How's that for a Monday bombshell? The longest active tenure of any NHL GM is officially over. Lou Lamoriello has stepped down as GM of the New Jersey Devils. Ray Shero will take over, with Lamoriello staying on as president of hockey operations.
The move was 100 percent Lamoriello's decision. He personally recommended Shero for the job. Shero is the fourth GM in team history and will report directly to Lamoriello.
"Ray is well respected within the hockey industry and knows what it takes to win," Lamoriello told media on a conference call Monday. "His 22 seasons of NHL experience will be beneficial to the Devils organization. I look forward to working alongside Ray."
So why has Lamoriello removed his GM hat after 28 years? For one, he's 72 and may want to participate in the broad strokes rather than the day-to-day minutia.
"My age is not something that's hidden," Lamoriello said on the call. "Timing is everything in life, and the opportunity to bring in someone like Ray Shero…when you see that, you make those types of decisions."
The timing doesn't just work because of Lamoriello's age. The Devils are also a team in need of a fresh start, and perhaps the wily Lamoriello recognizes that.
Lamoriello has reached legend status in New Jersey since taking over as GM in 1987. He engineered three Stanley Cup victories. His teams drafted Hall of Famers Scott Niedermayer, Martin Brodeur and Brendan Shanahan. Lamoriello took a hard line to acquire Scott Stevens as compensation for losing Shanahan to the St. Louis Blues.
In recent seasons the Devils haven't been nearly as prolific. They have, however, done an excellent job building their defense corps, drafting the likes of Adam Larsson, Eric Gelinas, Steven Santini, Jon Merrill and Damon Severson, to name a few. The Cory Schneider trade did cost the team a first-round pick that became Bo Horvat, but Schneider is firmly entrenched as one of the league's best, more underrated starting goalies. Still, the team's long-term outlook has become rather bleak because of poor forward development. For every solid signing like Jaromir Jagr or Mike Cammalleri, a Damien Brunner, Michael Ryder or Ryane Clowe has blown up in the team's face. Our scouting panel ranks Devils' farm system as the NHL's weakest in THN Future Watch 2015. No forwards crack the overall top 75, and the team's best offensive prospects, John Quenneville and Stefan Matteau, don't project to be elite scorers at all.
The Devils missed the playoffs a third straight season, with Lamoriello selling off Jagr and blueliner Marek Zidlicky in the process, amassing draft picks. They have a plum draft slot at sixth overall, licking their chops over a first round with an elite top eight or 10 prospects. Enter Shero. So who, exactly, are the Devils handing the keys to?
They're getting a man who guided the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Stanley Cup in 2009 and someone who was never afraid to make bold, aggressive decisions in the name of pursuing a championship. Shero dealt what appeared to be a big package, including then-heralded Angelo Esposito and a first-rounder, to get Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis in 2008. Shero fired coach Michel Therrien and brought in Dan Bylsma partway through the 2009 season, after which Bylsma went 18-3-4 and led the Pens to the Cup. Shero dealt Ryan Whitney for Chris Kunitz. Shero made big moves to acquire wingers pretty much every year, including Bill Guerin and Jarome Iginla.
Shero, though, didn't have nearly as much success over his final few years running the Penguins. He may never live down surrendering two second-round picks for plodding blueliner Douglas Murray in 2013, for example. And a Devils team desperate to hit a draft-day home run hopes to do so with a GM whose Penguin teams didn't ace all their early picks, especially at forward. Jordan Staal was a crucial piece of the 2009 Cup puzzle, but Esposito never played a game in the NHL, so the Pens were lucky to unload him. We're still waiting for Beau Bennett's breakout.
Shero had enough success in his run from 2006-2013 to earn himself a shot with another team. His best moves with the Penguins, however, came from a position of strength. He took over after they'd drafted Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang. He made the big deals to put the team over the top. This time, though, Shero inherits a roster in need of a true gutting. Is he up to the task? There's no way of knowing, but Shero did state Monday that injecting more offense into the team is his priority. And betting against Lamoriello is never smart.
Lamoriello said there will be no compensation to Pittsburgh for the Shero signing and that Shero will make the call on New Jersey's next coach. Cue the Bylsma rumors, naturally.
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