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Saturday FTB: For Whom the Taxi Squad Tolls

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Hockey’s coming back so it’s time to start rosterizing with a new taxi squad to play with

2020 NHL Draft - Round One Photo by Kyle Brown/NHLI via Getty Images

Late Friday evening, the NHL and NHLPA reached a tentative agreement on a 56 game season for 2020/21 — by which I mean the 2021 season. It’s tentative because a lot still needs to be finalized and voted on, including where all the teams are going to be playing.

They may start in hubs, but the would-be Canadian division has to find a province that will approve that. There may be “tolled” contracts if a player decides to sit the season out, so it wouldn’t count as a year played and he wouldn’t get paid for the season.

But we don’t care about boring minutiae and legalese like that. We’re here to start rosterbating over the shiny new taxi squad! Here’s the details we know so far, from Frank Seravalli’s piece on TSN:

Rosters will be capped at the usual 23 men with an $81.5 million salary cap. Each team will be permitted to carry a four to six player “taxi squad,” which includes a mandatory third goaltender. All 29 (maximum) players will practice and travel with the team.

This will be very interesting, because if the taxi squad gets paid their AHL salary... what does that mean for someone like Robertson? On the one hand, there is some doubt now that an OHL season will happen at all. But if it does, would Robertson be allowed to be on the taxi squad? Does that count as BEING in the AHL? They may have to carry him as their extra forward if they’re not playing him, and don’t want to send him back to the OHL (if that’s even an option).

Another wrinkle is the Leafs are likely, due to cap reasons, going to have to run an NHL roster of 21. That means 12 forwards, 6 defensemen, 2 goals, and then one extra. Who will be the extra? A forward or a defenseman? That’s going to be a tough call, as we’ll see below. We know there’s as many as 6 spots on this taxi squad, and one has to be a goalie. I assume the other spots would be ideally split as 3 forwards (one line) and 2 defenseman (one pairing).

But regardless of potential wrinkles, this taxi squad will be a handy solution for the Toronto Maple Leafs. They seemed to build their roster with all their depth off-season moves with this in mind. If you head to the Leafs’ CapFriendly page, you will see all the players they have under contract plus their extras. Let’s see if we can’t figure out who the Leafs will pick for their taxi squad.

THE GOALIE

It’s Aaron Dell.

THE FORWARDS

Let’s get the seven obvious ones out of the way — Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Alex Kerfoot, Zach Hyman, and Ilya Mikheyev were all with the team last year and are locks to get top 9 roles in some fashion.

Then there’s the mix of their old and new depth, who will all be fighting for the final five forward spots plus one potential healthy scratch/press box spot:

  • Wayne Simmonds
  • Joe Thornton
  • Jimmy Vesey
  • Jason Spezza
  • Pierre Engvall
  • Nick Robertson
  • Travis Boyd
  • Alexander Barabanov

That’s eight players to fight for five remaining forward spots in a lineup plus maybe an extra. That’s still at least two additional forwards who will be on the outside looking in. And that doesn’t even include guys from the AHL who have had NHL experience and will want to steal a job too, like Joey Anderson, Yegor Korshkov.

If there are six spots left on the NHL roster, assuming they choose to carry an extra forward instead of an extra defenseman on a 21 man roster, the two easy choices for me to send to the squad are Engvall and Boyd. Engvall doesn’t have to clear waivers, and Barabanov would probably go back to Europe if he doesn’t make the NHL team. Boyd is just the bottom of the totem pole, it seems, but he could be nice depth as a center.

Robertson is the question, especially if they don’t want to have their 21st roster spot used on a forward. I just can’t imagine the Leafs would keep him from the WJC unless they already seriously consider him to be ready to start the year in the NHL. But if they’re only going to run with 12 forwards, who’s the other odd man out? I am almost guaranteeing it won’t be Thornton, Spezza or Simmonds. I would be pretty shocked if it was Vesey. So it will be a fight between Robertson and Barabanov.

And the thing is... I don’t think the Leafs will use the extra spot for a forward. I think they’ll save it for a defenseman.

My prediction:

Engvall and Boyd will almost certainly be on the taxi squad. One of Robertson or Barabanov will be the other, and that will be determined by who has a better training camp.

Oh shit... there’s also Malgin. I legitimately forgot about him until I got to the end of this section. I guess he may be an option as well?

THE DEFENSE

The defense is no less crowded for spots than the forwards. The obvious ones out of the way are Morgan Rielly, TJ Brodie, Jake Muzzin, Justin Holl, and Travis Dermott. That’s already five of six potential spots — seven if they want their extra to be a defenseman. And as I said above, I think they will keep the extra spot for a defenseman.

Then there are three others who will compete for the last one or two spots:

  • Zach Bogosian
  • Mikko Lehtonen
  • Rasmus Sandin

Bogosian is a veteran. He brings the veteran presents and the toughness and all that lovely stuff that will make the Leafs harder to play against, apparently. I’d be surprised if he wasn’t kept on the NHL roster. Mikko Lehtonen is their latest free agent defenseman signed out of Europe, and he has some hype to him thanks to his gaudy point totals in the KHL and rave reviews.

Sandin seems like the odd man out already, unless he has a superb training camp. But like Engvall he seems like an easy choice to keep on the taxi squad since he won’t need waivers... if waivers are needed at all for the taxi squad. But he may also be sent down to the AHL to get actual playing time, when/if their season finally starts.

My prediction:

Sandin and Martin Marincin start on the taxi squad. If/when the AHL season starts, maybe Sandin gets swapped for Calle Rosen.

So in the end, their roster and taxi squad would look something like...

Main Roster:

Hyman - Matthews - Marner

Kerfoot - Tavares - Nylander

Mikheyev - Thornton - Simmonds

Barabanov/Robertson - Spezza - Vesey

Rielly - Brodie

Muzzin - Holl

Lehtonen - Dermott

Bogosian

Andersen

Campbell

Taxi Squad:

Engvall - Boyd - Robertson/Barabanov

Sandin - Marincin

Dell

ONTO THE LINKS

Winter T25U25: #12-10, Topi Niemela, Roni Hirvonen, and Mikhail Abramov | c’est moi

One forward I did not mention in the roster or taxi squad consideration was Filip Hallander, and there was a good reason for that:

Prospect Veeti Miettinen — recently named our 22nd best player under 25 in the Leafs organization — had a good game for St Cloud University last night. He had a powerplay goal to bring his team within one goal, an assist on the tying goal with less than two minutes in the third period, and drew a penalty in overtime that led to the game winning powerplay goal.

Miettinen is now 2nd on his team in points with 3 goals and 4 assists in 8 games, 1 point back of the leader Nick Perbix, who is a senior and three years older.

AROUND THE HOCKEY WORLD

Hilarious twitter thread from the McKenzie’s:

Speaking of the draft, the next one may come at an even weirder time than this last one...

Ilya Kovalchuk’s NHL comeback seems to be over...