Toronto Maple Leafs: The Nick Robertson Situation

Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Nick Robertson #16 of the Peterborough Petes (Photo by Chris Tanouye/Getty Images)
Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Nick Robertson #16 of the Peterborough Petes (Photo by Chris Tanouye/Getty Images) /
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The Toronto Maple Leafs are in a bit of a pickle.

The Toronto Maple Leafs have taken a team that was among the two or three best rosters in the NHL, and they have added an elite top-pairing defenseman who was, by total contribution, better than 87% of defensemen last season.  Everything else they did this “summer” is window-dressing.

T.J Brodie is a massive add, and the Leafs lost nothing.  Andreas Johnsson contributed nothing last season due to injury, and Kasperi Kapanen’s performance was that of a struggling AHL player being asked to play too high up the lineup.  

The Leafs were beset last year by an almost Mr. Burns Softball Team-Esque set of circumstances.  From Babcock to Covid, to the fact that they didn’t dress their optimal lineup for a single solitary game, to the fact that with Michael Hutchinson they posted a record equal to the Red Wings and without him equal to the Cup Winning Lightning.  

This year, with even league average goaltending and health, combined with what promises to be the highest scoring roster in the NHL, and the further development of future Hall of Famers Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, the Leafs are finally ready to live up to their potential.

That pickle though.

Toronto Maple Leafs, Nick Robertson and Rasmus Sandin

The Leafs are now – objectively speaking – the NHL’s deepest team.  And what happens on deep teams? Youth is marginalized for experience.

The Leafs – we hope – are wise to this and prepared, but you never know.  The history of virtually every NHL coach ever says that Wayne Simmonds gets ice time that should be going to Nick Robertson.  That Zach Bogosian, even Travis Dermott, or KHL star Mikko Lehtonen will get ice time over Rasmus Sandin.

This would be unwise.  Not only are star players (and both are potentially stars) on entry-level deals the NHL Salary Cap equivalent of getting a yellow star in Super Mario Bros., these players don’t have anywhere else to play.

And that there is your metaphorical pickle.

Nick Robertson scored over a goal per game in the OHL last year.  If you can score over a goal per game, you are too good for the league you are playing in.  If you want to one day be the best in the world at something (example, scoring goals) you cannot improve in a league where you are the best player (or at any rate, close enough so that it’s irrelevant).

If that league ridiculously eliminates body checking what would the point even be?  Is there any need for Nick Roberstson to score 345 goals next season playing in a league that already couldn’t contain him?

He can’t play in the AHL because as of right now, there being an AHL to play in looks extremely unlikely.

The fact is, the best fit for both Robertson and Sandin is the NHL.  Wherever you put either of them next year, if its not the NHL, they both figure to be close to the best player in whatever league they go to, which means stalled development.

That means they should both be penciled in to the NHL lineup for the Toronto Maple Leafs first game, whenever that is.  In Sandin’s case, the Leafs already burned a year of his ELC, and they might as well take advantage.

The Leafs status as a contender, however, complicates things.  Sandin and Robertson are both going to have to beat other NHL players for jobs, and they can’t, the Leafs are in trouble.

dark. Next. Bogosian Good Only As a Seventh Defenseman

If the Leafs were not contenders, you’d develop them regardless.  But the fact that they are means they can’t give away developmental roster spots.  But with no where to play them otherwise, they’ve got a bit of a situation. A pickle, if you will.