All the NHL franchises, including the St. Louis Blues, will have to make serious decisions regarding their taxi squad. Those choices could have unforeseen impacts.
When the NHL announced that teams will have taxi squads travelling with teams, most people shrugged because it made sense. The St. Louis Blues, for example, would simply have guys they would use in case of injury right there instead of having to shuttle them from the Springfield Thunderbirds.
When you really think about it, there is more complication though. Development will become a serious wrinkle if you don’t make the right choices.
The Blues goaltending situation is the biggest choice the team will have to make. All 31 teams must have three goaltenders – their two on the NHL roster and at least one on the taxi squad.
St. Louis has a decision to make. That decision could impact player development.
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The Blues have three untested goaltenders in their system. Jon Gillies, Evan Fitzpatrick and Joel Hofer are all players that might have a future with the team.
St. Louis probably ranks those names in the opposite order than I listed them, but there is no telling who they might use. You might say the team only has a vested interest in Gillies for one season, so just throw him on the taxi squad so you have someone with an NHL game to his name waiting in the wings.
Or, if Fitzpatrick has fallen out of favor with the team, maybe you put him on the taxi squad and hope that both Jordan Binnington and Ville Husso stay healthy the entire 56-game season. You could also put Hofer on the squad if you think highly of him and let him take shots against NHL talent.
The problem, no matter who you chose, is you’re essentially wasting a year of their development. Gillies is already 26, so perhaps he is what he is.
Goalies develop at a different pace, however, so that’s a gamble. The other two are younger and need to be playing games.
You run into the same problem with other players. Do you reward Niko Mikkola by putting him on the taxi squad, which is somewhat NHL adjacent? Or, do you put him in the AHL where he can actually get game time?
Mikkola is almost surely the next man up after the initial seven Blues defensemen. Do you really want him to be on the taxi squad and only practice if the team stays healthy?
The same goes with someone like Scott Perunovich. Is it worth wasting half a year of his development simply because he is likely one of the more talented players the team has after you get past the top four defenders?
The Blues will have to make decisions. Do you want to have your most talented players at the ready, with you, on the road, in case of injury so you stand the best chance of winning every game in a shortened season? Or, do you keep your more talented prospects in the AHL, where they might not be going up against NHL talent, but they are playing games at the very least.
The Blues are still within their championship window. They do need to maximize the talent that can help the NHL team this season.
The AHL is doing them no favors either by not starting until February. In theory, you could have two weeks of guys on your taxi squad and then change it when the minor league starts up. That increases travel, increasing the risk of someone getting sick though.
As fans of the Blues, we want them to have the most talent and focus on their wins right now. The worry is that comes at the risk of slowing, or even ruining, a player’s development for the future.
2020 might be coming to a close, but its reach will be felt for awhile if decisions are not made carefully.