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Taxi Squad Should Make VGK Salary Cap Crunch Easier To Navigate

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights have a salary cap problem and now that we have a set date for the 2020-21 season to begin there’s an official deadline in which that problem must be solved.

Luckily for Vegas, the new COVID-necessitated roster rules should stand to assist the Golden Knights in navigating the muddy salary cap waters this season.

As it currently stands, according to CapFriendly.com, the Golden Knights projected starting lineup (with backup goalie) comes in over the cap by a little more than $100,000. By rule, all teams must be cap compliant by the day of the first game on the league schedule, this year being January 13th. Thus, something has to give.

Normally, Vegas would be in a bit more trouble than they currently are because solving the cap issue would mean sending a player or players away from the team completely and down to the AHL. Plus, they’d be left without any healthy scratch players, which is never ideal. However, with the invention of the taxi squad, the Golden Knights will be able to have players practice with the NHL team, but not count against the cap.

Due to fear of positive tests forcing players out of games at the last minute, the NHL is allowing each team a taxi squad of four to six players. These players will practice and travel with the team but will only be eligible to play in games in the case of an emergency. Technically, the taxi squad players are not part of a team’s active roster, and instead will be treated financially like they are in the AHL. (They are slated to receive NHL per diem.)

Thus, at any time, Vegas is allowed to keep six players, which must include a third goalie, around the NHL team without them counting against the cap. In the past, the Golden Knights have had to yo-yo players back and forth to properly manage the cap. We’ve seen it with guys like Nic Roy, Brandon Pirri, and Jason Garrison, and the first season Alex Tuch, Shea Theodore, and Vadim Shipachyov were sent down before Opening Night to satisfy the cap, but this year they can do it on paper and keep the players around to practice and even travel with the team to road games.

So, let’s talk about exactly how it works, what the Golden Knights can and can’t do, and then lay out a few options they might take to clear the final $100,000 in cap space prior to their first game on January 13th.

The taxi squad is essentially just an extension of the AHL. Any rules that apply to sending a player to the AHL, also apply to placing a player on the taxi squad. In other words, waivers are required. The list of waiver exempt players for the Golden Knights this season is limited; Cody Glass, Nic Hague, Logan Thompson, and Dylan Ferguson are the important ones. These players can be freely shuffled from the active NHL roster (counts against the cap) to the taxi squad (doesn’t count against the cap) at any time and as often as the Golden Knights would like during the course of the season. Of course, to play in a game, a player must be on the active roster, so expect a ton of shuffling for at least a few of those guys.

Next we have the players who do have to clear waivers, which is everyone else. Names like Oscar Dansk, Carl Dahlstrom, Jake Bischoff, Patrick Brown, and Keegan Kolesar come to the forefront here. Once a player clears waivers, they are able to return to the active roster for 10 games or 30 days before they must clear again. The taxi squad will make that 30 days number useless as they can be shifted back and forth on every off day, so really it means any player that clears has 10 NHL games to play before he must clear again.

That’s the main gist of it, so let’s get back to what the Golden Knights might do to clear their cap space.

First, we’re looking for an injury. If any player expected to be in the regular starting lineup is injured and will reasonably be out for more than 10 games, Vegas can shift waiver-exempt Cody Glass to the taxi squad on January 13th to become cap compliant, then swap him with the injured player and use long-term injured reserve (LTIR) to exceed the salary cap. That’s the easiest solution, but everyone is hopeful that’s not the case because we’d rather have a healthy team come Opening Night.

That brings us to the other option, which is to shift a player expected to be in the starting lineup to the taxi squad and replace him with a cheaper option that will suit up on Opening Night. Here’s the lineup I’m envisioning the Golden Knights would like to use.

