While the World Junior Championships have begun, NHL teams have returned to the ice for practices today. This includes the New Jersey Devils. Are they 100%? No. Tomas Tatar and Jon Gilles did not participate as they have been added to the COVID Protocol. However, five Devils were removed from the protocol today. Nico Hischier, Ryan Graves, P.K. Subban, Jesper Boqvist, and Christian Jaros are now eligible to return to the roster. The New Jersey Devils entered this recently-expanded holiday break with a six-game losing streak within a month where they won one game. Having Hischier and Graves back is very welcome news. Additionally, Mackenzie Blackwood and Akira Schmid were the goaltenders in practice per Amanda Stein. This may mean Gilles being on protocol does not require another call-up from Utica. As of this writing, the Devils will return to play on December 29 in Buffalo as scheduled.
In an attempt to keep the pause from being extended, the NHL announced some temporary changes to their roster rules and the return of the taxi squad. Last season, all teams had a taxi squad to have players closely available as needed. This season, the rules are considerably different and they are meant to last from today through to the NHL All Star Game, which is currently scheduled for February 5, 2022. Per CapFriendly on Twitter, here are the Taxi Squad rules:
The NHL has temporarily reintroduced the Taxi Squad system between today and the All-Star break.— CapFriendly (@CapFriendly) December 26, 2021
Attached are some of the important rules that we have been made aware of so far. pic.twitter.com/TQ4LoycY36
One of the key changes is that no team is required to actually use a taxi squad. If they are fine with their 23-man active roster, then there is no need to pull players away from their AHL team to just be on stand-by. With Gilles and Tatar being on the protocol now, the Devils may not necessarily need to use it just yet.
Another key change is who is eligible for the taxi squad. That players who are exempt from waivers cannot be on it is a huge deal for the Devils. Not only is New Jersey a young team, but so are the Utica Comets. Based on my count of the waiver exempt Devils back in September, there are 13 Comets who could not be on the taxi squad due to that. This would include current players on the roster such as Schmid, Kevin Bahl, and Boqvist. What this means is that the taxi squad, if/when the Devils utilize one, would have to include the veterans on Utica. These would be Chase De Leo, Frederik Gauthier, Colton White, Robbie Russo, AJ Greer, Joseph Gambardella, and Brian Flynn. Your mileage may vary on how much that could impact Utica. And it would vary how available they are as Utica continues to have games postponed due to COVID. The point about players not being allowed to be on the taxi squad for more than 20 days would help ensure no one is basically sequestered for a month.
The roster emergency exception has more to do with the temporary roster changes than the taxi squad. As CapFriendly’s summary noted, it allows teams to make a call up for no cap hit if the player’s cap hit is less than $1 million if the reason is due to COVID. This does not impact the Devils. New Jersey has just under $7.2 million in cap space per CapFriendly. However, about half of the league is within $1 million of the salary cap ceiling and there have been some games played with shortened rosters because of it. New Jersey did play short a skater in Detroit; but that was due to a late scratch from Jesper Bratt being deemed too sick to play. This emergency exception should help that half of the league out.
PuckPedia has more information about this emergency exception. For one, COVID is required as a reason to use the emergency exception right away to call up a skater. If COVID is not the reason, then the team has to play one game short a skater before they can use it. For another, the emergency exception can be used right away for goalies regardless of the reason. This is to ensure the team plays with more than just one active goaltender. This is highly relevant to the Devils as it would allow Nico Daws to be called up as needed. He cannot be on the taxi squad as he is waiver ineligible. As the only other goalie in the system that is signed to a NHL contract, he needs to play in Utica in the meantime so they have a goalie beyond Marek Mitens. PuckPedia also noted that the current Contract Bargaining Agreement allows for teams without cap space to make a recall to play a game short before they can make one. The NHL is now stating that if COVID is the reason for a team being short, then they can use it. That is the new temporary detail.
PuckPedia also noted that the players on a taxi squad count towards the salary cap as if they were still in the AHL. Basically, if a player on the taxi squad has a cap hit of $1.125 million or below, then they would not count against the cap. If they are over, then they do beyond that $1.125 million. So you cannot “bury” someone on the taxi squad. This also does not impact the Devils as they have no one making over $925,000 in Utica - and that is if they are in the NHL.
These changes are understandable given the situation. Will the situation get worse? Maybe. The Devils did just add two players to to the protocol. It is a net gain of three skaters available. However, it does mean that possibility of losing more players is real. Likewise, New Jersey’s next opponent, Buffalo, announced this afternoon that their head coach Don Granato, forward Mark Jankowski, and forward Dylan Cozens were added to the protocol today. They did not have practice on Sunday and they still have four players in the protocol: Zemgus Girgensons, Jeff Skinner, Vinnie Hinostroza, and Dustin Tokarski. Fingers are crossed that Wednesday’s game happens.
What do you make of the Devils’ return to practice? What about the NHL’s new taxi squad and roster rules from now until the All Star break? Do you think we will have a game on Wednesday? Please leave your answers and other thoughts in the comments. Thank you for reading.