After the way things played out in New Jersey this spring, no one should have been stunned when the word came down on Thursday morning that Lou Lamoriello was cutting ties with the Devils after 28 seasons.
But then to learn that he was signing on as the new general manger of the Maple Leafs? Hard to believe anyone saw that bombshell coming.
And hard to believe that this was a move that Toronto needed to make.
Obviously the affection and respect that Leafs president Brendan Shanahan has for Lamoriello—the man who made Shanny the second pick in the 1987 NHL draft—precipitated the decision. And there’s no arguing Lamoriello’s credentials: three Stanley Cups, five Eastern Conference championships and nine Atlantic Division titles. He’s firmly established as one of the most successful and influential decision makers the game has seen in the past half century.
But that’s the past. And that’s where this hire feels ... off.
The end of Lamoriello’s time in New Jersey was arguably overdue. It was telegraphed when he was replaced as the team’s GM by Ray Shero back in May, but the full decline of his influence became truly apparent earlier this month when David Conte, the team’s long-time scouting guru, was fired. Conte, who’d been with the organization for 31 years, reportedly clashed with Shero. Lamoriello was powerless to save his friend.
The loss of power obviously rankled him, but the Devils were right to move on. The organization hadn’t simply withered into obsolescence under Lamoriello’s recent guidance. It had become synonymous with a dull, lifeless brand of hockey that even the team’s most die-hard fans were struggling to support. New Jersey has missed the playoffs in four of the past five seasons, has seen franchise stars Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk bolt for greener pastures and has struggled to identify young talent through the draft that would have kept it viable. That’s why the fresh perspective and leadership of Shero was needed. That’s why Lamoriello and his old ways weren’t.
And that’s why seeing him land in Toronto is so stunning.
If nothing else, the Maple Leafs under Shanahan have become an organization with a clear forward focus. Bold front office hires like assistant GM Kyle Dubas and player personnel director Mark Hunter were signs of a fresh approach. Putting that talent now under the guidance of Lamoriello is like turning Marvel Comics over to legendary creator Stan Lee. It feels like a search for answers in the wrong direction.
That’s not to say this can’t work. It’s entirely possible that the 72-year-old Hall of Famer will be reinvigorated by the thinking and enthusiasm of Toronto’s bright young minds. And just because he had a well-earned reputation in New Jersey for doing things his own way doesn’t mean that Lamoriello can’t, or won’t, work as part of a team.
But the Leafs are a young, rebuilding organization that until today was being overseen by young execs. Bringing in some experience to counter that in an advisory role makes perfect sense. But to give Lamoriello the power of general manager, as the supervisor and guide of the process? It’s hard to see the logic in that.
Shanahan has proved himself to be a visionary executive during his limited time in office, and after a string of highly acclaimed decisions he’s earned a lot of leeway. This move risks not only upsetting the balance he’s created, but also—if Dubas and Hunter wind up being marginalized—potentially losing the bright young minds he was credited with hiring in the first place .
Risks, of course, are part of the rebuilding process. We’ll see if this one was worth taking.