Pacioretty-Karlsson-Stone
Marchessault-Stephenson-Smith
Roy-Glass-Tuch
Carrier-Nosek-Reaves

McNabb-Pietrangelo
Martinez-Theodore
Holden-Whitecloud

Lehner
Fleury

But, that lineup is not cap compliant. Those 20 players combine to make more than the $81.5 million the NHL allows. So, we’ve got to pick one to switch. The first names that jump off the page should be Nosek, Reaves, and Holden. These are all players making more than the NHL minimum salary, but could be replaced without massive recourse for a week or two while the season gets underway. The problem is, every player in that group aside from has to clear waivers. To clear a measly $100,000 in cap space, it’s unlikely the Golden Knights will want to risk losing a player expected to be in their every day starting lineup. So, this isn’t a great option at all.

The next name is Cody Glass. As a waiver exempt player making more than the league minimum (by a convenient $163,000), Glass could easily be shifted to the taxi squad and replaced by someone like Brown, Kolesar, Danny O’Regan, Dylan Sikura, or any other projected AHLer making less than $750,000. This would achieve the goal of clearing cap space, but it would leave the Golden Knights without a key cog in their 2020-21 plans. It’s another option, but also not a particularly good one.

This brings us to the final option, the backup goalie option. When January 13th rolls around, it’s likely Robin Lehner will get the start between the pipes for the Golden Knights. The plan, as is in pretty much every NHL game ever, will be for Lehner to start and finish the game, thus rendering the backup for that night useless. So, if the backup isn’t going to play, why have $7 million Marc-Andre Fleury serving that role? Instead, he could be replaced by Dansk, Thompson, or Ferguson.

One important thing must take place for this to happen though, Fleury must clear waivers. Considering the rumors for the last four months that Vegas was trying to give Fleury away and teams were asking for multiple draft picks to take him, it’s reasonable to believe he would indeed clear waivers. If that happens, $1,075,000 is subtracted from his salary that counts against the cap. Replace him with any of the three other goalies all making less than $1 million, and voila the Golden Knights are cap compliant.

Naturally, Fleury is now on the taxi squad and not eligible to play in a game for the Golden Knights, but at least their under the cap. Then they could wait for the LTIR option to come available or use the previous Nosek, Holden, Reaves, or Glass options for a night when they want to give Lehner the night off.

You’re probably asking yourself, why not just put Lehner on the taxi-squad on the days in which Fleury gets the start? It’s a good thought, but probably not feasible because of the waiver requirement. If Lehner is placed on waivers, it’s hard to believe all 30 other teams would pass on him and his affordable $25 million five-year contract.

So there you have it. Simple, right?

No matter which path the Golden Knights choose, the taxi squad is going to come in handy before the first puck is even dropped on the season. They’ll probably continue to take advantage of it over the course of the year too in order to accrue more cap space and make another trade deadline splash.

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19 Comments

  1. JR

    Lehner will not be ready to start by Jan 13. His shoulder is progressing slower than expected.

  2. Ken – you will do almost anything to get rid of our starter goalie Fluery. What makes you think anyone would want the walrus, as history shows Vegas was the only people foolish enough to give him what he wanted. In case you forgot all other clubs he was associated with let him walk. Fluery isn’t going anywhere frankly he should put the screws to mgt for the way he been treated. Turnabout is fair play. As you have suggested you don’t feel loyalty is important so to expect otherwise is not good business. Your belief in the walrus elite status should have people question your judgement. Well after following this site and reading various comments l guess some do. Fluery isn’t going anywhere regardless how you try to suggest it can be accomplished.

    • You’re always good for a laugh. No actual logic and always knowing better than every hockey insider.
      Keep fighting the good fight..haha.

  3. Tim

    Ken this doesn’t have anything to do with todays article which by the way was very interesting. I’m looking forward to watching the World Juniors and from everything you read Canada is hands down the favorite. Now if they don’t win the tournament it will fall on there goalies there one weak link. That being said if that happens with all there star studded players on offense and defense they lose how much more does that play into my argument of the Knights keeping to solid goalies? Your of the belief of a one goalie system with lets say Jimmy Howard as a backup to play maybe 15 to 20 games in a 56 game season. By the way Ken Steven Stamkos isn’t ready to play yet and you’d really take him as damaged goods and think he’ll win you the cup. Should I say not in a million F-ing years.

