When Brendan Shanahan interviewed Lou Lamoriello for the GM job with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Shanahan joked to Lamoriello that there are days when he shows up to the office not wearing a tie. “He laughed and said, ‘That’s fine with me,’ ” Shanahan said.
Remember, this was the boss talking to the prospective employee. But that’s the kind of respect Lou Lamoriello commands. He was notorious as GM of the New Jersey Devils for making his employees wear ties every day and not have facial hair. So Shanahan, who started his playing career with Lamoriello and ended it with Lamoriello, felt the need to bring it up.
But the worst thing Maple Leafs fans could do at the moment is get caught up in that kind of minutia. The second worst is to look at the Devils record, both in the draft and in the standings, in recent years and declare that he’s a declining asset, a bad fit for the organization. Because the GM Lamoriello was with the Devils is not the one he’ll be with the Maple Leafs for the next three seasons. In Toronto, Lamoriello will be part of what is becoming a strong front office filled with people who have lots of potential. In New Jersey, he was the Devils front office, full stop. In New Jersey, he regularly hired and fired coaches every two years or so. In Toronto, he’ll have one who has an eight-year contract and makes more money than he does.
Will Lamoriello be a savior? Probably not by himself, no more than Mike Babcock will exclusively be the savior for his work behind the bench. What Lamoriello gives the Leafs is something they lack and desperately need, managerial experience and the ability to work the back channels of the NHL. He is a man with old-school values such as integrity, respect, accountability and hard work, but he is not an old-school guy. He will turn 73 about a week-and-a-half after the puck drops for the Leafs first game this season, but he will not slow down.
“He outworks everybody,” said David Conte, who was Lamoriello’s director of hockey operations and longtime lieutenant. “It’s embarrassing.”
The Leafs currently have an executive suite that is chock full of intelligence and potential. Shanahan has proved to be as savvy an executive who seems to get exactly what he wants. He doggedly pursued Babcock and got him and even Lamoriello said he only took the job with the Leafs after Shanahan simply wore him down. “When you’re the youngest of four Irish boys at the dinner table your whole life,” Shanahan said, “you learn how to fight for the last potato.”
In capologist Brandon Pridham and assistant GM Kyle Dubas, they have two young and smart minds who are eager to work. In Mark Hunter, they have one of the best identifiers of talent in the hockey industry. In Sheldon Keefe, they have a minor league coach who has a short, but incredibly successful track record in developing players and winning hockey games. What they don’t have is an ounce of experience at the NHL level. And that, along with a ton of credibility, is what Lamoriello brings to the organization. Shanahan is a strong personality who will continue to be active in any decision that affects the hockey department. Hunter will continue to scour for talent and don’t be the least bit surprised if one of Lamoriello’s first orders of business is to hire his former confidante Conte in a scouting capacity. And for now it appears that the natural succession will be Lamoriello passing the baton to Dubas in three years. “I think (Dubas) is a young fellow who has tremendous abilities,” Lamoriello said of Dubas. “If he doesn’t become general manager here – I’m not going to be here for a lifetime – it’s going to be his fault.”
But Lamoriello will wield control and he’ll use it. You don’t hire a man of his experience without giving him a huge amount of say. He will put his stamp on the franchise and he will bring a sense of accountability that has been lacking for a long time. And he’ll be demanding.
“Don’t surprise him, that’s the advice I’d give everybody there,” Conte said. “Make sure you tell him everything because he wants to know. He’s not the kind of guy, you ask for forgiveness. It’s best to ask for permission first. But he’s a great communicator. He tells you what he expects of you and he expects you to do it. What more can you ask for?”
Mark Hunter has a beard. Shanahan doesn’t think there will be any need for him to pull out a razor anytime soon. That’s not what Lamoriello was brought in to do. He was brought in to give the Leafs 28 years worth of experience, three Stanley Cups and a resume that already has him in the Hall of Fame.
It was a great hire by the Leafs. They’ll be terrible this season, but you could argue no team made itself better than the Toronto Maple Leafs did this summer.