How will new Maple Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello mentor young assistant GM Kyle Dubas? Here are five lessons Lou might pass on.
Raise your hand if you saw that coming. You, in the back, put your hand down, liar.
Lou Lamoriello stunned pretty much everyone not working for the Toronto Maple Leafs by joining them as their new GM Thursday, solidifying a dream-team brain trust alongside Brendan Shanahan and Mike Babcock.
Before the Lamoriello addition it was public knowledge Mark Hunter, the Leafs’ director of player personnel, helmed Toronto’s draft. Assistant GM Kyle Dubas handled trading. So where will Lamoriello fit into the puzzle? Will Hunter and Dubas relinquish any of their responsibilities?
We’ll find out the plan as the season approaches (and perhaps later today at the team presser, so watch for updates). For now, though, the guess here is Lamoriello will serve as a figurehead and behind-the-scenes mentor. Lamoriello is 72. Dubas is 28. The latter could learn a helluva lot from the former. What lessons could Lou pass on to Kyle?
5. Go with your gut
Nothing says “gut feeling” like firing a coach when your team’s in first place. Lamoriello did that in March of 2000, axing the prickly Robbie Ftorek, who rubbed many of the Devils’ veterans the wrong way. New Jersey had lost 12 of 17 games, and Lamoriello saw an early-round flop coming. He promoted assistant coach Larry Robinson to head coach, and the Devils went on to win their second Stanley Cup that year. It was the kind of move that could’ve made Lamoriello a laughing stock if it went wrong. Instead, it will be remembered as a stroke of genius. The lesson for Dubas here is to make decisions with conviction. If you know your team well and understand its chemistry, your word trumps any outside influence.
4. Play things straight
We ran an oral history of Lou’s tenure as Devils’ GM in a recent issue of THN (watch for it soon online). It wasn’t a coincidence so many esteemed league executives stepped forward to sing Lamoriello’s praises, from Gary Bettman to Brian Burke to Dean Lombardi. Lamoriello was known for conducting business when it came to things like trading in a forward, honest manner, and he earned league-wide respect for it. He wasn’t one to burn bridges. Instead, he built them and maintained strong relationships around the league.
3. Don’t rush your best young players to the NHL
The Devils took Scott Niedermayer third overall in 1991. They gave him four games to start the 1991-92 season, then returned him to junior for more development. He played big minutes on a Memorial Cup-champion Kamloops team and arrived in 1992-93 ready to play big minutes in the NHL. Martin Brodeur languished in the QMJHL and played a full year with the AHL’s Utica Devils before making the team three years after he was drafted. Patrik Elias played an additional year against men in the Czech League. Scott Gomez stayed in the WHL one more season, too.
Though there were exceptions, many of the Devils’ key Stanley Cup cogs received extra maturation time. And when they didn’t, the results were often ugly. Look at defenseman Adam Larsson, who jumped to the NHL at 18. Lamoriello and I spoke at length about Larsson a few months ago. And while he insisted Larsson deserved the shot at the time because of his filled-out build and experience in the Swedish League, Lamoriello wasn’t afraid to acknowledge Larsson as a cautionary tale.
“When things are going good (in the NHL), you don’t have a chance to fail and then recover without everybody seeing it or it costing you a game,” Lamoriello said. “Whereas in the minors, when you go through the growing process, you can learn, because everybody knows it’s a development team, and you’re going through these mistakes, and you have to live with them.
“Confidence plays a major role. It’s an overused word and maybe under-respected at times. We think that at 18 and 19, they’re 30 years old. They’re not.”
Good advice for Dubas to remember if he’s a GM someday and has to decide on hurrying a hot new draft pick to the NHL.
2. Understand what your stars are worth, and get a good return if you trade them
Few GMs epitomize the importance of knowing what you have like Lamoriello does. Flash back to summer 1991. The St. Louis Blues, armed with 86-goal man and Hart Trophy winner Brett Hull and assists machine Adam Oates, believe they’re zeroing in on a Stanley Cup push. They steamroll the Devils’ offer for restricted free agent Brendan Shanahan. Per league rules at the time, St. Louis has to significantly compensate New Jersey for nabbing Shanny. The Blues don’t have first-round picks to offer since they used five of them a year prior to land a beast of a defenseman known as Scott Stevens.
So, yeah, about Stevens. The Devils don’t rest until he’s the compensation. Not even an offer of Curtis Joseph, Rod Brind’Amour and conditional picks can sway Lamoriello. He knows how good Shanahan is and he asks the NHL arbitrator for Stevens.
Looking back, Lamoriello surrendered the Hall of Famer and received the other Hall of Famer – and captain of all the Devils’ Cups – as compensation. That’s digging in your heels to get what you think is fair. If Lamoriello was around for the Phil Kessel deal, would he have demanded more?
1. Create a culture of winning
The very fact Shanahan hired Lamoriello, and Babcock for that matter, suggests a fervent desire to alter team culture. Complacency out, honor and integrity in. Lamoriello famously brought his college philosophy from Providence College to the NHL. He changed the way his players dressed, he made them spent lots of time together as a full team at organized events, and he structured his roster so veterans were always present to mentor the young players. Bobby Holik told THN a few months back the teams had “seniors” and “juniors” to help the freshmen.
The Leafs were crying out for a winning mentality, and Lamoriello should bring that. If it rubs off on Dubas, it should do wonders for the wonderkid’s career.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin