Bunting, Foligno & Campbell’s Thinking?

In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’m going to string together some considerations about the current situation in which the team is engaged. It’s impossible to read, write, and research the news, rumors, and other writers’ insights much of the day without having a few thoughts of my own. 

In this post, I’ll share what I believe are some lessons the Maple Leafs have learned about signing or trading for players. I’ll also bring up an old name – Nick Foligno – to wonder if there’s a possible future with the Maple Leafs. 

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Keefe, Mikheyev & Dreaming of Oettinger

Finally, I’ll share some thoughts about the situation goalie Jack Campbell is engaged in from what I believe might be his perspective – insofar as I can imagine what that might look like from the inside.

Item One: Where Will Dubas Find the Team’s Next Bunting or Kampf?

From my perspective, there’ve been some clear lessons for general manager Kyle Dubas and the Maple Leafs’ management team from the last two seasons. Lesson one is that finding good players doesn’t mean you necessarily have to throw more money at them. 

Examples include Petr Mrazek and Nick Ritchie. Every signing and every trade brings risk; and, I’m not one to look at these decisions backward to point a finger of blame at a decision that went awry. Gosh knows I’ve (we’ve all) made decisions from the best information I had only to see them turn out to be wrong.

Nick Ritchie, when he was with the Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Every Maple Leafs’ fan knows the deal. Mrazek was signed for three years at $3.8 million each season. But he was often injured and then, when he did play, he looked jumpy in the net – so many moving parts. He seemed uncomfortable. In fact, to my eyes, both Joseph Woll and Erik Kallgren played better for the team than Mrazek did. 

Given this lesson and the clean-up that will probably follow, why wouldn’t the team take a chance on one of its own young goalies in the system? If they have the skill, and we saw it quite regularly (but sporadically – to be expected) on display last season, why not let them learn and grow? They’re cheaper. But the mental aspect of the position (from what I hear) is a learned thing. Let the young goalies learn. Maple Leafs’ fans say the regular season doesn’t matter anyway.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Ritchie Gets One More Chance after Clifford Trade

Example two is Nick Ritchie. Ritchie cost the salary cap $2.5 for two years, while the much better players – faster and more driven to my eye – David Kampf (at $1.5 million for two years) and Micheal Bunting ($950,000 for two years as well) cost the salary cap just around that same money for the both of them. Even trade-deadline acquisition Colin Blackwell showed a determined motor and played well enough at the NHL league minimum ($725,000), too.

The second lesson is that, if I were in Dubas’ shoes, I’d be happy about the lower-priced players I found and would keep hunting for them – either on another team’s roster or in my own organization. From what I’ve seen, there’s a lot of talent and drive in players whose salaries are between the NHL league minimum and $1.5 million. 

Michael Bunting Toronto Maple Leafs
Michael Bunting, Toronto Maple Leafs (Richard Lautens/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

The Maple Leafs learned all about Nick Paul ($1.35 million) in their playoff series with to the Tampa Bay Lightning. You can bet that Dubas is seeking the next Bunting and Kampf – or even Paul – right now. 

Item Two: I Keep Thinking About Nick Foligno

In a post yesterday, THW Rob Couch listed the top five buyout candidates in the NHL for the upcoming offseason. Among them was Nick Foligno. If Foligno is bought out by the Boston Bruins, is there a chance he’d come back to the Maple Leafs? 

Related: The Worst 1st Overall Draft Pick…Ever

Admitted, he was a really bad trade deadline pick-up by the Maple Leafs’ brain trust. In the end, he cost the team a lot and delivered minimally. He was injured and hardly played in the postseason. Understanding the complexity of the deal that brought him to the Maple Leafs would be like untangling your fishing line. But, that’s how much Dubas wanted him. 

Even after Foligno didn’t play up to standards – for whatever reason he didn’t, the word was that Dubas still wanted to re-sign him but into a team leadership role similar to the one Jason Spezza had – as a mentor and teacher to the young players. 

Nick Foligno Morgan Rielly Mitchell Marner Toronto Maple Leafs
Nick Foligno, Morgan Rielly and Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Darcy Finley/NHLI via Getty Images)

If Foligno is bought out as Couch suggests he might be, there are a lot of reasons Foligno might want to return. First, players of character would want to come back and atone for letting a team down. Second, Foligno has a connection with the organization because his dad Mike played in Toronto in the early 1990s. 

Third, Foligno knows he was wanted and would still be wanted at the right price. But the right price was not the $3.80 million the Bruins paid. (It wasn’t the right price for them, either.)

Related: Ryan Miller: Winningest U.S.-Born Goalie

Foligno is, by all accounts, a character guy and a leader. He’s done little but play fourth-line minutes with Boston and would do so in Toronto. But then, if Spezza and Giordano are willing, why wouldn’t he consider it as well? He’s made bigger money. He’s an Ontario lad. 

I’m not saying he’ll come back if he’s bought out, but I can see it.

What Campbell Might Be Thinking

Is Jack Campbell really gone? Since this is a post where I’m speculating about things, I think there are some reasons why Maple Leafs’ fans shouldn’t say goodbye to “Sooouuupy” just yet. From everything one hears, Campbell would love to stay in Toronto. However, a lot is at stake for him; and, I get it. 

This is his one – and probably only – chance he has to set up his retirement as well as he can. His $1.65 million each season USD salary does not make him a pauper living in Canada. Still, he really does have a chance to set himself up for the rest of his life with this next contract. No one can blame him for listening to offers.

Jack Campbell Toronto Maple Leafs
Jack Campbell, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Knowing the salary offer he’s likely to get from the Maple Leafs would have to make him ambivalent at best. If I were chatting with him, I’d encourage him to listen – solidify his thinking about the value of his personal needs vs. his financial needs; but, also weigh in with his agent. 

Given Campbell’s personality and his history of despair, he has a unique perspective. Most fans know his story. He was a young goalie who came with huge potential and was drafted in round one of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft (11th overall) by the Dallas Stars. Then he seemed to lose it all when his talent, skills, and future melted. He found his way back, but there were times he couldn’t even keep a job in the AHL. 

Related: Maple Leafs Should Pursue Ilya Mikheyev Extension Now

From what I read, he knows what it’s like to be lost. Given how settled he’s become in his home in Toronto, unless I’m completely missing it, his heart is involved as much as his head. 

I don’t believe that he’s simply going to let Dubas and his agent work it out without his say. All this considered, I’m not saying goodbye to Jack Campbell just yet.

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