As Leafs fans await word on a Chris Tanev signing, Chris Johnston reported somewhat surprising but not totally shocking news on Sunday night: Nick Robertson has requested a trade.

The frustration is understandable to a degree for a skilled player who played NHL (playoff) games as an 18-year-old (we’ll put aside whether he should’ve actually been in the lineup) and has been yo-yo’d for parts of four seasons since, although injuries have also played a major role in Robertson’s early pro career. The temptation for a player with Robertson’s offensive toolkit to seek out more advantageous scoring-line and power-play opportunities elsewhere is obvious.

Robertson’s frustration with his playing-time situation seemed to come to a head in March of last season; he produced five goals and 10 points in his previous 20 games while playing just 12:09 a night, but as a waiver-exempt player, he again got caught up in the cap/roster shuffle after Calle Jarnkrok returned from injury shortly following the trade deadline.

“I’ve been in plenty of situations before where waivers have kind of screwed me. I’m numb to it. I’ve had to be in situations where I’ve had to find my way back and stuff. But like I said, I’m not happy about it. I want to be in the lineup. It is what it is. I just manage it and wait for my name to be called.”
– Nick Robertson in March 2024

All of that said, Tyler Bertuzzi is heading to the market per Darren Dreger’s latest reporting, and while the Leafs may make a separate addition at the LW position (they’ve been loosely connected to David Perron and Jake DeBrusk), the reality is this as of this writing: Robertson will have a clean slate under a brand new head coach at camp this fall, and his competition for playing time at left wing currently includes Matthew Knies, Bobby McMann, Connor Dewar, and potentially one of Pontus Holmberg or Max Domi (it remains to be seen if the latter slots on the left wing instead of at center or on Auston Matthews’ right wing, but Domi will likely move around quite a bit throughout the year as needed). Maybe it becomes more crowed on the LW tomorrow, or Robertson/Robertson’s agent knows something we don’t, but the timing is interesting because it could be a 2024-25 training camp with a real opportunity for Robertson to show up and win some minutes under a new coach against some relatively unproven competition (McMann has also battled injuries quite a bit in his pro career).

More relevant than what the LW depth chart may or may not look like by the fall: If Robertson is caught up in the numbers game again in October, the Leafs will either have to reserve a spot for him on the roster but not play him (which is perhaps something Robertson’s camp is worried about — a Justin Holl-under-Mike-Babcock scenario), trade him, or make him available for free to the 31 other teams as his waiver eligibility kicks in next season, per CapFriendly (Robertson signed his ELC at age 18 in Sep. 2019). Point being, the Leafs can’t simply shuffle him back and forth as they could in past seasons.

The Leafs don’t have to honour anything regarding a trade request. Robertson is under their RFA control, and he is affordable scoring depth for them with a valuable standout tool: the ability to shoot the puck in the net and beat goalies cleanly. If he’s at all realistic about his situation, he’s too inexperienced and his security in the league is too precarious for him to actually sit out of camp/games unsigned. The Leafs need more draft pick capital in 2025, but it’s not worth throwing Robertson’s rights away for a mid-level or worse draft pick at this point.

You typically don’t want a truly discontented player in the organization, but trade requests also aren’t always followed through on, and time/GM-player conversations could always change the feelings on the issue/relationship. We’ll see where Brad Treliving takes it from here. The Leafs GM will surely look around and shop Robertson with this request in mind, but he shouldn’t feel the need to force a trade or accept a poor return.