Return of NHL taxi squads creates domino effect in minors

nhl taxi squads
Ben Green/NHLI via Getty Images

Larry Landon enjoyed watching two recent American Hockey League callups score in their NHL debuts. Adding to the fun: they did it against a team with a player who spent time in the ECHL.

“It’s wonderful to see,” the executive director of the Professional Hockey Players’ Association said. “It’s great for the players. Everybody aspires to get to the NHL, and whether it’s pandemic or not, they got a chance to play and show their skillset.”

Of course, somebody had to replace those players in the minor leagues, and with the NHL bringing back taxi squads amid a surge of COVID-19 cases, there’s been a ripple effect felt down the hockey food chain in North America.

Similar to last season, each of the NHL’s 32 teams can now carry up to six players on the taxi squad to prevent more virus postponements and fill lineups with 18 skaters and two goaltenders. That means nearly 200 open roster spots across the AHL, which is in turn pilfering players off ECHL clubs.

“There’s very much a domino effect,” AHL president and CEO Scott Howson said. “It’s really stretched our rosters from both ends. And then you just have to deal with it, and our teams are doing a good job of trying to find replacement players and getting through the games that they’re eligible to play.”

The AHL postponed 64 games and the ECHL 14 through Wednesday. And the required number of healthy bodies is lower than the NHL: roughly 15 skaters and two goalies for the AHL and 13 and two for the ECHL.

Those standards might still be too challenging with the NHL sucking up so many players. In the three days after taxi squads were reinstated Sunday, 55 players were called up from the ECHL to the AHL.

“When you flip the faucet on full tilt, that creates an issue,” ECHL commissioner Ryan Crelin said.

The flow of talent includes players on NHL contracts in the AHL and ECHL and others on minor league contracts. Positive COVID-19 test results have also led to teams in the 27-team ECHL drawing from the Southern Professional Hockey League.

Asked how long this was sustainable, Landon said, “It all depends if there’s players to play. … It’s just going to be a lot of juggling, and who knows how long this is going to be for?”

Landon added that one of the positives is players can only be on the taxi squad for up to 20 consecutive days. It’s also only currently in place until the NHL All-Star break in early February, though it could be extended.

Taxi squads of up to eight players with at least one goaltender were used during the shortened 2021 season, which was also a strain on the AHL. The ECHL had several teams opt out of playing that season.

Days into the return of the taxi squad era, SPHL commissioner Doug Smith said his 11-team league has not been drastically affected yet. But the SPHL also allows games to be played at 4 on 4 if teams can’t get to 12 skaters apiece, and the hunt is on more than usual for on-ice talent.

“We’ve had teams in terms of finding bodies, former players, who maybe haven’t played competitive in two or three years,” Smith said. “Right now, it’s all hands on deck, and it’s finding players wherever you can just to get a competitive lineup night in and night out.”

Crelin and Smith pointed out that the NCAA granting an extra year of college eligibility has kept an entire swath of players from moving into the professional ranks. Pandemic restrictions have also made it difficult if not impossible to draw from Europe, so the pool is even smaller than usual.

It has set up a situation in which some players are bouncing back and forth between the AHL and ECHL where logistically possible and moving up from the SPHL when required. NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly informed Howson before Christmas that the taxi squads were coming, and the work is ongoing to make sure the entire hockey ecosystem continues to function.

“Like I said to Scott and Ryan: We’re all in this together,” Landon said. “Obviously I have a job to do to protect the players, but they have to protect their teams and make sure they’re successful and they’re able to keep going forward as we’d all want.”

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    Bruins set NHL record with 12 straight home wins to start season

    Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
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    BOSTON — The Boston Bruins set the NHL record for most home victories to start a season with their 12th straight, topping the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 in overtime with a power-play goal from David Pastrnak.

    The Bruins broke the mark of 11 that was set by the 1963-64 Chicago Blackhawks and equaled by the Florida Panthers last season.

    “That felt awesome,” Bruins first-year coach Jim Montgomery said. “We talked about it after the second (period) going into the third. There’s been a lot of great teams in this league and you’re able to set a precedent, break a record. It’s pretty special and it doesn’t happen if those guys don’t believe in themselves like they do.”

    Boston, which trailed 2-0 late in the second period, tied it with 9:33 left in regulation when David Krejci scored his second of the game on a shot from the right point.

    “It’s never fun being down going into the third, you’re sitting in here (in the locker room) trying to figure it out,” Krejci said. “You want to come out and do the job, something special on the line. It’s hard to win in this league. To get 12 in a row at home is pretty special.”

    In overtime, Carolina was playing shorthanded after being called for too many men on the ice when Pastrnak one-timed a pass from Brad Marchand inside the far post from above the left circle.

    “It was a big win for us, obviously, coming from behind,” Pastrnak said.

    Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Stefan Noesen each scored a power-play goal for Carolina, and Pyotr Kochetkov made 38 saves. The Hurricanes lost their fifth straight.

    In a rematch of last spring’s opening-round playoff series that the Hurricanes won in seven games, Carolina shutout the NHL’s highest scoring team for nearly two periods and jumped ahead a pair of power-play goals in the opening period.

    “We took too many penalties. That’s hurting us right now,” Kotaniemi said. “I think 5-on-5 we’re doing a really good job. We started good tonight and couldn’t keep that up.”

    Boston’s tying goal was originally disallowed because of goaltender interference on Nick Foligno but overturned on a coach’s challenge after it was ruled that he was nudged into the crease by Carolina defenseman Brett Pesce.

    Boston starting goaltender Linus Ullmark made 28 saves but had to leave with 13:03 left in the third period with an undisclosed upper-body injury. Teammate Connor Clifton had jumped on him to block a shot during a scramble. Jeremy Swayman made six stops in relief.

    Carolina’s Noesen scored at 6:34 in to make it 1-0. And with five minutes left in the period, Kotkaniemi collected the puck near the side of the net after Seth Jarvis‘ shot bounced off the back glass and slipped it inside the post at 15:05.

    Krejci scored for Boston with 31 seconds left in the second.

    Boston came in with a league-high 82 goals in 20 games (4.10 per game), but it was held to relatively few chances despite getting a 5-on-3 power-play advantage early on.

    TAKE NOTE

    The Bruins honored captain Patrice Bergeron, who recorded his 1,000th career point when the team was on the road against Tampa Bay, with a message on the Jumbotron. The crowd gave him a standing ovation.

    Bergeron became just the fourth Bruin to reach the mark, joining Hall of Famers Ray Bourque (1,506), Johnny Bucyk (1,339) and Phil Esposito (1,012).

    UP NEXT

    Hurricanes: Host the Calgary Flames.

    Bruins: Host the Tampa Bay Lightning.

    Predators postpone 2 games due to Nashville water main break

    Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
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    NASHVILLE, Tenn. —  The Nashville Predators postponed two home games because of a water main break that soaked their downtown arena.

    Hours after the Predators decided they couldn’t play against the Colorado Avalanche, the team announced it also postponed the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Makeup dates for the two games will be announced later.

    The NHL said the water main break that occurred “significantly impacted the event level” of Bridgestone Arena. Team locker rooms and the ice surface are on the event level.

    Predators President and CEO Sean Henry told reporters that the water in the event level ranged from 3 inches to 3 feet.

    “We’re assessing it right now. We’re remediating it,” Henry said. “The good thing is, the water got shut off, the city responded in a pretty fast manner. I don’t think anyone is ready for things like this the Friday after Thanksgiving.”

    Video posted by a WTVF-TV reporter shows the water puddled up on the main floor’s concourse area and the team store. The team was forced to close the store until further notice, pointing shoppers online for Black Friday specials.

    The Predators’ next home game is now scheduled for Tuesday against the Anaheim Ducks.

    The water issue also resulted in a switch to a different venue for a college hockey game between Northeastern and Western Michigan. They also had been scheduled to play at Bridgestone Arena, a game that was moved to Ford Ice Center Bellevue.

    Rangers trade Ryan Reaves to Wild for 5th-round pick in 2025

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    ST. PAUL, Minn. — The New York Rangers traded enforcer Ryan Reaves to the Minnesota Wild for a 2025 fifth-round pick.

    Reaves had been a healthy scratch for eight of the past 12 games for the Rangers. He gives struggling Minnesota some extra muscle and a veteran presence.

    The 35-year-old is signed through only the rest of this season at a $1.75 million salary cap hit. He has no points and 12 penalty minutes in 12 games of his second season with New York.

    Reaves has played in 869 NHL regular-season and playoff games for the St. Louis Blues, Pittsburgh Penguins, Vegas Golden Knights and Rangers. He was with the Golden Knights during their inaugural season in 2017-18 when the reached the Stanley Cup Final.

    Toronto’s Morgan Rielly placed on long-term injured reserve

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    TORONTO — The Toronto Maple Leafs placed defenseman Morgan Rielly on long-term injured reserve with a knee injury.

    Rielly was hurt in a collision with with New York forward Kyle Palmieri early in the third period of Toronto’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Islanders at home.

    Rielly has no goals and 16 assists in 20 games this season and is averaging 23 minutes of ice time.

    Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said following practice that the 28-year-old Rielly doesn’t need surgery, adding there’s no firm timeline for his return beyond the minimum 24 days and 10 games required for going on long-term injured reserve.

    Toronto’s defense is also missing Jake Muzzin with a neck injury and T.J. Brodie with an injured oblique.