The Maple Leafs are going back to basics under their old-school GM, while it is a brave new world in New Jersey.
How many general managers can boast they are having a direct impact on two NHL teams?
Lou Lamoriello can, for sure.
Many eyebrows were raised when Lamoriello, 73, left his position as president of the New Jersey Devils last summer. He had been replaced as general manager of the Devils by Ray Shero and had elected to not stay on as a figurehead. It looked as though the legendary taskmaster would ride off into the sunset, next stop the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Then, out of the blue, Lamoriello was named the GM of the drastically rebuilding Toronto Maple Leafs by Brendan Shanahan, the player Lamoriello drafted to the Devils No. 2 overall in 1987.
The hiring of Lamoriello by the Maple Leafs was one of the most under-the-radar moves in NHL history. It followed on the heels of Mike Babcock’s unprecedented hiring as the head coach with an eight-year, $50 million contract that clearly gave him more power in an organization than any coach ever held. How powerful is Babcock? Before Lamoriello was hired he initiated the trade of Phil Kessel, the team’s leading scorer the past six seasons, to the Pittsburgh Penguins. If Babcock had any use for the skilled, but uncommitted Kessel, he’d still be a Maple Leaf.
But back to Lamoriello.
In 28 years with the Devils, Lamoriello ruled with an iron fist. He was dubbed ‘old school’ by most and ‘out of date’ by some.
Lamoriello would not allow his players to grow facial hair. He did not allow them to participate in social media. He manipulated their time on the road to keep them from straying into trouble.
Lamoriello came from a college hockey background and he basically treated his players – grown men – like college athletes.
Oh, he also led the Devils to three Stanley Cups and that trumps any quirks that may have put anyone off Lamoriello.
Talk to the people in the Devils organization today and they will tell you there is a much more relaxed atmosphere minus Lamoriello. Players can go on Twitter and Instagram and show off their bearded faces. Team broadcasters are allowed to fly with the team on its charter plane and fans have even been spotted watching the team practice – a no-no under Lamoriello.
It is a brave new world in New Jersey. Not only that, the team is doing well considering its lack of frontline talent and depth.
There is no denying Shanahan rules the roost in Toronto. The 46-year-old former player and league executive is determined to bring credibility back to an organization that has floundered for too many years.
Babcock is also a very strong voice and shares with Lamoriello a no-nonsense approach.
The Maple Leafs had already hired up-and-comers Kyle Dubas (GM-in-waiting) and Mark Hunter so was there really a need to hire a stubborn old dyed in the wool GM?
Damn right there was.
The Maple Leafs are basically starting from scratch. Toronto had become a country club where players could make big money and were never held to account. The expectations were low and the players never failed to meet those expectations.
Last season was a joke. The team’s best players routinely skipped optional practices and neither coach Randy Carlyle, nor his replacement Peter Horachek, could prompt anything beyond a minimal effort from the group.
Things hit an all-time low when, after a victory, the Maple Leafs elected to not salute their fans as was the tradition. It was a slap in the face of those who pay the players’ salaries.
Between them, Shanahan and Babcock could have inspired a change in philosophy in the organization, but why not bring in man who specializes in instilling structure and discipline? Just as there was a Lou way of doing things in New Jersey, there is now a Lou way of doing things in Toronto. Insubordination and half-assed efforts are not to be tolerated.
“If I could map out or draw out a description of the kind of person that we wanted, it would be Lou,” Shanahan said on the day of Lamoriello’s hiring. “I’ve always thought that there are certain advantages to hiring people on their way up that are looking to prove themselves and have that sort of hunger and energy to make a name for themselves. But I do think that we were lacking in some experience.”
Lamoriello has wasted no time making his mark. With the exception of Movember, facial hair is not allowed. Also, team broadcasters were booted off the team charter.
After years of being afloat at sea, the Maple Leafs are moving in a more charted direction. The organization has committed to building through the draft and its young prospects are being groomed in the minors. Meanwhile, Babcock has instilled a correct way of playing the game that will eventually inspire desired results.
The Maple Leafs needed discipline and they needed structure. Mostly, though, they needed Lou Lamoriello.