The taxi squad that was one of the defining features of the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 season is not expected to continue for this upcoming campaign. However, with the COVID variants making an impact on society in different ways, could the NHL revive the taxi squad for 2021-22?
If that were to happen and assuming the parameters of a taxi squad for each team remains the same as last season, would there be a similar mindset for how the Blackhawks decide on who is on the taxi squad to start and how to manage it over the course of the year?
Let's first review the basics of the taxi squad:
* Each team needs at least 4 players but no more than 6 on the taxi squad at all times.
* At least one of the players on the taxi squad must be a goalie as a team needs to also carry at least 3 goalies on the expanded roster.
* If a player is moving to and from the taxi squad, said player must clear waivers if they are not exempt such as youngsters on ELCs.
* The taxi squad would include players who earn AHL salaries but receive the benefits of NHL players such as per diem.
* Taxi squad players practice with the NHL club but don’t play in games and don't travel either unless recalled while the team is on the road.
A primary consideration is that prospects with the greatest potential to be impact players for the Hawks in the long term aren’t necessarily the players you want on the taxi squad since they would only be practicing and not play in any games whether in the NHL or AHL.
A corollary argument is that the taxi squad is for players whose development won't be stunted by essentially being practice players. Last season, that was players like Brandon Pirri, John Quenneville, and Anton Lindholm. Pirri was the only one who got into a game.
As such, the preference is for youngsters to log loads of minutes in the minors whether forwards starting in the top 6, D-men starting in the top 4, or a goalie starting in net. Even if any of them are ready for the NHL later on, it doesn't hurt them to overripen in the AHL.
If the taxi squad feature is renewed for 2021-22 and the parameters don't change from a season ago, who would be the candidates to compose the initial taxi squad for the Hawks? Let's look first at skaters then the next section focuses on the netminders.
There aren't many options actually as far as players like Pirri, Quenneville, and Lindholm who are on NHL contracts. Dylan McLaughlin, Garrett Mitchell, Dmitry Osipov, Ryan Stanton, and Cliff Watson have at least two years of pro experience but are on AHL deals thus ineligible.
All other players projected to be in Rockford, though, should ideally be playing in games whether in the AHL or recalled to the NHL and starting for the Hawks. Otherwise, they shouldn't be reduced to practice players. Learning still occurs but is still rather limited.
Although far from ideal, Philipp Kurashev and MacKenzie Entwistle would be entering their third pro season so perhaps they would be okay on the taxi squad. The same with Jakub Galvas who has played five years of pro already in Europe but no games yet as a pro in North America.
If looking at the Hawks roster, a few options for a 2021-22 taxi squad could include Ryan Carpenter, Brett Connolly, Alex Nylander, and Calvin de Haan. The risk is moving them to and from the taxi squad requires waivers so they could get claimed with no assets in return to Chicago.
Another aspect to consider with the taxi squad is the composition changes constantly over the course of the season so what it looks like on opening night is sure to look different each month. This constant evolution of the composition may be favorable in due course in this case.
It may be more palatable then to add Entwistle, Kurashev, and Galvas to the taxi squad later after some marination in the AHL. Others to consider include Mike Hardman, Andrei Altybarmakian, Evan Barratt, Josiah Slavin, Wyatt Kalynuk, Ian Mitchell, Nicolas Beaudin, and Chad Krys.
Compared to last season, deciding on centers, wingers, and defensemen to serve on the taxi squad for this season may not be as easy. There are some similar details and circumstances but also some differences to keep in mind. Selecting a goalie, though, may not be so tough.
The Hawks began 2020-21 with a trio of goalies in Malcolm Subban, Collin Delia, and Kevin Lankinen and it was the last one to get his first turn between the pipes who ended up being the runaway starter. Lankinen did hit a developmental wall but earned a spot for this season.
Now, there's no debate going into 2021-22 whether there will be a platoon of three goalies again as Marc-Andre Fleury enters the chat to not only take a spot but be automatically anointed as either the bonafide starter or 1a in a 1a/1b situation with Lankinen.
This is a good thing for many reasons, one of which is that having a rotation of more than two goalies at the NHL level is unfavorable because they each get short changed on playing time during a season which was even more problematic last season with a shorter schedule.
Remember, a goalie on the taxi squad would only be able to practice but not play in games. That might be fine for a veteran but not a youngster gunning for an NHL job. However, this would be perfect to retain at least one of Subban or Delia to be the taxi squad goalie this season.
If that's the case, then the other one of Subban or Delia who doesn't get a spot on the Hawks expanded roster should be traded for a draft pick (i.e. 4th rounder or later). This would mean that Cale Morris and Arvid Soderblom would be the starter and backup for the IceHogs.
See you on the boards!