LOS ANGELES — Did somebody call a taxi squad?
Anticipating that coronavirus cases will disrupt an already abbreviated schedule — and that vaccination won’t soon occur widely — teams will be allowed to keep four to six extra players on hand when the NHL season opens Wednesday. The taxi squad is designed to help teams navigate the perils of playing during a pandemic that will keep most of its arenas empty, at least to start.
The Stanley Cup playoffs were contested in bubbles last season, but the NHL didn’t propose replicating that because players understandably don’t want to be separated from family for six months. Teams were temporarily aligned into geographically close divisions to minimize travel, and all seven teams based in Canada were grouped together. Play will be limited to intra-division games in a 56-game schedule.
To ward off COVID-19, the NHL and NHL Players’ Association collaborated on a 213-page list of safety procedures. “The protocols are not a suggestion or recommendation but need to be done in order for us to address and get through the pandemic, and we will vigorously enforce them,” Commissioner Gary Bettman said this week.
The NHL said Tuesday that 27 players tested positive for COVID-19 during training camp, 17 of them with Dallas. The Stars’ season opener has been delayed for at least a week.
A few other teams canceled practices out of caution. Boston Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy is considering another step — holding different meetings or Zoom sessions for goaltenders Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak. “We’re trying to separate those two as much as possible in case there’s an outbreak, they’re not together and they don’t both have to go into the tracing program,” Cassidy said. “It’s tough enough when you lose one goaltender. Imagine losing two at the same time?”
Ducks coach Dallas Eakins split his team in two groups for video sessions and held some workouts outdoors. “This is all so new and the plan is ever evolving,” he said. “It is a never-ending conversation.”
Here’s a look at how things could shape up, in predicted order of finish: