The National Hockey League (NHL) and players’ body (NHLPA) said late on Sunday they had reached an agreement to allow teams to form temporary ‘taxi squads’ to avoid further disruptions to the season after three more games were postponed due to COVID-19.
The ‘taxi squads’ are made up of up to six reserve players who travel and practice with teams and can replace regulars who are ruled out due to COVID-19, with the system in place until the All Star break in February.
The NHL’s holiday break started early last week as COVID-19 cases rose. On Friday the league postponed Monday’s 14-game schedule to give teams more time to test players and staff and assess their ability to compete.
Three additional games were postponed — Columbus-Chicago on Dec. 28 and Pittsburgh-Toronto and Boston-Ottawa on Dec. 29 — taking the total number of games affected to 67.
All other games this week will go ahead as scheduled, the NHL and NHLPA said in a statement.
“The league and NHLPA will continue to monitor test results and teams’ readiness to play over the coming days and weeks,” the statement added.
Several factors will be considered when assessing games should be postponed, including players unavailable to teams due to COVID-19, the risk of further transmission within a team, and a team’s access to players from its minor league affiliate.
Earlier on Sunday, the Dallas Stars placed five players in COVID-19 protocol, while the Buffalo Sabres did the same for head coach Don Granato and two of its players, as NHL teams returned to practice after an extended holiday break.
The Stars, whose Finnish defenseman Jani Hakanpaa had previously entered protocol, added two support staff members to the list, while the New York Islanders placed four of its players in protocol.
Last week the league said it would not send players to the men’s ice hockey tournament at the Beijing Winter Olympics, citing the “profound disruption” to its regular-season schedule from the pandemic.