In yet another move by Brendan Shanahan that shook the hockey world, the Maple Leafs named Lou Lamoriello the 16th General Manager in team history — from right out of left field.

When the tweet came out from the Maple Leafs official account, it was understandably met with some disbelief; many had to double check and make sure the twitter account wasn’t a fake. How about this guy below scooping everyone on the Lamoriello hiring? You know the cone of silence is in full effect when…

Once confirmed, reactions were varied:

“This will never work! There’s too many big egos in one room!”

“Plan the parade!™”

“Hunter and Dubas are going to quit because they’ll be frustrated!”

“Shanny won’t be able to handle him!”

“The Leafs rebuild is going to be sped up, they’ll trade for veterans and they’ll abandon it altogether!”

“This is Brian Burke 2.0!”

“He’s going to convince Kovalchuk to come play for the Leafs!”

“He’s debatably the best manager in hockey of all-time, is going to perfectly complement an inexperienced hockey management group that needs a steady hand on the tiller to help them navigate the rough NHL waters, help plan and execute nuanced negotiations that take place over phones and face-to-face; provide years of relationship building and help take pressure off their management team, which lets them focus on what they’ve been hired to do and excel at that.”

The last one wasn’t actually a thought that was commonly shared, but it’s what Lou was brought in to do. Mark Hunter and Kyle Dubas are no-doubt grinning at the thought of getting their masters in hockey-team building with Lamoriello in the mix. While they’ve been capably re-building the organization in many different areas, it’s going to help them fill in the blanks in areas that can’t be fast-tracked and are only learned by trial and error through decades of experience. Knowledge transfer from someone like Lamoriello to bright students like: Shanahan, Hunter, Dubas, Pridham—and to a lesser degree: Babcock, Hiller, Smith, Brewer—benefits everyone, but the knowledge transfer won’t be a one-way street.

Hunter, while an NHL rookie, is a hockey veteran and is very good at his job; the Maple Leafs ran a shrewd and sharp “almost-all-skill” draft that was widely applauded and that was a sharp departure from recent drafts that saw the Leafs drafting safe “base-hit” picks outside the first round. He certainly has aspirations of being a GM in the league one day—and has said as much—but the task of building up the Maple Leafs prospect pool is the most important job in the front office right now and that falls directly on his lap. This frees up his focus and allows him to concentrate 100% on that task.

Shanahan alluded to the fact that he handled the Phil Kessel trade negotiations and it was generally regarded as an average-to-poor return for an elite player still in his prime. While the hiring of Lou wasn’t a response to that trade (he had been courting Lamoriello since well before the draft), if I was a betting man, that’s not a deal that Lamoriello would have made and his reputation as a top negotiator will certainly help Shanahan polish his considerable recruiting skills:

“I don’t know how many of you know Brendan as well as I do as a player and how aggressive he was. When he was 17 years old to make the NHL — and I can tell you, if I want anybody recruited to go anywhere, I’m sending Brendan.” – Lou Lamoriello

Dubas is certainly a new age hockey executive, and has taken his base in player scouting and traditional hockey knowledge and mixed it with new thinking on how the game is played, and how analytics can help to augment those ideas in order to make statistically evidenced-based decisions. This will help Lamoriello better understand the decisions being made, how they are being backed up by data, and help ensure the Leafs are a well prepared hockey club for the transition into the NHL’s soon-to-be data era, with the advent of player tracking coming in the foreseeable future.

Lamoriello is already a Hockey Hall of Famer, has influenced a large number of the General Managers in the league, and players who have played for him speak glowingly of his faith he puts into them as human beings. His reputation as a “players GM” reputation proceeds him.

“Lou was the first person I called when I made the decision to go to the Sharks. He tried to talk me out of it. He wanted me back in New Jersey. He said he wasn’t going to let me fail…

… I remember when I was with Canadiens and things weren’t going well, we had a game in Montreal against the Devils. We lost and I had a terrible game, but afterwards I asked a trainer if I could speak with Lou – we hadn’t talked since I left the Devils. In natural form, Lou had me meet him in some private room that he somehow knew about in the depths of the Bell Centre. When we were alone, I told him that I wasn’t sure what he might have heard about me or what had been said since I left, but that I wanted him to know that I still live by his standard every day I come to the rink. I always will.” – Scott Gomez

To say nothing of the many coaches he’s hired and fired over his time in New Jersey.

His resume is sterling:

  • 1980 – Inducted into Providence College’s Athletic Hall of Fame.
  • 1988 – Hockey East creates the Lamoriello Trophy to be presented to the winner of their annual men’s ice hockey tournament.
  • 1995 – Devils win first Stanley Cup.
  • 2000 – Devils win second Stanley Cup.
  • 2003 – Devils win third Stanley Cup.
  • 2009 – Lamoriello inducted into Hockey Hall of Fame in the builder’s category.
  • 2012 – Inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame

The one blot on Lamoriello’s career was the last five years in New Jersey, which were a cacophony of errors and signings of old players who had one foot out the door in the twilight of their careers.

There were financial pressures that weren’t leaked as much as they could have been (as is tradition with Lou), but for a team that was on the brink of financial collapse and were missing debt payments, they had to (try to) make the playoffs in order to stay afloat. The pressure of their $230 million of debt was immense: the Prudential Centre had no NBA tenant and was outside of the top 50 in touring music act stops in North America. The main revenue generator is the New Jersey Devils; even with them reaching the Stanley Cup finals in 2011-12, they posted a paltry operating profit of only $2.8 million and the next season were receiving $15 million loans from the NHL to stay afloat. In 2013, when the Devils didn’t make the playoffs, the franchise lost money, which was compounded by the shortened season with fewer home dates.

The team lost $90 million during the nine years that former New Jersey Devils owner Jeff Vanderbeek was the controlling owner.

There are a lot of things that have transpired there that, really, some are public, some are not, with references to change of ownership. I would say things were just not the same as they were in the past. You weren’t allowed to do some of the things for financial reasons to be perfectly honest, and it really started to change it a little.

Pretty classy exit: Lamoriello took out an ad to thank the fans of the New Jersey Devils.


Lou’s First Day with the Leafs

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