The National Hockey League has spiced up the format for the 2021 return to play strategy.
The NHL and NHLPA have agreed to a 56-game regular season schedule. The league has also implemented taxi squads for the upcoming 56-game NHL season, which will begin on January 13, 2020.
There will be four divisions: North, West, Central and East.
NHL general mangers and coaches can now utilize their taxi squads as a player development tool. NHL clubs can carry some of their top prospects on their roster which will allow the kids to gain invaluable experiences while practicing with their NHL coaches and teammates. The taxi squad will also benefit clubs by allowing them to reload their roster on the fly in the event the COVID-19 virus rears its ugly head during the 2021 regular season.
There is a genuine risk that major junior hockey leagues will be canceling their seasons in 2021. NHL general managers teams can now consider placing one or two of their organization's top player prospects on their taxi squad, which would act as a spring board for the kids to the NHL sooner than later. I like this option better than allowing the prospects to play a couple of major junior games before a season his postponed. The taxi squad will also prevent the prospects from signing contracts to play in pro leagues in Europe.
How will taxi squad players be paid? The prospects will be allowed to appear in six NHL games before having to use the first year of their entry-level contract, something teams wouldn’t want to do.
It was reported on Sunday that NHL taxi squads are a one-off and will be shut down after the 2021 season. According to CapFriendly, taxi squads will consist of between four to six players, and must include at least one goaltender, unless the NHL club is carrying three goaltenders on their roster. Waiver rules would still apply if the team wants to send their players back to the American League. The salary cap impact would count as if the prospects were being buried in the minors. Prospects will receive their full National Hockey League salaries if they are on one-year contracts, while players with two-year contracts will play for their American League salary.
Under the new return to play agreement, taxi squad players are now given the green light to travel with the NHL club, practice with them and be included any NHL team activities. The prospects are not permitted to practice with any other group besides their NHL team, which means the prospects wll not be permitted to practice or join in on any AHL activities.
Prospects can and will be recalled to the NHL club on any given day of the week, however, the roster moves must be completed by or before 5 p.m. Eastern time to play in that night’s game action. All goalies can be recalled at any time if a team does not have have two active goaltenders to play.
What if a taxi squad player is determined to unfit to play due to an injury, illness, COVID-19 quarantine? Under the new agreement, the NHL general manager can request the player not be counted as one of their six players.