Taxi squad returns creates domino effect in minors
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.