The Colorado Avalanche are getting a well deserved day off after their 8-0 drubbing of the St. Louis Blues Friday night. Two players that will be on the ice, however are Erik Johnson and Bowen Byram. The two defenders have been away from the team this week, due to an NHL mandated quarantine.
The league announced Wednesday that Johnson was one of the 24 players who tested positive for COVID-19 at the start of training camp. The team has not elaborated on Johnson’s health but it is assumed he was asymptomatic as he has been skating separate from the team over the past few days.
Byram, on the other hand was forced into a seven day quarantine after coming to Denver fresh off of a silver medal for Team Canada at the World Juniors. Due to the travel from Edmonton - by way of Vancouver, where he stopped to see his family for a couple days - Byram needed a week in isolation plus four consecutive negative tests before he was able to join the team’s ‘bubble’.
Now, with their quarantine over for both players, Johnson and Byram can join the Avs at practice when they re-convene to get ready for their trip to Los Angeles.
With the way the team looked Friday night, and with the two players missing training camp, it’s hard to imagine the coaching staff will make a lineup change right away. That said, both Byram and Johnson should see game action at some point during the road trip as the condensed schedule has the Avalanche playing four games in six nights starting Tuesday against the Kings.
As a veteran - and a stabilizing force on the Avalanche blueline - Johnson will likely be the first of the two to find his way into a game day lineup. Cale Makar, Devon Toews and Samuel Girard won’t be sitting but with the new found depth on the back end, Coach Bednar might decide to start rotating through the other five defenders in order to keep legs fresh as the season ramps up. That would include Byram making his NHL debut sooner rather than later.
Once Byram plays six games, the Avalanche will need to make a choice whether or not he should stay at the NHL level and burn the first year of his entry level contract. The team’s depth makes Byram’s presence less necessary but with a player as talented as Byram, it would not be surprising if he impressed enough to become a mainstay in the lineup all season.
Conor Timmins and Ian Cole would likely be the first two Avs defenders to come out of the lineup but odds are, the team would do it one at a time. Work Johnson back into the lineup for a game or two in place of Timmins before giving Byram his first taste of game action in order to give Cole a night off.
Depth is always crucial but it will be even more so this season with the condensed schedule. The extra bodies will initially force some tough decisions for the Avalanche coaching staff but it’s a problem any team would love to have.