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In response to depleted rosters due to virus protocols, the NHL has temporarily (for now) brought back the Taxi Squads. This will certainly have a ripple effect on the AHL and ECHL.
The NHL, with the blessing of the players union, has recently reinstated the Taxi Squads. According to NHL Public Relations via nhl.com, the rules for the taxi squads this season are as follows:
- Clubs will be permitted to form Taxi Squads on a temporary basis beginning on Dec. 26, 2021 (subject to Holiday Roster Freeze restrictions), and lasting through the date of their final game prior to the scheduled dates for the 2022 All-Star Break. After each Club’s final game before the All-Star Break, its Taxi Squad will dissolve. Clubs may then recall or Reassign the Players that were assigned to the Taxi Squad.
- Clubs will be permitted to assign a maximum of six (6) Players to their Taxi Squad. All such assignments will be subject to Waiver requirements as applicable. No individual Player may spend more than twenty (20) cumulative days on the Taxi Squad during the temporary formation period.
- Players on Loan to the Taxi Squad will be permitted to travel and practice with the NHL Club, however, such Players can only play in an NHL Game if recalled and placed on the NHL Club’s Active Roster before such NHL Game (and no later than the appropriate 5:00 p.m. deadline). Although not all Players on Loan to the Taxi Squad are required to travel to all away games, it is recommended that a sufficient number of Taxi Squad Players travel with the Club to ensure an adequate number of Players are available for Recalls as may be necessary.
To implement these changes, the NHL and NHLPA (players union) had to agree to a few temporary changes to the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). NHL Public Relations states these changes are:
- A Club shall be permitted to recall a Player pursuant to the Roster Emergency Exception with an Averaged Amount (if calculated exclusive of Exhibit 5 Performance Bonuses) that is no more than $1,000,000.
- If a Club has fewer than two (2) goaltenders on its Active Roster who are able to play in the Club’s next Regular Season game due to injury or illness, it will be permitted to recall a goaltender immediately without the Club playing the previous game with fewer than two (2) goaltenders.
- Additionally, should both goaltenders on a Club’s Playing Roster become incapacitated during an NHL Game, the Club will similarly be permitted to immediately recall a goaltender for purposes of playing in such NHL Game.
- If a Club has fewer than twelve (12) forwards or six (6) defensemen on its Active Roster who are able to play in its next Regular Season game specifically by virtue of Players being unavailable due to COVID-19 Protocol, such Club will be permitted to recall Players at the deficient positions without the Club having to play the previous game with fewer than 18 skaters.
All Taxi Squad rules and temporary CBA changes quoted directly from the NHL press release on the two topics.
So to put it in a very basic form, Taxi Squads can have up to six players, none of them can make over $1,000,000 per season, and it is designed so that NHL teams will not have to play with less than eighteen skaters and two goaltenders. As you can see above there are more details to it than that, but this is the “cliff notes” version of it.
Another keyword in all of this is temporary. According to the release from NHL Public Relations, the Taxi Squads are to end at the NHL All-Star Break – which is scheduled for February 4th and February 5th, 2022. After this, transactions will go back to normal in regards to waivers, rosters, etc.
For approximately six weeks (as long as the Taxi Squads do expire when they are supposed to), it means there will be roster chaos in not only the NHL but the AHL and ECHL as well. Surely, the NHL teams will most likely be filling their Taxi Squads from their AHL clubs, and AHL clubs will be looking to replenish their rosters from the ECHL teams. Of course, PTO (professional tryout) contracts will be signed in both the American Hockey League and ECHL to help fill roster voids as well.
Another key point to remember is although NHL teams can have up to six players on their Taxi Squads, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will have six players on it at all times. I’ll use the New Jersey Devils and their AHL affiliate the Utica Comets as an example. The Devils recently had a Covid outbreak but five players that had missed time have since returned – of course, Tomas Tatar and Jon Gillies were put on that list on Tuesday making the net roster gain three players instead of five. Even still, the Devils only have three players on their Taxi Squad right now: Jesper Boqvist, Marian Studenic, and Kevin Bahl.
The franchise(s) history of the Utica Comets
How does this affect the Comets? When the Devils had their roster shortage, Studenic and Bahl were called up to help fill their roster. While it’s reasonable to expect that Studenic might have stayed in New Jersey for the time being without the Taxi Squad, Bahl would most likely have been sent back to Utica without it. Now, since Bahl is on the New Jersey Taxi Squad, he obviously won’t be available to the Comets and they will have navigate around his absence in their lineup longer than they thought they would have to.
Even though the Devils only have three players on their Taxi Squad right now this can and probably will change. Whether more get added or taken off naturally depends on the Devils virus situation (or any other NHL team for that matter), and that is certainly fluid and can change by the minute. If you’re keeping score at home, this article was published on December 28th, 2021 at 7:00pm EST – it’ll be interesting to see just how much roster change there is among the New jersey Devils (NHL), Utica Comets (AHL), and Adirondack Thunder (ECHL) between the time the was published and February 4th, 2022.
Is this an ideal solution to the current roster turmoil in the NHL? Obviously not for fans of the AHL and ECHL teams that will probably lose players when they weren’t expecting to do so – albeit temporarily. Still, if it helps reel in the number of postponed games, then it’s better than cancelling some or all of the season at any level. Let’s hope for the best.