DENVER — Joe Sakic learned early on the secret behind building a contending Stanley Cup team — keep everything secret.
For that particular insight, the Colorado Avalanche Hall of Fame forward turned general manager credits his mentor, the late Pierre Lacroix.
The team will hold a ceremony and moment of silence before the season opener Wednesday night against St. Louis to honor Lacroix, who died last month at 72. Lacroix was a savvy GM known for acquiring talent under the cloak of secrecy that allowed Colorado to claim two Stanley Cup titles.
As an Avalanche forward, Sakic marveled at the teams Lacroix was able to assemble. As their current GM, Sakic is following his lead.
“I would say the one thing everybody knew about Pierre, is you never knew what he was doing. He kept things close to the vest,” said Sakic, whose players will wear “PL” decals on their helmets. “That’s the one thing we here try and take — not let too many people in on what we’re trying to do.”
This isn’t a well-guarded secret — the Avs are one of the favorites to hoist the Cup in a late-starting season. With the additions of forward Brandon Saad and defenseman Devon Toews — along with a strong nucleus that includes Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar — it’s a Cup-or-bust mentality for the Avalanche.
“That’s what you want as a player, you want to know you have the ability to try and win the Cup,” Sakic said. “Pierre did that for years, time in and time out — always find a move to help the team and get us over the top.”
Lacroix was a huge driving force behind turning the Avalanche into a perennial power after the team relocated from Quebec to Denver for the 1995-96 season. The Avalanche hoisted the ’96 Stanley Cup Trophy in their first season in the Mile High City and again in 2001.
To help capture the first title, Lacroix struck a deal with Montreal to acquire Hall of Fame goaltender Patrick Roy. Years later, Lacroix traded for Hall of Fame defensemen Ray Bourque and Rob Blake, who were instrumental in winning the second Cup.
“He was such a special person,” Sakic said of Lacroix, who will be honored again sometime when fans are allowed to return to the arena. “Special to our organization.”
Sakic is paying homage to Lacroix the best way he can: By assembling a high-caliber team. The Avs are embracing the high expectations.
“It is quite clear that for us our goal is to win a Stanley Cup,” defenseman Ian Cole said. “Anything short of that is a disappointment.”
One of the unknowns could be in net, where both Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz dealt with injuries during the playoff run a season ago. It led to Colorado using a third-string goaltender in a Game 7 overtime loss to Dallas in the second round.
Back in Sakic’s playing days, the Avalanche had the luxury of Roy in goal.
“We were spoiled,” Sakic said. “We really believe we have two real good goalies that put up great numbers (last season). We expect the same thing from them. … We have a lot of faith in both goaltenders.”
Sakic’s squad was recently selected to play in an outdoor game in Lake Tahoe on Feb. 20 against Vegas. The temporary rink will be set up on the 18th hole at Edgewood, site of the annual American Century Championship celebrity golf tournament and where Sakic, an avid golfer, has played.
“The setting is going to be beautiful,” he said.
Sometimes, the 51-year-old Sakic watches the lightning-quick Avalanche that he’s rebuilt into a contender and almost wishes he could join them. He had 625 goals and 1,016 assists before retiring after the 2008-09 season.
“When I do get on the ice, I realize it’s a good thing I left when I did,” Sakic said. “The brain still wants to do it, but the body won’t let you do it.
“The game has never been better. It’s great to be on my side and watch these young skilled players play at another level — at a higher level than we ever did.”