The NHL already delayed all games that were supposed to play on Monday, including Penguins/Bruins, and we’re starting to see positive COVID cases after the Christmas break pop up on Sunday.
At least 42 new players entered #NHL COVID-19 protocol today- incl players from 4 teams (ANA, DAL, PIT, TBL) that didn't have any in protocol prior to holiday.— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) December 26, 2021
According to data tracked @DailyFaceoff, Winter Classic host #mnwild are only team currently uninfected. [knocks wood]
For Pittsburgh, unfortunately that was their second leading scorer in Evan Rodrigues testing positive for the team’s first player case in over a month.
The Pens are scheduled to play next on Wednesday in Toronto, but while there is no news on the status of that game, it’s not looking good either as of right now with defenseman Jake Muzzin joining a list of 14 players (plus head coach Sheldon Keefe) currently on the COVID list.
Maple Leafs add 14th player to COVID list, with Jake Muzzin the latest in protocol.— Toronto Star (@TorontoStar) December 26, 2021
The Leafs have had five games postponed, and has not played since Dec. 14 when they beat the Oilers. https://t.co/mZugFvyNDF
To combat all the positive tests, the league and player’s association have been flexible to amend the roster limits and add back the taxi squad that they had last year. Elliotte Friedman from Sportsnet had this on the topic:
GOALTENDERS: Teams will be allowed to add an additional goalie when two regulars are not available. This is in place for the rest of the season
EMERGENCY CAP EXEMPTION: From here on in, teams in danger of dressing fewer than two goalies, six defencemen or 12 forwards for a game will be able to make emergency recalls. The cap hit of any such player cannot exceed $1-million.
TAXI SQUADS: These are in-place until the All-Star Break, for now. Teams don’t have to use them; maximum of six players; no one can be on it more than 20 days. There are some eligibility requirements. You can’t be on it if you’re on an NHL roster as of Dec. 22 (with the exception of emergency recall); are waiver-exempt; were on the NHL roster for at least 75 per cent of the regular-season days or played in 16 of a team’s last 20 games through Dec. 22 (goalies who dressed but did not play is counted as having “played”).
Taxi squad players can practice and travel with the NHL team. Compensation is AHL-level pay with a stipend of $500 (US) each day they are on it.
Frank Seravalli added a bit more information:
2) Seems the cost for most everything - emergency recalls, taxi squad stipends and taxi squad benefits - will be borne by the #NHLPA by virtue of the "Players' Share."— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) December 27, 2021
In other words - it's part of players' 50% share of revenue pie, which will add to debt owed to owners.
Based on the “readily available” clause, players who have been on the NHL roster lately like Sam Lafferty and Mark Friedman can not be added to the taxi squad. The Pens had made Anthony Angello a healthy scratch at the AHL level for WBS’s last game when they only had 12 healthy forwards. It’s not official but feels practical a player that could be a perfect taxi squad candidate. Also throw in names like Juuso Riikola or another veteran with NHL experience like Michael Chaput might eventually be added to the new taxi squad, especially if there becomes a rash of further positive tests to come.
Probably important to note that a player has to be waiver eligible to be on the current incarnation of the taxi squad, so a youngster like Pierre-Olivier Joseph or Sam Poulin (or even Radim Zohorna) would not qualify to be on this new extended roster and would have to be on the regular 23-player group if the Pens wanted them in Pittsburgh.
Aside from Toronto, the Pens are scheduled to play an afternoon game in Ottawa on Friday (Dec. 31st) in what could be the next game on the board.
Pittsburgh is scheduled to practice Monday in Cranberry, and by tomorrow we will have more information about any further tests and see what the team looks like at that point. In positive news, any or all of Evgeni Malkin, Bryan Rust and Jake Guentzel could all be gearing up to return to the lineup in the Pens’ next game...But right now it is difficult to tell when exactly that might be as the NHL and society at large deals with the latest wave of the COVID virus and attempts to find a way to continue life as normal in times when a pandemic is continuing to spread at tremendous rates.