Avalanche notebook: Erik Johnson still “unfit” and officially ruled out for opener; Joe Sakic on Stanley Cup-or-bust goal; late GM Pierre Lacroix to be honored – The Denver Post

Defenseman Erik Johnson, the Avalanche’s most veteran player, will begin the season “unfit to play” in his 10th full year with the team. Johnson, 32, missed all six days of training camp with what is believed to be COVID-19 protocol.

“I believe he was in the building a little bit today, but he’s still unfit to practice,” Avs coach Jared Bednar said of Johnson after his team’s first full practice at Ball Arena. “We’ll see when, which day, he’s able to get back with us and will be fit to work out and practice.”

Johnson will be replaced on the second defensive pairing by rookie Connor Timmins in Wednesday’s opener against the visiting St. Louis Blues.

Taxi squad. Forwards Shane Bowers, Martin Kaut and Kiefer Sherwood, plus defenseman Dennis Gilbert and goalie Hunter Miska, are expected to be placed on the Avalanche taxi squad. The official announcement will be made Monday night.

Each of those players are on two-way contracts and can practice and travel with the team under their minor-league salaries.

Said Sakic. Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic did his season-opening press conference on a Zoom call Monday morning. In no uncertain terms, he wants his team to set the highest goal.

“We expect to compete for the Stanley Cup. At the end of the year, we want to hoist that over our heads,” Sakic said. “That’s our goal.”

Sakic played on many Avalanche teams with that same goal.

“There’s nothing like being on a team that’s expected to win,” he said. “You want to come to the rink every day and work for that goal.”

Pierre Lacroix tribute. Sakic said the Avalanche will have a pregame ceremony and moment of silence for former GM Pierre Lacroix, who died Dec. 13 at age 72. Players will also don PL stickers on their helmets this season, Sakic said.

“He was such a special person, special to our organization,” Sakic said of his former boss.

Footnotes. Rookie defenseman Bo Byram is not on the regular roster or the taxi squad because he hasn’t cleared a seven-day quarantine after arriving from Canada last week. Byram is eligible to begin practicing with the Avs on Saturday. … Forwards Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Andre Burakovsky were asked about Sunday’s official announcement that the Avs will play an outdoor game against the Vegas Golden Knights at Lake Tahoe on Feb. 20. Bellemare, a Frenchman, said he has never played hockey on a lake. Burakovsky interrupted Bellemare’s answer to tell him the game will be played on a golf course in the Lake Tahoe area. “For real?” Bellemare said. “You just crushed my dreams.”

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