NHL Reinstitutes Taxi Squads
What’s Happening: On December 26, the NHL announced the reinstitution of six-player taxi squads on a temporary basis in order to “address issues related to the ongoing COVID pandemic.” By doing so, the league seeks to ensure “the health and safety of all players and club personnel,” prevent teams from playing shorthanded, and avoid the postponement of games. This adjustment is set to last until each team’s “final game prior to the scheduled dates for the 2022 All-Star Break,” at which point the taxi squads will dissolve and players will be recalled or reassigned.
Varying Strategies: Across the league, teams appear to vary dramatically in their usage of the taxi squads. On one extreme, there are teams fully filling up their taxi squads with their best-performing young talent, like the Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild, and Montreal Canadiens.
On the other end, you have many teams currently opting not to use their taxi squad at all, like the Boston Bruins, Edmonton Oilers, and Washington Capitals. And in-between, you have teams with anywhere from one to four players, any combination of young talent, inexperienced or veteran minor-leaguers, or veteran NHLers. While things are still early, it appears as though no consistent strategies have emerged from league-leaders down to bottom-of-the-league teams or from teams with ongoing COVID issues to those without.
Bigger Picture: After taking a look at teams’ current taxi squads, it looks like the news might be positive for a number of players. In particular, a large number of goalies from far down on the franchise depth chart are getting practice and/or game time with their NHL squads for varying reasons, most notably seen with the Chicago Blackhawks (Cale Morris and Arvid Soderblom), Philadelphia Flyers (Felix Sandstrom and Kirill Ustimenko), and Vegas Golden Knights (Dylan Ferguson, Jiri Patera, and Logan Thompson).
Cole Perfetti, who was a standout during this year’s brief 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship and currently sits on the Winnipeg Jets’ taxi squad, might get another crack at staying in the big leagues. With the Stars on the outside looking in, their young taxi squad (e.g. Riley Damiani, Ty Dellandrea, Thomas Harley, and Riley Tufte) almost looks like a tryout to move up and help improve the team’s position in the standings. And with the Wild, it looks like a mid-season mini-camp to prepare their prospects (e.g. Matthew Boldy, Connor Dewar, and Marco Rossi) for what they hope will be a deep playoff push.
All in all, some players who may not have otherwise been given time to gain experience and learn from NHL staff are getting a great opportunity. While it’s only temporary, this might be a good thing, allowing for development and exposure without missing out on too much game time. Thus, it appears as though “one person's loss is another person's gain,” with minimal losses and numerous gains for all.