You could practically hear the collective hockey world yell “WOW!” when the announcement came. Actually, you just had to log on to Twitter and see the media react to the news that not only had Lou Lamoriello resigned as president of the New Jersey Devils, but that the 72-year-old would be joining the Toronto Maple Leafs as GM.
Lamoriello, who had ceded the reins as GM of his beloved Devils to Ray Shero in May, was thought to be on his way out of hockey after decades of excellence had begun to rust. But in joining a completely re-made Toronto front office, he is now back in the game.
Hired by one of his former New Jersey players in Leafs president Brendan Shanahan, Lamoriello will work with advanced stats darling Kyle Dubas and Mark Hunter, an excellent hockey mind with an eye for talent. Both Dubas (assistant GM) and Hunter (director of player personnel) come from major junior backgrounds, which will be interesting given Lamoriello’s NCAA roots.
Not only was Lamoriello an influential coach at Providence College before his NHL days, but he was a frequent booster of the NCAA game, encouraging his college draft picks to stay in school as long as they felt comfortable and mining the circuit for diamond-in-the-rough free agents such as John Madden and Brian Rafalski (who spent time in Europe before signing).
Even before Dubas and Hunter were brought into the fold, the Leafs had a reputation as a franchise that would nudge prospects away from college and toward major junior – with Tyler Biggs, Jerry D’Amigo and Kenny Ryan among the converts (Montreal has a similar rep).
But one thing that has been clear from the start of Lamoriello’s career is that he is a fascinating mixture of old-school and new-school, dating back to his days coaching the Friars. Former player Brian Burke (whom Lamoriello convinced to quit hockey in favor of law school, leading to Burke’s career as an agent and then GM himself) recalled to me years ago how new ideas such as stretching before practice and wearing custom-fitted skates were introduced by Lamoriello to the team in the 1970s, but at the same time, the pre-game meal was always steak, baked potato and a vegetable.
More recently, Lamoriello had jumped on the advanced stats wagon in New Jersey, so he should get along fine with Dubas, the young wunderkind that has so many journalists a-flutter with his progressive player analysis. And it’s hard to see anything but respect for what Hunter accomplished in London, where he and brother Dale turned the Knights into a powerhouse – though there might be the odd joke about how many kids they stole from the NCAA pool along the way.
Similarly, Lamoriello now has a coach in Mike Babcock with a resume just as impressive as his own thanks to Babcock’s Cup ring from Detroit and two Olympic gold medals with Canada.
Now the rebuilding Leafs just need some players to fit the outsized grandeur of the brass. Having traded away the team’s best player in Phil Kessel, Toronto is at the bottom and starting all over. With Lamoriello’s experience and knowledge melding with Shanahan, Babcock, Dubas and Hunter, the Maple Leafs are now more interesting than ever.