With heavy hearts, the Colorado Avalanche organization announced on Sunday, December 13th that former General Manager Pierre Lacroix passed away. Lacroix, 72, died tragically due to COVID-19 complications. When fans reminisce over hockey history in Denver, they think of Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Patrick Roy, Milan Hejduk and the likes. Often forgotten, unfortunately, is the GM. But Pierre Lacroix deserves better than this, because of the kind of person he was and the work he accomplished. The original General Manager of the team, Lacroix actually began his tenure in Quebec in 1994. He remained GM upon relocation to Colorado and accomplished enormous feats across nearly 30 years of service to the Avs franchise. When one person contributes so significantly to a team’s success, they deserve to be memorialized. That’s the case for the architect of the Avalanche: Pierre Lacroix deserves a banner hanging in the rafters at Ball Arena.
Former Avalanche General Manager Pierre Lacroix Deserves a Banner at Ball Arena
Remembering Pierre Lacroix
If not for Lacroix, NHL hockey may not exist in Colorado today. The going gets tough for teams who don’t find success early enough in new hockey markets. Fans of the Atlanta Thrashers can attest to that. Before the Avalanche, the Colorado Rockies existed in Denver from 1974-82. They didn’t do much more than that either, with multiple ownership changes and only a single playoff qualification. The city received its second shot in 1996 when Lacroix and the Nordiques arrived. This time, success came too.
Upon notice of his death, hundreds of people flocked to social media to share their condolences. From fans to former players to opposing managers and more, grief and memories poured out across the hockey world. Lou Lamoriello and Brian Burke, two of the most respected General Managers in NHL history, greatly admired Pierre for his character. Ray Bourque, Sakic, Erik Johnson, Marc Crawford, Gary Bettman and many others shared similar sentiments regarding how he had impacted each of them, their careers, and the sport.
And Pierre Lacroix deserves a banner in the rafters because of that great impact he had.
Only a few General Managers experience the grandiose levels of success that Lacroix earned. Not once, but twice he won hockey’s ultimate prize: the Stanley Cup. And in both instances, he manufactured a mid-season trade that wound up massively altering the team’s trajectory.
In the team’s first season in Denver, Lacroix acquired Montreal Canadiens goalie Patrick Roy in one of the most notable deals in NHL history. After allowing 9 goals against before Habs coach Mario Tremblay finally pulled him from the net, Roy famously proclaimed to the team’s President that it was to be his “last game in Montreal”. Four days later, Lacroix cashed in on the dramatic situation and brought the then-two-time champ to Colorado.
Oh, they also got the Habs captain, Mike Keane, in the trade. For what, you ask? Jocelyn Thibault, Martin Rucinsky and Andrei Kovalenko. If the two names Lacroix acquired are both more recognizable than any of the three he parted ways with, you’re not alone. This was a steal then and would be a steal today too. That’s just how good Lacroix was at his job.
It would only be a few months until Roy won his third Stanley Cup, helping the Avalanche to their first in the process. This all occurred in the team’s inaugural season in Denver. Talk about starting off with a bang.
Roy re-signed in Colorado after that year and went on to finish his career there. His career is heralded as one of, if not the best goaltending careers in NHL history. He is remembered as much for his tenure in Denver as his tenure in Montreal, and fans can thank Lacroix for making that happen.
Art of the Deal 2.0
After 21 seasons suiting up for the Bruins, Lacroix traded for Bourque to bolster the Avs roster for another Cup run. Despite racking up more points than any other defenseman in NHL history, a championship managed to elude the future Hall-of-Famer. The trade occurred before the 2000 trade deadline, and after falling short in the postseason he opted to re-sign with the Avalanche for one last kick at the can.
In the summer of 2001, the wait finally ended for Bourque. Not a dry eye existed in the hockey world when Sakic handed the Cup straight to Bourque before lifting it himself. The clip has to be one of the biggest “feel-good” moments in sports of all-time. And again, we wipe the tear and say thanks to Pierre Lacroix for gifting us with that.
Time to Raise Pierre Lacroix Banner in Denver
Aside from the flashy moves, Pierre Lacroix deserves a banner because his impact lasted a lifetime. He helped plant the seeds of hockey in Denver, and now the state is one of the biggest hockey hubs south of the Canadian border. That doesn’t happen without those Stanley Cups in the franchise’s first decade. And those Cups don’t happen without Pierre Lacroix.
After the NHL lockout in the mid-2000s, Lacroix shifted from his position as the club’s GM to serve as President from 2006 to 2013. At that time he retired but maintained an “advisory” role thereafter. It probably isn’t entirely a coincidence that the team’s success dropped off dramatically around the same time Lacroix changed roles. Thankfully, the success fueled the sport in Colorado enough to keep fans invested even during dark times.
Commemorating Pierre Lacroix
To commemorate him for everything he did for the sport and franchise, the Avalanche need to make room in their rafters. After all, the six names already up there owe a lot of their success to Lacroix. Adam Foote, Forsberg and Sakic joined the organization earlier, but their team success only began after Pierre came aboard. The obvious two, Roy and Bourque, would’ve likely never worn the burgundy and blue at all without him. And Hejduk entered the league as one of Lacroix’s first NHL draft picks, selected in the fourth round of his first draft with Quebec in 1994.
Rest in peace, Pierre Lacroix. Not just Avalanche fans, but hockey fans everywhere, will miss you tremendously. Thank you for all the great memories, the moments you built, and the hockey world you created in Colorado.