As I type, the NHL has released the schedule for the 56-game 2021 NHL season with the Oilers opening the season by hosting the Canucks on January 13.
This is happening - It's real and it's Spectacular!
Now, with the schedule released, let's hope that the NHL and Provinces can come to an agreement so that they can actually use the released schedule and have each team play in their home arenas. No one wants to go to the hub city model!
Oilers Fans: It's time to talk roster and speculate on what the opening night roster will look like.
For the purposes of this discussion, I am going to assume that every player is healthy coming out of camp (but for Oscar Klefbom) - a likely foolish assumption. I am also going to assume that Ethan Bear is signed to a contract and that there are no additions to the organization after this point (which may not be the case with the rumors/speculation that a Slater Koekkoek or a Ben Hutton could be added - and Ken Holland suggesting he is still looking at bringing is such a defenceman).
There have been no changes to the active roster rules, teams can have an active roster between 20 and 23 players (which must include at least two goalies). All players on the active roster count towards the cap.
What is different is that all teams must carry a “taxi-squad” of 4-6 players. These players are not on the active roster but will “be with the team” including for practices, team meetings, etc. - well, at least at home as the organization has the choice of how many, if any, taxi squad players travel with the team on road trips. For all relevant purposes (such as cap implications, the need to clear waivers, etc.) we can think of the taxi-squad players as assigned to the AHL. If a player would need to clear waivers to be assigned to the AHL, they would need to clear waivers to be assigned to the taxi-squad. The cap hit of a taxi-squad player would not count against the team’s salary cap (unless the player has an annual cap hit of over $1.075M, in which case, that amount would be deducted from the cap hit)..
One cap structuring matter to get out of the way. There will be teams that have run with active roster below 23 in order to accumulate more cap space daily which they can bank and use for in-season acquisitions or roster adjustments. The Oilers will NOT be one of those teams. The Oilers will be over the $81.5M cap this season and using an LTIR cap overage cushion once they place Klefbom on LTIR. Even if they have some cap space under their new LTIR cap ceiling (using the LTIR reserve overage), they will not accumulate any cap space daily as teams using LTIR cap relief can not accumulate cap space.
In that regard, the Oilers will run with a full 23 man roster and a full 6 player taxi squad. There is no reason not to and Ken Holland essentially expressed the same on Monday.
For me, I have Joakim Nygard as the 15F going into camp and I have Lagesson as the 4LD with Bouchard as the 4RD.
As far as realistic options for the team, only Evan Bouchard, Theodore Lennstrom, Kailer Yamamoto, Tyler Benson and Cooper Marody can be assigned to the taxi-squad (or AHL) without clearing waivers.
Here is my projection for the opening night roster and the taxi squad:
McDavid, Draisaital, Turris, Khaira, Haas
Nugent-Hopkins, Kahuan, Ennis, Neal
Yamamoto, Kassian, Puljujarvi, Chiasson, Archibald
Nurse, Jones, Russell, Lagesson
Bear, Barrie, Larsson
Nygard, Benson, Russell
Bouchard is on the taxi squad as opposed to Lagesson as Lagesson would need to clear waivers. To the extent that a right shot d-man gets injured (or they want to give the likes of Larsson a night off) and they want to insert Bouchard, he can be activated in conjunction with the assignment of an active roster player to the taxi squad (in that case, likely Lagesson, who would need to clear waivers at that point).
Both Nygard and Patrick Russell would need to clear waivers in order to get assigned to the taxi squad. Nygard (or Benson) could very well win a spot on the active roster at camp but, at this point, I have Nygard as the 15F. Lets not forget, in order to remove any of Haas, Khaira, etc. from the active roster, they would need to clear waivers. The same would be applicable to players like James Neal and Alex Chiasson and there is a chance that Holland (and Tippett) could perform some load management by waiving and assigning someone like Neal to the taxi squad and activating a Nygard or Benson. Of course Neal wouldn’t be claimed and I trust the veteran leadership of Holland and Tippett to massage James Neal’s ego with the knowledge that its only for a game or two.
Some will argue that the likes of Alan Quine or Adam Cracknell should be on the taxi squad over the likes of Benson, on the premise that prospects such as Benson should be playing games in the AHL as opposed to watching games on the taxi squad (although receiving the benefit of practicing with the NHL team). That is a valid argument, however, for opening night and the beginning of the season, I believe that Holland will have the “legit NHL options” on the taxi squad, including players like Bouchard and Benson. Lets not forget, Bouchard and Benson have been playing hockey for the last number of months. Sitting in the pressbox isn’t ideal but its not as egregious a scenario as it would be if they hadn’t been placed on teams in Europe.
As Holland expressed on Monday, no one wants a prospect sitting on the taxi squad for months on end and, if the Oilers have good luck with respect to injuries, I would expect guys like Benson and Bouchard to be assigned to the AHL in mid-February (to the extent the AHL, and the Condors, are indeed playing).
In reality, there will be injuries and likely even more injuries this season given the condensed nature of the schedule (and that is without even taking into account potential “illness).
Does anyone have any thoughts on the opening night roster and taxi squad?