable to generate a match. significant shot quality or volumes with Foligno on the ice. :

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The defensive numbers cratered a bit in 2020-2021 (somewhat due to the quality of the squad), but he’s a winger who has posted relatively strong defensive performances over a five-year horizon, beating the majority of his NHL peers every year. And full in the past five seasons, the Blue Jackets have beaten their opponents (+6) with Foligno on the ice.

Visualized, pay close attention to how Foligno’s defensive touch has been sustained over the years. Teams have an incredibly tough time getting indoors when he’s on the ice, which has been kind of a bugaboo for the Maple Leafs during postseason games, via HockeyViz:

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The bet here is that Foligno’s defensive touch is still solid and his overall production – whether scoring scores on the attacking side or removing punches from the defensive side, has been hampered due to the difficulty. of the Blue Jackets as a whole.

More precisely still in Foligno, we know that there is less talent to be done in Columbus. Boone Jenner has been anchored in Foligno’s hip for ages now, but formidable linemen like Josh Anderson and Pierre-Luc Dubois weren’t options this season, and famous pair Seth Jones and Zach Werenski have been unsettled by a wound.

He will see an important quality of teammates increase in Toronto. And whether he’s playing on the line of John Tavares or Alex Kerfoot, there will be an abundance of opportunities.

The only question remaining is whether or not Foligno can produce at the hefty cost for which he was acquired – even Cup-contending teams are reluctant to trade valuable draft picks, and the Maple Leafs need three. months of solid back and forth play from the veteran in order to get a refund on this offer.

Données via Natural Stat Trick, HockeyViz, Evolving Hockey

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