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Pierre Lacroix's Legacy Lives On

His commitment, character and passion helped create what the Avalanche represents

by Ron Knabenbauer @RonKnab /

The Colorado Avalanche wouldn't be the Colorado Avalanche without Pierre Lacroix.

His legacy wasn't just his commitment to excellence by putting a winning product on the ice every game, it was how he treated people inside the organization to create an atmosphere where every player, coach, trainer and team employee felt like they mattered and were part of the family. His relationship with those around him showed the true character of a man that was revered inside the franchise, around the National Hockey League and throughout the state of Colorado.

Lacroix passed away on Sunday at the age of 72 in Las Vegas, Nevada, his primary residence in recent years. He is survived by his wife, Colombe (Coco), their two sons, Martin and Eric, and three grandchildren, Max, Mia and Ty.

"Pierre was truly a legend and one of the greatest executives in sports. He had a 'team first' mentality that valued players and staff equally and his winning attitude was immediately evident to our family when we acquired the Avalanche in 2000," said E. Stanley Kroenke, owner/chairman, Kroenke Sports & Entertainment. "Denver is considered one of the world's towering sports cities and that would be impossible without Pierre's many contributions."

A member of the organization for 20 years, Lacroix is the former club president and general manager that built some of the most successful Avalanche teams in not only the franchise's history but in all of sports.

> Photo Gallery: Pierre Lacroix Over The Years 

Hired as the organization's general manager on May 24, 1994, the former player agent led the then-Quebec Nordiques to a Northeast Division title (30-13-5 record, 65 points) in his first year at the helm during a shortened 48-game season in 1994-95. The Nordiques lost in the first round of the ensuing playoffs to the defending Stanley Cup-champion New York Rangers, but the seed for the club's future success had already been planted.

Lacroix transferred with the club when it moved to Colorado in 1995 and went on to win division titles with the Avalanche in each of the next eight seasons (1995-96 to 2002-03). Colorado/Quebec's nine straight division championships are still an NHL record and are tied for the third most consecutive titles among the four major pro sports.

The Montreal, Quebec, native was the architect of the Avalanche's two Stanley Cup championships, giving the city of Denver its first major professional sports title in 1996 with a three overtime victory in Game 4 at the Florida Panthers. Colorado then won again in 2001, this time on home ice versus the New Jersey Devils--the only major championship to have been won in the Mile High City.

Overall, Lacroix spent 19 years overseeing the franchise, leading as general manager from 1994-95 to 2005-06 and also as team president from 1996-97 to 2012-13. He retired following the 2013-14 campaign after serving as an advisor to current Colorado GM Joe Sakic, who was in his first campaign as the executive vice president of hockey operations.

"Pierre is someone I trusted very much right from the first time I met him," said Sakic, who was also the captain of the Nordiques and Avalanche during Lacroix's tenure. "I'll always remember him as not only a great GM but an even better person. He always treated everyone like family, and he wanted us players to have that same mentality. He was a great example to all of us. Pierre was a mentor to me and someone I learned a lot about the business of hockey from. We as an organization and myself personally, will really miss him." 

The foundation that Lacroix developed in Denver set a winning standard from the very beginning. He expected the best out of his players and his employees, and together they worked toward one of the best decades in all of sports. Lacroix's teams went 473-259-106-30 in his 12 seasons as general manager, the NHL's second-highest winning percentage in that time (.623). Only six other franchises among any of the four major pro sports posted a better winning percentage than his clubs during that time period.

Video: On and off the ice, Pierre Lacroix left a legacy

In addition to the nine straight division championships and two Stanley Cups, the Avalanche appeared in the Western Conference Final six times in seven seasons, won two Presidents' Trophies (best regular season record; 1996-97, 2000-01) and two Clarence Campbell Bowls as Western Conference champions (1996, 2001). His teams sparked a record 487-game home sellout streak beginning at McNichols Arena in 1995 and continuing in the then-Pepsi Center until 2006, and they played in a league-high 26 playoff series in that time, winning also an NHL-best 18 of those best-of-seven sets.

