Montreal Canadiens: What Will Taxi Squad Look Like When AHL Season Begins?

LAVAL, QC - OCTOBER 30: Charlie Lindgren (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
LAVAL, QC - OCTOBER 30: Charlie Lindgren (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images) /

Montreal Canadiens players have been together for close to three weeks after the Habs training camp began on January 3rd.

The Habs have been fortunate to not have to deal with any injuries thus far in the season, so their roster has remained intact and static since the opening night of the season.

They elected to carry a 21-man roster and a five person taxi squad on game days, with one player taken off the roster and placed on the taxi squad on off days.

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This has allowed the Habs to maximize their cap space. They are allowed to have six players on the taxi squad at any time and these players are eligible to practice and travel with the Canadiens, but their cap hit is the same as if they were in the minor leagues. So, essentially they are able to carry six extra players on the NHL roster without it affecting their cap. Players have to be activated to the actual NHL roster to play games.

The taxi squad has had five consistent members all season. They are goaltender Charlie Lindgren, defencemen Cale Fleury and forwards Corey Perry, Michael Frolik and Ryan Poehling.

This has been fine as these players have skated with the team and are ready to jump into the lineup if necessary. However, the two young players, Fleury and Poehling, could use some game action.

With the Laval Rocket training camp opening up today, it was notable that neither of these two young players were on the roster. It appears they will stay on the taxi squad for now instead. That’s fine for AHL training camp, but when the AHL regular season begins on February 5th, it would be far more beneficial to have a couple of top prospects playing actual games in the AHL instead of practicing with NHL players.

So, let’s say Fleury and Poehling join the Laval Rocket for opening night, who are the ideal candidates for the taxi squad?

It’s more difficult that it seems. First of all, you don’t want young players on the taxi squad and practicing when they could be playing games and developing in the AHL. Also, you don’t want veteran players sitting on the taxi squad and not playing games for too long either.

As long as everyone stays healthy, the veterans who already passed through waivers will be the ones on the taxi squad. That’s bad news for Perry, Frolik, and Lindgren. It is just too easy to leave them there until they are needed.

But who else will be candidates once the AHL season starts?

The Habs would need at least one defenceman. Fleury is the only defender on the squad now. If he is sent down, the Habs will need someone. It wouldn’t make sense to have a young player like Josh Brook who is far better served by playing games in the AHL. They could go with Xavier Ouellet, but he is the captain of the Laval Rocket, shouldn’t he stay down there to mentor the young blue liners?

That leaves the Habs to choose between Otto Leskinen and Gustav Olofsson. Leskinen is a 23 year old who was solid in his first season in North America a year ago. Olofsson is 26 and had a nice bounce back year last season after missing almost all of the 2018-19 campaign with injury.

Leskinen has more potential to develop into a regular NHL player so he will likely get more game action with Laval while Olofsson would make more sense to be used as a taxi squad member.

Up front, I would also expect anyone under the age of 25 to just play regularly with Laval and not be stuck on a taxi squad. Alex Belzile is one player who could be added to it based on age and having a little NHL experience. He is a right winger who is 29 years old and is going to be a UFA after this season. If someone has to practice with the NHL team and not play many games, it could very well be him.

If the Habs want someone who is more capable of playing centre, they could call Joseph Blandisi up to the taxi squad. He is 26 and will be a RFA after the season.

If I were to wager a guess, I would say Perry, Frolik and Lindgren spend a lot of time on the taxi squad and are joined by Olofsson and Belzile to begin the season. Just so AHL eligible players don’t spend too much time without a game, I’d expect to see Olofsson sent down and Leskinen called up every now and then just to keep Olofsson from getting too rusty.

Of course, injuries will complicate this tremendously and change it up. Also, if the Laval Rocket only play a 28 game schedule, which has been rumoured, Poehling and Fleury could stay on the NHL taxi squad for most of the season and practice with NHLers and play games in the AHL.

Next. How much do Habs benefit from taxi squad shuffling?. dark

It will be interesting to see the Rocket schedule when it is released at 12:00 PM EST today. The less games the Rocket play, the easier it will be to manage the Canadiens taxi squad.