The season proceeded, with adjustments. Roster sizes were reduced from 15 to 14, and the league no longer required teams to dress a minimum of 12 players for every game. Overtime was abolished, too, in order to get traveling teams out of rinks on time, in deference to wartime restrictions on delaying or rescheduling trains.
“Every sport is experiencing war problems, and hockey has by far the toughest going of all,” Rangers General Manager Lester Patrick said early that season in an interview with The New York Daily News. He had his eye on the big picture at the time, but he was also sizing up his team’s straitened competitive circumstances.
There were, that fall, 74 N.H.L. players on active service with the U.S. and Canadian armed forces. The men recruited to replace them on the ice weren’t always top talents.
The Rangers, Patrick argued, had suffered more than most, having lost nine regulars from the previous season’s squad. “We’re about all out of players,” he said.
More and more players were called to the colors, or volunteered to serve, as the war went on. They included some of the league’s brightest stars, like the Leafs captain Syl Apps (Canadian Army), Boston goaltender Frank Brimsek (U.S. Coast Guard), and the Bruins’ entire first line of Milt Schmidt, Bobby Bauer and Woody Dumart (Royal Canadian Air Force).
For the season starting this month, the N.H.L. will reflect the times in much smaller ways.
Rosters will be altered, for instance — although this time, instead of contracting, league lineups will expand. Each team will carry a taxi squad of four to six players to facilitate replacing injured players without call-ups having to go into quarantine.
Many of the other shifts in operating procedures have become common during the coronavirus pandemic. Coaches will be required to wear masks while patrolling their benches. If need be, teams will temporarily relocate to neutral arenas in cities not their own.