In typical fashion of operating under complete secrecy, longtime General Manager (relegated himself to President this offseason) Lou Lamoriello sent shockwaves throughout the hockey world by resigning from his post in New Jersey to become the next general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He was never widely considered a candidate for the position, and comes to a Maple Leafs team in the midst of a substantial rebuild. He joins a front office headed by president Brendan Shanahan, who was drafted by, and began his playing career under Lamoriello’s watch almost 30 years ago.
Changes appeared inevitable after the Devils failed to qualify for the playoffs for the third straight year and four of the past five seasons. Over this stretch, they lost star-caliber talent like Zach Parise to free agency, and to unexpected retirement (Ilya Kovalchuk). Throw in poor drafting over the past decade and committing to aging veterans that couldn’t keep up with the pace of today’s game, it’s clear that Lamoriello and the Devils going their separate ways was probably for the best.
News of Lamoriello’s unprecedented resignation is just the latest of countless changes New Jersey has undergone, dating back to last summer. It started when the Devils (still under Lamoriello’s watch then) parted ways with Martin Brodeur, who signed with the St. Louis Blues. He was expected to return to the Devils’ front office after announcing his retirement just weeks after his signing, but appears to have cemented himself as assistant general manager in St. Louis for the foreseeable future. Last October, the Devils stumbled out of the gate and had one of their worst seasons that made the 2010-2011 team look like a Stanley Cup contender. It was the final straw for new ownership after seeing their team miss the playoffs the second season year in a row since making the purchase.
After Ray Shero was introduced as general manager more than two months ago, he set a precedent that change would be made in the organization; changes that would exceed Lamoriello’s comfort zone. Lou forcibly took a backseat as Shero cut ties with the unrestricted free agents coming off the Devils’ payroll. There were undoubtedly a few names Lamoriello would have welcomed back with open arms that would have restricted opportunities for the organization’s young players. With a team well under the salary cap, plenty of roster openings for their homegrown prospects going into training camp, and only two players older than 35, perhaps the final straw for Lamoriello was the nonrenewal of his right hand man David Conte’s contract. The two worked alongside each other since the 80s, and played integral roles in turning the Devils from a laughing stock, to a perennial playoff contender.
Similar to Brodeur leaving, Lamoriello’s departure has more of a greater sentimental impact on the organization and its fan base. No team in the NHL has experienced the combined longevity and success in their front office as the Devils did with Lamoriello. It was difficult enough when the Brodeur era ended, a transition that involved him temporarily wearing another team’s jersey before he realized the game had finally passed him. Losing two revered icons within a span of a year in Lamoriello and Brodeur is a tough pill to swallow, and there were always those select fans that felt sentimentality outweighed the necessity of conforming the Devils to the modernized direction the NHL is going towards.
Lamoriello has the opportunity to do great things in Toronto. He’ll be surrounded by a managerial staff that will graciously respect him, will value his input, and that hasn’t achieved a fraction of what he’s done in New Jersey. Since he’ll be turning 73 at the beginning of the season, it’s unlikely Lou is a long term option as Toronto’s general manager. For a team that’s undergoing a significant degree of reform, he will bring stability and invaluable experience to a relatively untested front office that’s just starting to get a grasp of this underachieving team. Lamoriello will (to a certain degree) reap the powers and benefits that comes with the general manager position, which he arguably valued having over his background figurehead-type role (from the perspective of the public) as team president. Perhaps Lamoriello’s hiring is a stepping stone in he grooming process for Shanahan or even Kyle Dubas to eventually inherit the general manager position.
When you put the situation in perspective, what better person to learn from?