After a season with the Taxi squad and no fans in the stands, the NHL has returned to a somewhat regular schedule once again. With all but one player in the League vaccinated, NHL players and staff members alike looked at this as a “return to normalcy.” Reality has shown us this season is far from ordinary. NHL executives chose wrong when assuming life could return to normal and loosen the restrictions on teams during the season. Vaccinated or not, players are still susceptible to contracting COVID. NHL players did a remarkable job vaccinating their ranks for the season, but did they have a choice? Here is a small piece of info directly from the NHL COVID protocol:
“50% of the incremental costs associated with being an Unvaccinated Player (e.g., testing, quarantine-related
costs, single room hotel costs for ELS Players, travel costs) shall be treated as Player Benefits and charged
against the Players’ Share. Clubs shall report any such incremental costs to the NHL along with all supporting
documentation, and the League shall make those submissions available to the NHLPA in their entirety for
purposes of review and HRR reconciliation. Nothing in this protocol shall have the effect of limiting any rights,
benefits, or entitlements pursuant to the CBA.”
So far this season, we have had only one “major” outbreak, the Ottawa Senators, who had ten players hit the COVID list before shutting down the team for a week. This week the news is coming out of the Islanders organization as Zdeno Chara becomes the seventh member of the organization to test positive for the virus. Other teams such as the Avalanche or the Blues have had a player here and there off of the roster due to protocols, but nothing significant to this point.
On top of COVID keeping players off the ice, injuries have been in abundance this year, many attributing more injuries to not having an entire off-season. Players have less time to rest, recover, and train for the upcoming season. NHL players are humans, and they are affected by the COVID world as much as anyone else; some people may forget that.
Injury or COVID protocol aside, teams have to shuffle bodies throughout their organization to keep up with the season’s demands. One of the unique situations we have had this season is the Toronto Maple Leafs having to sign a goaltender to an amateur contract to avoid being over the cap. Some may see this as cap circumvention; some see it as using all avenues to your advantage. No matter your view, we should all agree we want to see the best possible players on the ice. If you are going to pay for a ticket to an NHL these days, you, of course, want to see the best players on the ice, teams having to not ice a full lineup due to the cap or signing amateur players to serve as a backup goaltender takes away from the sport as a viewer. An NHL Taxi Squad should be reinstituted. Last season the Taxi Squad could consist of four to six players, including a goalie; if the team didn’t have three on the active roster, there is a need for this again.