The Colorado Avalanche have turned into the NHL's laughingstock, a once-proud franchise that is 4-22-1 in its last 27 games, a team openly advertising some of its remaining top players on the trade market. At 13-33-2, the Avs have the NHL's worst record, by a wide margin. They are in desperate need of a rebuild, and there is one man out there who thinks he could restore the franchise back to prosperity.
He just so happens to be the man who built the Avalanche into a multiple Stanley Cup winner his first time around: Pierre Lacroix.
Two NHL sources close to Lacroix told Bleacher Report the 68-year-old former Avs president and general manager, having regained his health after several ailing years, is open to an NHL comeback, preferably with Colorado. Lacroix, the sources say, believes he would be effective guiding a team again and has the passion to do the work required.
The question is: Would the Avalanche take him back? Perhaps the better question is: Wouldn't the Avs be crazy not to welcome him back?
In his time as GM with Quebec and Colorado, starting with the Nordiques in 1994-95, Lacroix won division titles his first nine seasons on the job—something no one else in NHL history can say. Along the way, his Avalanche teams won Stanley Cups in 1996 and 2001 and went to the Western Conference Final four other times, going to a seventh game in three of them before losing.
He made some of the best trades in NHL history, including the heist of Patrick Roy from the Montreal Canadiens in 1995, a deal that cemented the Avs as an NHL powerhouse for the next eight years. He developed some health problems starting around 2006, however, and in May of that year stepped down as GM in favor of Francois Giguere, remaining as team president until retiring in 2013.
Cynics might say Lacroix is too old to resume the high-stress activities of being an NHL GM, but some said the same thing about Jim Rutherford in 2014 when he was hired at 65 to be the GM in Pittsburgh. Two years later, the Penguins were Stanley Cup winners and Rutherford was named GM of the year. Lou Lamoriello is 74, and some mocked Toronto's hiring of him as GM in 2015, but he has helped restore the Maple Leafs to respectability in under two years.
Lacroix, in Denver on some personal business, quietly attended an Avalanche game against the San Jose Sharks on Jan. 23, sitting in the fifth row closest to the ice off to the side of one of the goals. I sat with him for a while, and he had more energy and high spirits than I'd seen in years. The native of Montreal lives most of the year in Nevada with his wife, Colombe, and has spent much of the last decade battling health issues, one of which threatened the removal of a leg.
But he now has a clean bill of health and, while not actively soliciting job offers, has let it be known he would return to the Avalanche or possibly another team if the right offer presented itself.
The Avs currently are led by franchise icon Joe Sakic, and it might be too awkward for owner Josh Kroenke to oust him in favor of his old boss, Lacroix. Many critics of the way the Avs have run things the past few years say the team has gone back to the well of nostalgia too much already, bringing in Sakic as GM and Roy as coach for three years.
This would be a bit different, though. Unlike Sakic and Roy at the time of their respective hires by Colorado, Lacroix has plenty of experience at the job. He also deeply cares about the franchise and, the NHL sources said, is saddened by its decline. He is a man of immense pride, so he would not even consider coming back and tarnishing his great legacy if he thought he wasn't up to the job.
The Avs are in such a sad state of affairs that some of their remaining top players have spoken publicly of being open to being traded. Under rookie coach Jared Bednar, Colorado is last or near last in numerous NHL statistical categories, including power-play percentage, goals-against and goals-for per game. Sakic says he remains committed to the job of turning things around, but things keep getting worse.
Lacroix is a man of action and a proven winner. He should be in the Hockey Hall of Fame already as a builder, but he has yet to receive such an honor. A return to the Avalanche and a rescue from oblivion would be the ultimate capper to an already legendary career.
Will it happen? The way things are going for the Avs, it would be crazy for them not to at least give it some very serious consideration.
Adrian Dater covers the NHL for Bleacher Report.