"Pierre was a visionary and a true leader," said Sakic. "From the moment he took over as GM, he established a winning culture that spread throughout the organization. As players, we knew he would do everything he could to help the team achieve that goal of hoisting the Stanley Cup. Pierre was instrumental in not only building the Avalanche into a championship team but also in the growth of hockey in Colorado. His footprint is everywhere in this hockey community."

A masterful tradesman, Lacroix orchestrated some of the biggest deals in league history to give the Avs the best chance at winning a championship every season.

It started before the Avalanche even took the ice for the first time in Colorado as he traded for reigning playoff MVP Claude Lemieux, adding a skillful and physical presence to the lineup. Lacroix continued to bolster his roster early in that 1995-96 campaign with the addition of Latvian defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh from the San Jose Sharks, bringing in a player with offensive capabilities to the team's backend.

However, his biggest move in that inaugural season was on Dec. 6 when he traded for Montreal Canadiens captain Mike Keane and goaltender Patrick Roy--a two-time Conn Smythe winner and Stanley Cup champion himself and a former client from Lacroix's days with JANDEC, the player agency he founded before joining the Nordiques.

The rest, as they say, is history as the Avalanche went on to win the 1996 Stanley Cup and became a force to be reckoned with for years to come in the league. Each of the players he acquired in that first season played key roles for that team, and Roy still owns the majority of the franchise's goaltending records after playing seven more year in Colorado before retiring as undoubtably one of the greatest of all time at his position.

Lacroix made other memorable moves that were impactful to the team's 2001 title. It began the previous spring when he brought in Ray Bourque, the longtime Boston Bruins captain and the NHL's all-time defensive scoring leader that was still looking for his first Stanley Cup after 20 seasons. The club fell short in 2000, losing in Game 7 of the Western Conference Final, but Bourque stayed on with the team to give it one more run the following season.

At the 2001 trade deadline, Lacroix acquired defenseman Rob Blake from the Los Angeles Kings to give the Avalanche one of the best defensive groups in the league that also included Bourque and veteran Adam Foote. Blake led all NHL D-men with 19 points in that year's postseason that ended with him and Bourque raising the only Stanley Cup championships of their careers.

Bourque (2004), Blake (2014) and Roy (2006) went on to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, as well four other former Avs that Lacroix acquired in trades or signed as free agents during his tenure: Jari Kurri (2001), Dave Andreychuk (2017), Paul Kariya (2017) and Teemu Selanne (2017).

Lacroix was inducted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame in April 8, 2008, and he is long overdue to be next to his players and among the NHL's other great builders in the Hockey Hall of Fame in downtown Toronto.

"Pierre Lacroix's eye for talent, appreciation for elite-level athletes and fearlessness in pulling off the big trade made him one of the most successful team builders in recent NHL history," said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. "Fiercely competitive and personally engaging, he was highly regarded by his fellow general managers and his voice was respected throughout the league."

Lacroix's moves to make the team better on the ice are legendary, but his moves to make the Denver community better are an equal part of his legacy and defined what it meant to be a member of the Avalanche. Every year, Lacroix and the Avs regularly participated in charitable endeavors and those efforts helped create the Colorado Avalanche Charity Fund (CACF), which was recognized nationally for its contributions to the Denver area.

The CACF distributed more than $11 million to Colorado charities from 1995-2006, and on April 5, 2006, the Lacroix-inspired "Legacy Project" celebrated the team's 10-year anniversary in Denver by distributing $1 million in grants to 10 local charities in one night.

The Avalanche remain heavily involved in all kinds of community projects to this day, as Colorado players often participate in charitable work and assist in local initiatives every week throughout the season.

While he was no longer part of the day-to-day operation of the Avalanche in recent years, Lacroix's legacy in the organization has continued to live on. A passion for winning, doing stuff the right way, concentrating on the details and being a part of a large, extended family remain some of the pillars of the Avalanche franchise, stretching from hockey operations to in-game production and to every department of Kroenke Sports and Entertainment.

Lacroix's vision created what the team's brand has stood for since being the new kid in the town 25 years ago, and the values that the Avalanche represents to this day are those that were instilled by him.

"Pierre had a unique zest for life that uplifted anyone who knew him," said Kroenke. "He treated everyone like they were a part of his family and was always available to anyone who needed his guidance. We will miss him greatly."

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