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In a Class by Himself

by Michael Kelly / Colorado Avalanche
The critics always spoke loudest after Pierre Lacroix worked his magic.

In his 11 years as the Colorado Avalanche’s general manager, Lacroix pulled off some of the biggest trades in NHL history, bringing in the likes of Hall of Famers Patrick Roy and Raymond Bourque.
Lacroix always found a way to acquire the biggest name on the market, and it was always greeted with a groan around the league. The groans came from envy and anger, because each trade was a cornerstone piece in a Stanley Cup run. In his 11 years at the helm, Lacroix built two championship teams, the Avalanche won an NHL record nine straight division titles and reached the Western Conference finals six times in seven years.
He also made the trades without a wisp of talk getting around the NHL. Bourque was the most sought-after player near the 2000 trade deadline, but the Avalanche wasn’t mentioned in any rumors. When the deal was announced on March 7, 2000, shockwaves went through the league.
A year later, Rob Blake was rumored to go to several contending teams – including rival Detroit – but on Feb. 21, 2001, Blake was on his way to Colorado, and no one knew it until the deal was finalized.
The veil of silence frustrated some, but it was a necessity for Lacroix. He demanded it from anyone he dealt with, and he would walk away from a deal if word got out.
“He’s taught us that it’s important to not let our 29 opponents know what we’re thinking or doing, and I think that’s been a great asset in accomplishing some of those trades,” says Francois Giguere, the Avalanche Executive Vice President and General Manager. “If information had gotten out that we were after those guys, some of those teams might have upped the ante, and it would have been more difficult to acquire those players. That was part of his recipe. But pulling the trigger, he needed a lot of courage, and that’s what he’s shown. People don’t realize it takes a lot of courage to make those trades because you expose yourself.”
On May 12, 2006, Lacroix relinquished his GM duties but retains his role as team president. He handed over a tradition of winning and excellence in Colorado, one that Giguere has tried to continue.
“I hope I’ve learned tremendously from him,” Giguere says. “Time will tell, but he is a great mentor. He’s been someone who’s very open, explaining his logic and rational. It’s been a great privilege for me to have him as a mentor.”
Lacroix has been called mentor and a master negotiator, and now he can add another name to that list. The Colorado Sports Hall of Fame announced on Oct. 9 that Lacroix will be part of the 2008 class of inductees.
“I am grateful to the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame committee for their recognition of not just me, but of this great game which has grown tremendously over the past decade here in Colorado,” Lacroix said when the announcement was made. “This is an honor which I am appreciative to receive and will cherish its significance as a Coloradoan and hockey professional.”
He earned it by taking chances. When Roy hit the market on Dec. 2, 1995, it took Lacroix four days to put together a package for the winningest goalie in NHL history. Six months later, the Avalanche won the Cup, and Lacroix’s legend began.
Lacroix didn’t build winners by trades alone; he did it through the draft as well. In his first NHL draft, in 1994, the Avalanche selected Chris Drury and Milan Hejduk, two key players on the 2001 Stanley Cup championship team. Lacroix and his staff have also selected Peter Budaj, Wojtek Wolski and Paul Stastny, three of the top young players in the game.
Lacroix has also made a lasting impression on the community, as the Avalanche Community Fund has donated over $11 million since the team’s arrival in Denver. In April of 2006, the organization unveiled its Legacy Project, an unprecedented community endeavor entailing a one-night contribution of $1 million to 10 selected agencies and programs.
“We wanted to find a way to give something back to the community that has given us so much,” said Lacroix of the Legacy Project.  “We were convinced that this gift needed to be substantial — something that could match the overwhelming support this organization has received.”
Lacroix’s off-the-ice contributions have been significant, but as far as the on-ice product is concerned, it was his blockbuster trades that always stood out.
“Early on (Pierre) made big trades, getting Patrick, getting Sandis Ozolinsh,” Giguere says. “It established he would do whatever it takes to win, and I think our players knew that. He brought the first championship to the city. Everything’s about winning, and he showed it when he acquired Ray Bourque, and when he acquired Rob Blake, he showed he was going for it.”
“He was never afraid to pull off the big trade or do whatever it takes to win,” says Avalanche captain Joe Sakic. “He established a winning culture right from the start.”
Now Lacroix stays in the background and lets Giguere do the negotiating and dealing. That doesn’t mean Lacroix is not involved. Giguere turns to his mentor for input on deals or free agents, and he values Lacroix’s opinion.
“I don’t think there’s any important decision that’s made without consulting him,” Giguere says. “I value his opinion. He has a lot to bring to this organization. Any decision goes through him.”
The makeup of this team shows that despite the blockbuster trades that forced him to dip into the talent pool in the minor leagues, Lacroix was able to build for the future while winning two Stanley Cups.
“We moved to Colorado in 1995 with a vision of establishing our franchise with an identity which would not only be competitive and exciting, but would be representative of our commitment to excellence and winning for years to come,” Lacroix says. “I can say with enormous gratitude that this vision has been accomplished over a dozen years later.”
With the foundation Lacroix established, the Avalanche’s commitment to excellence could go on forever.
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