There was a sense around New Jersey that franchise icon Lou Lamoriello would be working with the Devils for life.
“He’ll be on the job until they start playing [hockey] with robots,” an NHL exec told SI.com last year. “He'll outlast us every last one of us.”
Turns out that Lou wasn’t untouchable after all.
Lamoriello, who held the positions of president and general manager of the Devils for more than two and a half decades, was relieved of the second half of his portfolio on Monday. He’ll remain as team president but will be replaced immediately as GM by former Pittsburgh Penguins boss Ray Shero.
Shocking, sure. There was no hint at all that any transition of power was in the offing.
But frankly, it’s about time.
For all he’s accomplished—and his 2009 Hall of Fame induction pretty much says it all—the game seemed to be passing Lamoriello by. The Devils were once an elite organization, winning three Stanley Cups in the span of eight years. Not anymore. They’ve missed the playoffs for three consecutive seasons and have become an offensive disaster. While the rest of the league was moving toward youth and speed, Lamoriello continued investing in “safer” veterans like Michael Ryder, Ryane Clowe and Martin Havlat.
In time, the organization came to feel as dated as orange shag carpeting. It wasn’t just a bad team. It wasn’t a good product. And it was on the verge of becoming completely irrelevant. No surprise then that owners Josh Harris and Dave Blitzer, who bought the team in 2013, finally decided to do some serious renovation.
Bringing in a new designer with a fresh perspective was key. But is Shero the right replacement?
With so many promising young minds ready to take the next step—Paul Fenton, Mike Futa and Julien Brisebois among them—there was a chance for the organization to take a bold step in a new direction. Instead the Devils—surprise!—played it safe.
Shero does have a Stanley Cup on his resume (2009) along with a finals appearance in 2008, but that success was built largely on a foundation of players who were acquired before he arrived, including Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Marc-André Fleury.
He has, however, shown a knack for filling in the cracks by making the bold play on the trade market. His signature move might have been the acquisition of James Neal and Matt Niskanen from the Stars for spare part Alex Goligoski, but he also made savvy deals to bring in Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis just ahead of the Penguins’ two-year run at the top.
Not every deal was an ace, though. Jarome Iginla couldn’t get the Pens over the hump two years ago. Neither could Rob Scuderi or Douglas Murray. On the whole, though, he knew how to complement his stars ... until, that is, he began to run into cap troubles of his own making. It’s one thing to back up the money truck for Crosby and Malkin. It’s less helpful to hand out wildly generous contracts to the likes of Scuderi, Dupuis and Chris Kunitz in their later years. His profligate spending left the Penguins hamstrung under the cap and incapable of addressing an obvious need for depth, especially on the wings.
That organizational flaw, created by a series of underperforming draft classes, was on Shero, too. In fact, his pitiful draft record between 2006-14 was one of the key reasons for his dismissal from the Pens last spring. At the time, much was made of the fact that they haven’t selected a single player from 2008-on who had skated in at least 100 NHL games.
Things don't look quite as bleak now, but 2012 picks Derrick Pouliot (No. 8) and Olli Maatta (No. 22) are the only Shero-drafted players who made any impact with the team this past season. Not the sort of legacy that inspires confidence in his ability to recognize developing talent, and with the Devils holding the sixth pick in this year’s draft there's no room for a misstep. This will be the most important choice the team has made since 2011 when it tabbed Adam Larsson with the fourth pick.
That's not all that's on his plate. Now that Lamoriello’s out of the mix, the team’s search for its next coach may move off in an entirely different direction. Fair to say that Shero’s former crony in Pittsburgh, Dan Bylsma, is now the favorite to land the job.
It’ll also be interesting to see what this means for the future of Devils legend Martin Brodeur. It was widely thought that there would be a spot for him in the organization if and when he decided to return from his sojourn to St. Louis. That may still be the case-—always makes sense to make room for an icon-—but there’s no telling how this change of command might affect Brodeur’s interest in returning to New Jersey.
It was a day of change for the Devils. It remains to be seen if it was change for the better.