  4. Come on Tim I set the stage for you and your belief which as you know l agree with. RE: two strong goalies. Hope your doing OK and being an old Canadian l am rooting for them to win.

    • Tim

      Hdbiker, Yea I’m rooting for Canada too. I want to see our two VGk’s shine. Like I said Canada is loaded except at goalie and once and for all if there goalies cost them the tournament I hope Ken’s view on the goalie position would change about there importance but I doubt it. It will be interesting to see.

  5. Bill

    What if VGK offered a draft pick to a team in exchange for that team assuming Tatar’s $500,000 retained salary? Would that solve the problem?

  6. Justin

    I’m guessing I’m missing a step here in my head since CapFriendly says we are currently $974,104 over cap at the moment though the articles says a little over 100k.

    Since you mentioned starting roster does that mean we are working under the assumption that the Knights are going to waive Dahlström to put them within that 120k range you mentioned and move him to the taxi squad or is there money somewhere else I’m not seeing that should be coming off? If so does Dahlström pretty easily clear waivers or is he someone a team would pick up?

    • You are missing the step of going from 19 skaters to 18. Presumably waiving Dahlstrom. He’d clear no problem, and if he doesn’t, no big deal.

    • Lyn S

      I read the article and the part about putting Fleury on waivers confused and concerned me. First, can he be put on a waiver without his consent? Would that mean a major pay cut for him and does it open him up to being bought by a team he did not designate on his limited trade list?
      Next, someone (in the comments) referenced Panda’s shoulder. If he is IR, would they put him on waivers? Wouldn’t he be snapped up in a heartbeat, but another team, at the contract price?

      I hate reading this stuff in the early hours when my mind has time to tumble.

      • Yes, he can be put on waivers without his consent. He would have to have a “No Move Clause” to avoid that from happening which he does not have.

        It would not mean any pay cut, in fact it could even mean a pay increase because AHL players are not subject to NHL escrow. (That could be different in the post-COVID financial landscape).

        Yes it would allow a team on his no trade list to claim him.

        IR and waivers are not the same. Both are ways to get players off the active roster. IR is for injured players, waivers is for healthy players. If Lehner is hurt to start the season, then Fleury would not be placed on waivers.

  7. Berk Brown

    Thanks for breaking this down. Very helpful. The Fleury option seems like a win/win – either we save big chunks of salary cap whenever he doesn’t start, or someone claims him on waivers and we unload his entire salary without spending any draft capital. (I love Flower and wish he was our main goaltender, but that’s clearly not their plan, and I agree we can’t spend 12m on our goalie tandem.)

  8. sb

    Here’s this ‘loyalty’thing coming up again. In Vegas, loyalty is absurd after only three years into existence. Loyalty is something earned after many, many years. Not one, two or three years. That’s nonsense. Steve Yzerman was Captain of the Wings for 20 years. That’s an example of earned loyalty. Loyalty is earned, not handed out like candy. It takes a decade of two to earn it. Now, I agree that MAF has earned loyalty, but that comes from Pittsburgh, not Vegas. I recall someone saying D. Perron deserved the Team’s loyalty !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! After one year! Nonsense. Perron dashed back to St Louis as fast as he could. He never said he wanted a new contract w/Vegas. He said Vegas didn’t offer him a contract. Perron never had any loyalty to Vegas. At three years in, in my opinion, there isn’t one player on Vegas who “deserves” loyalty. The Great One was traded. Dionne, Esposito, Orr, Jagr, LaFleur, LaPointe and Robinson. These HOF’ers were all traded and there was no crying about loyalty. This stuff about Vegas MGT not honoring loyalty to one, two, or third year players is nuts.

    • Daryl

      Thats just your opinion…. I agree after one year you don’t deserve loyalty but yeah, 3 years in you should get it. At the very least, management should have the balls to be straight with their players, which they have not been.

  9. Erik

    If you are on a one-way contract, your not allowed tone on the taxi squad.

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