Just a week ago, we were all left wondering if there was even going to be an NHL season. The economics were negotiated between the league and players’ union, wrapped up in a tight little bow, but with COVID-19 totals rising and no end in sight, my own little pessimistic brain was helpless.
Instead of trying to find KHL streams to see what they’re doing overseas in the dead of winter, the NHL season is for sure definitely happening after the two sides have come to an agreement for a 56-game campaign starting on Jan. 13.
With the new agreement, there’s been some slight changes to the regular structure we’re used to. Other than new divisions and some light protocols, there will be a taxi squad made up of four to six players that will travel, practice and hang out with the 23-man roster. If the player normally requires waivers to get sent down, they will still have to clear them to get placed on the taxi squad, and there is the regular $1.075-million maximum buried cap hit for each player as well. It’s basically like the player is getting demoted to the minors but is still physically with the team, so no quarantine is necessary if there is a player that tests positive. I love to live in a dystopian nightmare.
For the Philadelphia Flyers, this can certainly prove to be massively beneficial for some players. They have a significant amount of young skaters that don’t require waivers, that are so close to making the big leagues. So let’s hypothesize on who will make this newly-formed taxi squad and can get something out of the experience.
The 24-year-old forward that signed with the Flyers as a free agent this spring is a key candidate to make the most of this expanding roster situation. At his age, in addition to the experience of playing in one of the top European leagues for the past four seasons, there might not be much of a learning curve to start the season. Before he finished up his loan at HV71 of the Swedish Hockey League, Sandin scored four goals and 10 points through 20 games and just last season was able to score 19 goals and 36 points in 51 games.
In normal circumstances, Sandin would more than likely spent the majority of his first North American season down with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Instead, he’ll be able to use some of his reputable undying puck pressure during NHL practices and can spark some interest from head coach Alain Vigneault, earning him some playing time — if everything goes well.
The bonus of this ready-made prospect is that he does not require waivers to be demoted or placed on the taxi squad. Actually none of the players that I’ll list further down this article will require waivers, because then it gets tricky and unnecessarily complicated. I’m easy.
Ah, the first-rounder that carried so much hype that just hasn’t found his footing in the top flight yet. Still barely 21 years old, Frost had a fairly successful debut professional season split between the Phantoms and the Flyers. Even if he did find himself on the playoff bubble roster, he was still able to produce enough points in the minors to be considered for some of the open forward spots on Philadelphia’s roster.
This is a tough one though. Since the Aurora, Ont. native is so young, would him spending his time actually playing games in the AHL, benefit him more than simply practicing with the team on the taxi squad? This is only if he doesn’t make the actual roster of course, but there is always that risk of stunting his development.
If given the right opportunity and if he stays involved in the squad rotation, Frost will surely take more out of security on the Flyers roster, than spending his time in Lehigh Valley.
A player that is very likely to at least be considered for the taxi squad, Bunnaman checks off some of the key notes that the Flyers might want in a rotation piece. He’s played over 90 games at the AHL level and was able to make his NHL debut with Philadelphia last season, making enough of an impression to appear in 20 more games after that.
Despite his lack of offensive production — two points in those 21 matches — the 22-year-old never got a chance to appear higher in the lineup. Averaging under 10 minutes a game, Bunnaman can be just a solid depth piece to have (that doesn’t require waivers) as a backup.
Signed to his entry-level deal this summer after four years at Western Michigan University, Allison at least has age on his side. At 23 years old, we can still dream of his potential to make a mark on the lineup as the former second-rounder provides some offensive punch. Hovering around the point-per-game mark throughout his collegiate career, he will still need to take the leap into professionalism.
But, say, for instance, a certain 21-year-old first-round pick mentioned earlier in this article isn’t playing up to snuff for a certain head coach, then some rotation in the Flyers’ waiver-free taxi squad can include Allison in the group of 12 forwards throughout this shortened season.
Although we won’t know for sure who is on the Flyers’ taxi squad until the end of training camp, they certainly are blessed with more options than some other teams. Even being so close to the cap ceiling, they have plenty of young-ish players that don’t require waivers, so they can come and go between the 23-man roster and taxi squad at Vigneault’s will.
If they come into an unfamiliar bad stretch of injuries, they should be more ready than some other clubs, which we can then point at and laugh at how miserable they are with all their terrible group of waiver-eligible players.