Taxi squads can help NHL teams


AP Hockey Writer

The NHL is bracing for bumps as it aims to pull off a season during the pandemic and the hope is that taxi squads will help teams stay on the ice.

The defending Western Conference champion Dallas Stars have already had to postpone their season-opener this week because six players and two staff members tested positive for the coronavirus. The Stars won’t face an opponent earlier than Jan. 19, when they’re currently scheduled to play at Tampa Bay in a Stanley Cup Final rematch.

Dallas and every other team will likely lean on taxi squads this season.

NHL teams get to have four to six players on taxi squads after they clear waivers, essentially expanding the size of the team beyond the 23-man limit when teams submit their rosters to the league today.

Hundreds of players were put on waivers Monday, including Montreal’s Corey Perry and Tampa Bay’s Tyler Johnson and Luke Schenn. All could now be taxi squad-bound.

“We’re going into unchartered waters with the taxi squad that is in place to try to get us through the season,” Edmonton Oilers general manager Ken Holland said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “Taxi squads will give us 29 players tested every day, practicing and traveling with us that are eligible to play in games on short notice.”

Players on taxi squads can be put on the active roster as late as 5 p.m. Eastern on a game day, giving clubs a better chance of having four lines, three defensive pairings and two goaltenders even if rosters take a hit because of COVID-19 protocols. Teams must have three goaltenders available among the 29 players.

Detroit Red Wings forward Valtteri Filppula fondly recalls his 74-game run with the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins 15 years ago before moving up to play in the world’s top hockey league.

“I felt fortunate getting sent down, getting to play and play in a lot of situations in all the games,” the 36-year-old Finn said. “It depends how old you are. But for everybody, it’s good to play games and not just practice.”