Pierre Lacroix had two Stanley Cups sitting on his mantle at home, recognizing the work he put into constructing the Colorado Avalanche rosters that captured hockey's greatest reward in 1996 and 2001.
Born August 3, 1948 in Montreal, Quebec, Lacroix's hockey dreams began as a player. In 1960, his Rosemont Youth Committee team was one of the first participants in the Quebec International Pee-Wee Hockey tournament. The legendary tournament gave players 12 and under the opportunity to enjoy international competition and was created in 1960 to coincide with the Quebec Winter Carnival.
Following a 20-year career as a player agent, Pierre Lacroix was appointed general manager of the Quebec Nordiques in May 1994, replacing Pierre Page. Although he neither played in the NHL nor had experience as a coach or general manager, he was regarded as a shrewd negotiator who knew hockey talent. His clients at the time included Patrick Roy of the Montreal Canadiens, Alexandre Daigle of the Ottawa Senators and Steven Finn and Jocelyn Thibault of the Nordiques. “The only thing I've been asked to do is win quickly,” he stated at the time.
Despite finishing first in the Eastern Conference and second overall in that lockout-shortened season, it was a tumultuous time for the Nordiques. The team faced financial woes in an era where players' salaries rose exponentially amidst a weak Canadian dollar. Quebec was the smallest NHL market at the time, and although the fan base was strong, it wasn't enough to save the franchise, and during May 1995, the team was sold to the COMSAT Entertainment Group and made plans to move to Denver, Colorado.
Lacroix maintained the momentum the team had enjoyed in Quebec with the newly uniformed Colorado Avalanche. With a roster already strong with Adam Foote, Peter Forsberg, Valeri Kamensky, Joe Sakic and Chris Simon, Lacroix pulled the trigger on a blockbuster deal that escalated the team even further. On December 6, 1995, he acquired goaltender Patrick Roy and defensive forward Mike Keane from the Montreal Canadiens for Andrei Kovalenko, Martin Rucinsky and netminder Jocelyn Thibault. The trade was crucial as the Avalanche finishing second in the Western Conference, second overall, and moved forward to defeat the Florida Panthers to win the franchise's first Stanley Cup championship. Pierre was named the 1996 NHL Executive of the Year by The Hockey News.
Never afraid to make a trade in an attempt to enhance Colorado's chances at winning, Lacroix made several high-profile acquisitions while with the Avalanche. On March 6, 2000, he sent Martin Grenier, Sami Pahlsson, Brian Rolston and a first round draft pick to the Boston Bruins for Dave Andreychuk and Ray Bourque. In February 2001, he acquired Rob Blake and Steve Reinprecht from the Los Angeles Kings for Jared Aulin, Adam Deadmarsh, Aaron Miller and a first-round draft pick. That spring, the Avalanche won their second Stanley Cup championship.
Then, with an opportunity to reunite two superstars from Anaheim, Lacroix signed Teemu Selanne and Paul Kariya to one-year contracts. Both had been free agents. The fact that Patrick Roy had retired freed $8.5 million in salary, although Kariya took an $8.8 million pay cut, signing for $1.2 million, in order to play with Selanne on the Avalanche.
During his tenure as the club's President and General Manager, the Avalanche went to the playoffs in each of the 11 seasons, finished first in their division a record nine times (1995-96 to 2000-01), went to the conference final six times (1996, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002) and won a second Stanley Cup championship in 2001.
On May 12, 2006, Pierre Lacroix announced that he was surrendering his role as general manager to focus exclusively on a new role as team president. On May 10, 2013, he resigned as president of the Colorado Avalanche. "I'm very proud of what we have accomplished, both on and off the ice, during our first ten seasons," he said. "We as an organization have built an incredible partnership with this community and with our fans."
The Avalanche's incredible success during Lacroix's tenure helped create great interest in hockey in Colorado. Since the franchise arrive in Colorado in 1995, youth and adult hockey program participation in that state has quadrupled and led to the construction of 12 new arenas in the Denver area. The youth hockey programs continue to thrive. On April 8, 2008, Pierre Lacroix was inducted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame.
Lacroix also initiated the 'Legacy Project,' which celebrated the ten-year anniversary of the Avalanche's arrival in Denver by distributing $1-million grants to ten Denver charities in one night.
Pierre Lacroix was only 72 years old when he passed away on December 13, 2020. While the hockey world lost a giant, he left behind an extraordinary legacy that was recognized in 2023 when he was posthumously inducted into the Builder Category of the Hockey Hall of Fame.