Are NHL Taxi Squads hurting player development in 2020-21?

Are Taxi Squads bad news for player development in the NHL this year?

In a year like no other, the NHL has a solution like no other. For this year, every NHL team has a Taxi Squad of players that follow them on road trips and practice with the team. Their purpose is to be there in case a last minute substitution has to be made. NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said this will only be used for this year. Major League Baseball also had their own Taxi Squads, starting last season.

Taxi Squads seem to have a mix of members, some veteran players mixed with some young prospects. It seems like a majority of the Taxi Squad talent is coming from the AHL. You would think those players are thrilled to be closer than ever to achieving their dream of playing in the NHL. Does it have a harmful effect on their development, though?

Players on the Taxi Squad travel and practice with the NHL team. So yes, there is value in being a participant in an NHL practice, interacting with NHL players. However, the Taxi Squad is taking them away from valuable game experience in the AHL. Sure, their goal is to make it to the NHL, and they’re closer to the NHL by being on the Taxi Squad, but nothing can compare to actual game experience.

Erik Brannstrom (26)

Erik Brannstrom #26 of the Ottawa Senators. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)

Is it better for players to wait for a chance at making the NHL on the Taxi Squad?

That’s why those split squad preseason games might be beneficial. You can practice and train all you can, but nothing can make up for actual game situations. There’s so many intangibles that go into an actual game, such as competition, pace of play and even the effect of fans.

Baseball had Taxi Squads as well, but baseball had no alternative. Last season the entire minor league baseball season was cancelled. Prospects were either left on their own or one of the select few that could stay at a team’s alternate training site, which was more or less a glorified continuous practice site. Don’t forget Major League Baseball expands their rosters at the end of the season, so those players on the Taxi Squad and alternate training site had a chance to at least make the active roster as the season went on.

Hockey has an alternative because they were lucky to be able to let their minor league teams have a season. Hockey doesn’t expand their rosters, so there might be little value to those on the Taxi Squad unless a last minute spot opens up. Wouldn’t it be better if they actually play in a game instead of waiting for a chance on a lineup card that might never come? The Taxi Squad isn’t a bad idea. Still, hockey teams have to learn how to balance the Taxi Squad and their own player development. This might be a season some players never get back.