Organizational depth will be paramount in the run for this year’s Stanley Cup. With the NHL set to embark on a shortened, but compressed 56-game schedule on January 13th, injuries and issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic could put a premium on game-ready reserves.
In order to prepare for the likelihood of an increased demand on non-roster players, the NHL is allowing each team to run a “taxi squad” this season. The taxi squad will have a minimum of four and a maximum of six players, which must include a goaltender unless a team is carrying three goalies on its NHL roster.
Taxi squad players will be able to train and travel with the NHL team but will not be able to participate in the activities of any other organization, i.e. an AHL team. Players can move freely between the taxi squad and the NHL roster, but call-ups must be made prior to 5 p.m. on game day.
Any players who are waiver eligible would have to clear waivers before being added to the taxi squad. For cap purposes, taxi squad salaries will be counted in the same manner as contracts buried in the AHL.
Even with the addition of the taxi squads, the situation is complicated by the fact that a number of ECHL and AHL clubs have decided to shutdown for the season, thus limiting the options for prospect play. Here is an organization look at NHL team affiliates and their status for the coming season.
On Monday January 4 the AHL announced that three teams have opted out for the 2021 season: The Charlotte Checkers, Milwaukee Admirals and Springfield Thunderbirds each decided to close for the season.
The St. Louis Blues and Vancouver Canucks announced on January 4 that the two teams would share the Utica Comets.
— Vancouver #Canucks (@Canucks) January 4, 2021
The AHL will operate in five divisions this season. (Further details, including schedule formats and playoffs, are still to be determined).
If an affiliate is five hours away from their NHL home base, a quarantine is necessary. According to Elliotte Friedman, that rule played a role in the Blues’ decision. Florida’s prospects are expected to join Syracuse (Tampa Bay) and Nashville’s prospects with Chicago (Carolina).
Four teams have been granted provisional relocations for the 2020-21 season: the Binghamton Devils will play in Newark, N.J.; the Ontario Reign will play in El Segundo, Calif.; the Providence Bruins will play in Marlborough, Mass.; and the San Diego Gulls will play in Irvine, Calif.
What wasn’t announced was a playoff structure. NHL clubs have made it very clear this season is more about development than competition. The post-season is not as big a priority for them.
Canadian participation (Belleville, Laval, Manitoba, Toronto) remains subject to the approval of local governments. It is expected that those teams will be asked to adhere to NHL-style protocols before permission is granted. It will be expensive, but these teams feel not playing is not an option. It’s also possible Ottawa and Montreal’s prospects move to their NHL arenas for the season.
Six ECHL teams initially opted out of the season on November 18, including the Adirondack Thunder, an affiliate of the New Jersey Devils, the Brampton Beast (Ottawa Senators), Maine Mariners (New York Rangers), Newfoundland Growlers (Toronto Maple Leafs), Reading Royals (Philadelphia Flyers) and Worcester Railers (New York Islanders).
These six teams were joined by the Atlanta Gladiators (Boston Bruins) and Norfolk Admirals (independent) who opted out on December 7.
On January 5 it was reported that the Toledo Walleye would also be opting out for the season.
ECHL News – expect the Toledo Walleye to announce they will not play this season.
— Jeff Marek (@JeffMarek) January 5, 2021
So, how does the current organizational depth look for each of the NHL teams?
Affiliate Status Summary
In short, organizational depth will be critical this season, as we could see a record number of different players see games on the Capitals roster at some point during the season. Those depth players need to be ready.
The taxi squad members will likely see the first “call ups”, but players playing on affiliate teams need to be ready as well.
By Jon Sorensen