Saturday update: As rumoured yesterday, it was confirmed today that Nick Robertson was not released by the Maple Leafs to join Team USA. He will not participate in the tournament.
On Friday afternoon, as various teams trimmed up rosters ahead of flying to Edmonton for the WJC (flights are supposed to arrive on Sunday), Bob McKenzie tweeted out a story about Nick Robertson. Most of it is how a calendar works with a side order of logistical concerns, none of it new.
Here’s the story:
Ideally, TOR would like to have Robertson in the WJC but the top priority for the team, and presumably the player himself, is to try to make Leafs 2021 roster. If the projected NHL RTP date of Jan. 13 is reality, camps would open late Dec/early Jan. WJC gold medal game is Jan. 5.— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) December 11, 2020
That’s no different than CHI’s Kirby Dach, for example, who is playing for Team 🇨🇦 but, in this instance, CHI is prepared to award an NHL roster spot to Dach without him being in camp while TOR doesn’t feel it’s in a position to do so with Robertson.— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) December 11, 2020
It’s up to each individual NHL club to determine if a (potential) NHL training camp in early January is more important to them and/or their WJC prospect(s) than playing in the WJC. And how iron-clad is that Jan. 13 RTP start date for the NHL?— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) December 11, 2020
Lots of questions, lots of moving parts for NHL clubs, national junior teams, top prospects etc., but that’s where things are at right now for TOR/Team 🇺🇸/Robertson. 🤷♂️— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) December 11, 2020
Okay, so to parse this out... and I don’t want to fall into the trap of taking every word too seriously and looking for deeper meaning, but McKenzie is a careful speaker. This wasn’t off the cuff thoughts. What situation is developing? The implication of that is that something, perhaps involving the NHL and NHLPA plans for the 2021 season, has changed regarding timing. Because otherwise, all of this was true when the Leafs said they’d send Robertson to Edmonton in mid December if they could.
The rumours around the start of training camp have moved off of the first week in January and a really accelerated 10-day camp and into a potential December 31 start date, although it’s not clear if that’s for everyone or just the non-playoff teams.
MLSE has a plane, so unless they’re so broke that they don’t want to use it, they can fly Robertson to Toronto on that flight, not a commercial flight and avoid any 7-day quarantine on arrival.
And now I’m stumped. Chicago is “willing to award Kirby Dach a roster spot” without him being in camp, but Toronto isn’t with Robertson. Rosters are set on the last day of camp, usually one or two days before opening day, and that would be the 11th or 12th, if a January 13 date is really the start date. So, sure, if the Leafs are going to make him fly commercial, potentially on the 6th or 7th of the month, then he would be too late to play in the opening day game.
But... so what? If he’s iffy on making the roster, he’s hardly crucial to have on the roster for every game. Last I looked, the Leafs had enough forwards signed for two teams.
What exactly do they need to have him in camp for? What are they going to learn that’s worth pulling the plug on the WJC at the last minute? And if he goes to Leafs training camp and doesn’t make the team, then what exactly are they going to do with him? Doesn’t he almost seem like a rostered player by default at least until the OHL starts up again?
Something feels hinky about this story. Something to do with the Leafs very tight roster, where they can’t hold a forward spot for a day or two for Robertson without risking someone on waivers they don’t want to risk when he returns. Or maybe there’s about to be a much early date for declaring rosters because of testing rules to transition from training camp to the regular season COVID-19 protocols. Or they want the option to trade their extras in camp if Robertson comes in hot to nail down the third LW spot.
Maybe there’s about to be some clarity on how you get stretched rosters and taxi squads when most of the contending teams can’t even stretch the salary cap to 23, much less 23+.
Whatever it’s all about, it feels like something is missing from the story. Otherwise, it’s exactly the same set of decisions the Leafs have had since they said yes to Team USA in the first place. At that time, the proposed season start was January 1, after all.