The first bomb dropped just before 10 a.m. on the East Coast: Lou Lamoriello, the man who had run the New Jersey Devils since 1987, had resigned from his position as team president.
Lamoriello had given up his role as general manager to Ray Shero earlier this summer, but remained as team president in what many felt would be his last position before retirement.
“Lou Lamoriello created and defined what it meant to be a New Jersey Devil,” said co-owner Josh Harris. "His brilliance in shaping this franchise into one of the most storied and celebrated organizations in sport will make him a New Jersey Devil for life. He represented this organization, our current and former players, the state of New Jersey, and the greatest fans in the National Hockey League in a manner that exemplified character, class, and dignity.”
Character … class … dignity … these are virtues the Toronto Maple Leafs have been desperate to locate for the last several seasons. It’s why they spent $60 million to bring in Detroit Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock to run their bench. And it’s why they dropped the morning’s second bomb moments after the Devils’ announcement:
Lou Lamoriello is the new general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
And you thought Martin Brodeur retiring as a member of the St. Louis Blues was surreal.
The obvious connection here is between Lamoriello and Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment president Brendan Shanahan, who played for Lamoriello twice in New Jersey, including at the end of his career. The two have shared a mutual admiration.
Under Lamoriello, the Devils’ record was 1,093-779-268 (.578) during the regular-season and 136-116 (.540) in the post-season. Lamoriello’s teams owned the NHL’s second-best record during each of the last two decades: 396-275-110 (.577) in the 1990’s and 422-223-95 (.634) in the 2000’s.
The team won three Stanley Cups and five conference titles, including one in 2012.
But that appearance was in the middle of a stretch that saw the Devils miss the playoffs in four of five years. Much of this was beyond Lamoriello’s control: Zach Parise leaving for Minnesota, Ilya Kovalchuk leaving for Russia, Martin Brodeur acting his age. But he also was overly reliant on veteran players while the Devils’ prospect system languished, failing to develop the kinds of high-end prospects that had fueled the club’s success for decades.
(To that end, player personnel guru Dave Conte was let go a week before Lamoriello’s resignation.)
When Shero was hired, it looked like Lamoriello was content to run the Devils from on high. He’s 72 years old. He’s accomplished more than many executives could dream to accomplish in the NHL in his 27 years in New Jersey. The legacy was cemented.
But he was pushed upstairs by the Devils new ownership, after the team’s run of regular-season failures. The competitive fire apparently still burned. And Lamoriello did what few Devils fans every believed he’d do: Leave Jersey to run another NHL team.
(Hey, at least it wasn’t the Rangers.)
For the Devils and Shero, this probably had to happen. Ownership wanted to minimize Lamoriello's player personnel input. It's now Shero's show.
The question with this hiring for Toronto: Does Lou still have it? Can he lead a long-term rebuild of this franchise, when his last years with the Devils were less about reloading than scratching and clawing at relevancy? Can a GM whose best years have certainly not been under the NHL's salary cap work with the Leafs' heralded analytics department to make the Leafs Cup contenders?
We'd say "yes" because It's still Shanahan's show in Toronto. Lamoriello won't wield the same power as he did in Jersey.
One of Shanahan’s greatest virtues as a novice executive was his ability to surround himself with the best people to make his operations successful. It’s what he did in the NHL Department of Player Safety, the job that earned him the Leafs one. It was expected he’d do the same in Toronto.
He arrived with Randy Carlyle and Dave Nonis as his coach and GM.
He enters 2015-16 with Mike Babcock and Lou Lamoriello as his coach and GM.
Let it never be said Shanahan hasn’t met that expectation.
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