Former Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Lou Lamoriello joined TSN Overdrive to discuss his new job as President of Hockey Operations for the New York Islanders as well as to reflect on his time in Toronto and his exit from the Leafs organization.
Was the announcement that you will no longer be the GM of the Leafs something you expected to have happen? Were you hoping to stay on as the GM in Toronto?
Lamoriello: I had that same question asked of me earlier today. When I went to Toronto, I knew exactly what I had agreed to. I had agreed to a contract that I really didn’t know what to expect going there. I knew I was going there with people already in place, whether it be Mike or Mark or Kyle. I knew I had to go in and maybe adjust how I did things initially and try to win their confidence and work together.
I knew what that was about, but I didn’t know how it was going to go. I had a contract that really was for basically seven years – two, with an option from either me or the organization to make it three, plus four or five – depending on what the decision was at the end – to move into an advisory role, but a very fair one.
At the end of the first year, the Maple Leafs extended it to the third, which they had the option to do. But I knew what the contract was. Never had any discussions. Never looked at it. I don’t worry about things I can’t control. When Brendan said that he wanted to stay on the same plan, so be it. I made that decision to sign a contract. I wasn’t going to look left or right.
What then transpired – which I didn’t really know at the time – was that the Islanders reached out and wanted to speak to me. It wasn’t something that I was interested in even thinking about. We had just lost the seventh game of the playoffs, and I am thinking about something else. A week went by, and I don’t know where the rhetoric came out, or whether someone said I was or wasn’t, or they were talking… however the rumours start.
Evidently, Scott Malkin called Larry Tanenbaum again. I felt, when I heard that, the respect to talk to him. When I met him, after speaking to him over the phone, I was really impressed with his commitment. I mean, they have a state-of-the-art practice facility with two ice surfaces that I am told by everyone is one of the best. I haven’t seen it yet. Outside of the organization, the commitment to build a new facility, which is there and will be up in a very near future – they are going to be breaking ground shortly.
The last piece was probably as important as the first two – them asking me to come in and have total autonomy over all hockey operations and make whatever decisions I thought were necessary to work towards success. That intrigued me. The combination of the three – and knowing the quality of the ownership after meeting them – I said, “Why not?” And here I am.
You are in your mid-70s and you continue to seek out these challenges. How do you stay so motivated and committed to taking on new challenges like this? Is it something that you just have that passion and can’t even imagine what it’s like to take a step back and not be a prominent member of the NHL?
Lamoriello: I think every time I’ve taken a step back, I felt I’m doing the wrong thing. For whatever reason, I feel good. I try to take care of myself – you eat, drink and sleep right. It’s the old school – I don’t look at the supplements and all of that; I just try to do that. Unless you’ve felt good and felt healthy, you can’t do this, and I enjoy what I do. I love the competitiveness of winning. If that doesn’t drive you, I don’t know what does. You have to really have the right type of people to work with, and that’s probably what has kept me going. I have been very fortunate to have the type of people I’ve worked with throughout the New Jersey organization and then in the Toronto organization. I now feel the same way with the ownership that is here and has given me the opportunity to go from scratch if necessary.
In saying that, I don’t know any other way of putting it. It’s still fun.
Do you feel like, in your three years here, it was mission accomplished for the Toronto Maple Leafs from when you took over to when you departed?
Lamoriello: You’d have to decide that. I think the outsider is a better evaluator of what transpired. What I can say is that Brendan gave me complete autonomy to do what was necessary to have success. I didn’t have to worry about anything that I needed to do. Every resource was given to me by ownership. I had a tremendous working relationship, in my opinion, with Mike and his staff and Kyle and the Marlies, and Mark and the scouting staff.
All are talented individuals that are good at what they do. We found a way to really enjoy each other working towards having success. No one really got in anyone else’s way, and really took the role they had and worked it to the maximum. We found a way to put it together. I think the future is extremely bright with the improvements that we were able to make.
Remember – when I was there, we went through some 50 players the first year to find out who really wanted to be a Maple Leaf and what that culture is about. The players that are there, I think, believe in it, thrive on it, and there are some outstanding young players that want to be good. The future is extremely bright.
You mentioned your working relationship with the other members of the organization, which included Kyle Dubas. When you came on, you said if Kyle isn’t the GM in the future, it is basically his fault. You were going to mentor him and give him the opportunity to run the Marlies organization. Now, he is your successor. Based on your relationship with Dubas and what you have seen out of him for three years, why do you believe he is going to be successful? Do you believe he is going to be successful as a GM?
Lamoriello: First of all, he’s a very intelligent young man. He loves the game. He works at it. He spends the time necessary. From the day I got there, what he has gained the most is the experience that is needed in how you interact with the different people in different departments, and how you need to sometimes take a step back and let them do what they do and guide and direct and work with them. I think the first year was a little bit different for him, and maybe difficult – I don’t know; he had to go through some things – but I can tell you the relationship and interaction… I spoke to Kyle as recently as yesterday. Actually, the personal friendship that was created that was necessary to have success… it separates when you have to do your job and do your work and get to it. You have to separate those two.
Just a little tidbit: I told him that we’ve got to get his young guy, Leo, to be a Yankee fan. I sent him all the Yankee stuff to get rid of the Blue Jays stuff. That just shows you the relationship.
Same thing with Mark Hunter. The relationship that we have and will still continue to have. And Mike Babcock and the staff. I think that is necessary.
I think that is the culture and that is what is necessary. You asked me the question about Kyle — I think he’ll do an outstanding job.
What restaurant is going to be feeling the loss of Lou Lamoriello the most in Toronto?
Lamoriello: Sotto Sotto. It’s funny you asked that question because you knew the answer before you asked it. You must have a promo going or something.