Last season in Major League Baseball, teams were permitted to carry taxi squads in an effort to reduce the number of times that players had to be shuffled between the big club and their minor league training complex. In the latest 31 Thoughts podcast, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports that the NHL is considering a similar idea for next season.
The current idea under consideration would see players paid their AHL salaries so there wouldn’t be a substantial cost increase for owners aside from paying out NHL per diems. Presumptively speaking, that should include players on one-way deals who would still receive their full pay if they’re assigned to the taxi squad.
The need for a group of reserve players is further highlighted by the fact that the AHL isn’t targeting a start to their season until February. Even if the NHL doesn’t meet their January 1st target to start the season, players sent to the minors will be inactive for a few weeks before that season gets underway. Having the ability to keep at least some of them up with the big club during that stretch would be a plus.
Such a decision could be beneficial for some of the veteran free agents that are still out there or veteran AHL players who are right on the cusp. Their fortunes would certainly change with the creation of a taxi squad as some NHL-adjacent roster spots would at least be opened up. Once the AHL season starts, teams may be more inclined to have veterans in their reserve group to ensure that their prospects receive as much playing time as possible.
Of course, there are still some questions that have to be answered. Will those players be exempted from the cap if and when they’re brought up or would they count at their NHL rate or AHL rate? Would the threshold for players ‘buried’ in the minors ($375K plus the minimum salary) come into effect if a high-priced veteran was assigned to the taxi squad instead of outright to the minors after clearing waivers? Considering this is something that would need to be known heading into training camps (which Friedman suggests could be a lot shorter than usual in an effort to start as close to January 1st as possible), the answers will need to be determined quickly.
With travel being trickier now than it has been in the past, the idea of a taxi squad for next season has been speculated for a while but there was nothing concrete to say that it was being considered. However, the league appears to be on a similar wavelength and now it’s just a matter of fleshing out the details before training camps get underway. Of course, right now, when that date is just happens to be the biggest question of all that needs to be answered.