The Omicron variant has ripped through the NHL in the month of December, leaving a sizeable mess in its path. The NHL has postponed 70 games so far that need to be rescheduled, the NHLPA has opted out of going to the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, and several teams have had to play games with fewer than 18 skaters due to multiple regulars entering the COVID protocol.
Finally, games are set to resume this week, and the teams most affected by the virus seem to be ready to return in close to full health.
There are still many players in the protocol, however, and the challenges associated with playing sports in the midst of the pandemic are not going away any time soon. As a result, the NHL and NHLPA agreed to enact new COVID relief rules to help teams navigate through the rest of the season.
Temporary taxi squads
Taxi squads are back. There was an option for the league and players to renew this item from last year, but they did not do so until now.
The goal of reintroducing taxi squads is to provide teams with readily available NHL-ready players to call up in the event of an outbreak. This would help prevent teams from having to play shorthanded and be able to ice a full roster of 18 skaters each night.
Taxi squad players don’t need to travel with the team to all their away games, but it’s encouraged to ensure the maximum number of players are available to be recalled to the NHL club if required.
There are a few stipulations with the taxi squads, however:
- Taxi squads are temporary, only lasting from December 26, 2021 to the beginning of the scheduled dates of the 2022 All Star Break.
- After each team’s final game before the break, the taxi squad will resolve. Teams need to use the regular recall process to bring players up from the minors if they want to keep taxi squad players with the main club.
- Teams can have up to six players on the taxi squad, but each taxi squad spot operates the same as an NHL roster spot – teams need to follow regular recall rules and waiver rules when assigning players to the taxi squad. This means that if a player is to play an NHL game, they must be recalled to the roster and if they are eligible for waivers, they must clear waivers to be able to go back to the taxi squad.
- Players can only be on the taxi squad for a maximum of 20 consecutive days.
From the PHWA’s Ryan Pike, the rules on taxi squads are broader than initially thought.
It makes sense; the purpose of the taxi squads is to provide help to teams that may encounter an outbreak, not provide a new way to circumvent the cap.
Emergency exemption rules
A few modifications to the emergency exemption recall rules were made as well. Prior to the new set of rules, teams could recall players on an emergency basis if their roster fell below 20 skaters. However, players recalled on emergency basis could not have a cap hit higher than $850K. In the revised rules, this number has been increased to $1M.
Teams to do not incur a cap hit while these players are recalled; the whole point is to provide relief to teams that are up to the salary cap and can’t recall players normally.
A key addition to the emergency rules is that if a team does not have at least 12 forwards and six defencemen and the reason for the short roster is COVID and not injuries, they can recall players on an emergency basis immediately. This is a significant change from the previous rules that forced teams to play a game with a short roster before being allowed to use emergency recalls. With the new rule, no team will have to play a game shorthanded, which will retain competitiveness and prevent unnecessary fatigue related injuries from occurring.
For goalies, teams are allowed to immediately recall a goalie on emergency basis if they fall below two healthy goalies for any reason, COVID, injury, or anything else. No team needs to play a game short a backup goalie.
With how unpredictable this pandemic has been, hopefully the new rules will help teams play their games as scheduled and prevent players from facing unnecessarily difficult situations on the ice. It hurts both the product and the players if teams are forced to play shorthanded, so these rules were much needed.
Fingers crossed for a more stable second half of the season.