PIERRE LACROIX: Avalanche GM build a rock-solid winner in the Rockies

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A big 2023 Hockey Hall of Fame class covers a lot of ice.

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Three goalies, a general manager and a trio of greats among NHL players, coaches and international women’s hockey will join the puck pantheon this Monday. It brings the Hall’s total residency to 298 players, including ten women, 115 builders and 16 on-ice officials.

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Debate on who else should be nominated by the secretive 18-person selection committee is an endless exercise, but won’t take away from a memorable ceremony in Toronto this weekend for these seven inductees. Here’s one of their stories.

GM PIERRE LACROIX

BORN: Aug. 3, 1948, Montreal, Que. (died Dec. 13, 2020).

HALL CALL:  As president and GM of the Colorado Avalanche, they advanced to the playoffs in each of 10 straight seasons, winning two Stanley Cups in 1996 and 2001, and igniting interest in hockey in the U.S. southwest … Lacroix started the player agency Jandec in 1975; goalie Bob Sauve was the first client of a roster that would grow to include Mike Bossy, Patrick Roy, Michel Goulet, Denis Savard and fellow 2023 Hall of Fame inductee Pierre Turgeon.

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BY THE NUMBERS: In his 868 regular-season games as GM, the Avs/Nordiques won 473 (still in the top 40 victories for all NHL executives), lost 279 losses, had 106 ties and 30 overtime losses … The Avs finished first in their division a league-record nine times after the franchise shifted from Quebec City …  His team’s 1,082 points were the most attained by a GM in less than 900 games.

THE STORY: Denver was initially seeking an expansion NHL team in the early 1990s and buying the Quebec Nordiques was an unexpected development. So was getting their dynamic French Canadian general manager, who’d learned quickly on the job after a career change from player representation.

In a winter sports’ state that had not won a pro championship of any kind, the Avs were a hit.

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“I can say that, together, we have created such an impact in this market from the first day we came in,” Lacroix told the Denver Post in 2013. “We won the Cup the first year, there were three or four rinks, a few years later there were 15. To have created that bond with the community was the greatest achievement.”

The manner in which Colorado fortified its roster to win another title in 2001 and stay competitive was the envy of other league executives.

Before they departed Quebec, Lacroix’s predecessor Pierre Page had turned un-cooperative first-overall pick Eric Lindros into key assets, then Lacroix took advantage of the disgruntled Roy’s wish to leave Montreal.

Other deals landed the Avs Claude Lemieux, Sandis Ozolinsh, Theo Fleury, Ray Bourque, Rob Blake and Jose Theodore. High-profile departures included Wendel Clark, Owen Nolan, Mike Ricci, Adam Deadmarsh and Chris Drury.

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Clark for Mats Sundin wound up giving the Maple Leafs their future franchise-leading scorer, but as long-time Colorado beat writer Adrian Dater noted: “Pierre didn’t believe in anything other than giving (the Cup) your best shot every year. Those two banners hang in their arena where so many teams have none.”

Lacroix had overcome some major personal medical issues while in Denver, including a spine tumor, but died of complications from COVID-19.

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DID YOU KNOW: Lacroix excitedly phoned Avs president Charlie Lyons the morning after Roy’s meltdown at the Montreal Forum. “‘Patrick had a tough night and he may be open to a move,’” Lyons recalled Lacroix bubbling. “‘Charlie, all I can tell you is that if we get him, we will win, period.’”

QUOTE: “When I was in second or third grade, I had this teacher who was nice to us and said, ‘if you make mistakes, it’s OK. If you do seven good things on 10 potential things, you’re going to end up in the next grade.’ You make all kinds of decisions, and the important thing is that you try and make them as you’re trying to do them right for the team and for the fans.”

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