Twenty-eight years ago, Lou Lamoriello was the first-year general manager of the New Jersey Devils, and second-overall draft pick Brendan Shanahan was a fresh-faced rookie.
Now the wheel has come full circle with Shanahan’s hiring of the 72-year-old Hockey Hall of Famer as the 16th general manager in the history of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The move is just the latest in what has been a bombshell of an off-season for Leafs president Shanahan; an encore to the May appointment of Mike Babcock as head coach. Like Babcock, Lamoriello – signed to a three-year deal – brings a Stanley Cup-winning resume into the fold.
Lamoriello’s tenure at the post will expire long before the Maple Leafs are a contending team. However the new GM’s no-nonsense approach exhibited during his run of nearly three decades of guiding the Devils will complement that of Babcock, further instilling a work culture of accountability in the dressing room.
Leafs assistant general manager Kyle Dubas and assistant to the general manager Brandon Pridham will greatly benefit by having a three-time Stanley Cup winner as their mentor. At the expiration of Lamoriello’s contract, either protégé will be more than well-groomed to take over the position.
There is of course, no guarantee of success that comes with a championship-winning resume. Brian Burke – Lamoriello’s pupil as a player at Providence College – was a Cup champion when he was hired as Toronto’s general manager, but could not bring the team out of the doldrums.
Indeed, Lamoriello has faced his share of challenges in the salary cap era. He leaves a Devils team that has missed the playoffs in four of the past five seasons and is deficient of blue-chip prospects. While New Jersey’s lone post-season run over that stretch was a remarkable run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2012, Lamoriello failed to retain a pair of key components of that playoff drive – Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk.
When the Devils stumbled out of the gate in the first half of last season, Peter DeBoer, who coached the squad to their journey to the final, took the fall, despite having the disadvantage of an injury-depleted roster.
However, like Babcock, Lamoriello is thrilled to embrace the challenge of transforming a basement-dwelling shambles of a team into a champion. His experience is invaluable.
The Leafs’ Cup drought was only two decades old when Shanahan first played for Lamoriello. While the famine will extend to a half-century after the second year under Lamoriello’s watch, Shanahan has assembled the core components to try and halt the skid.
The commitment to win in Toronto certainly exists in the boardroom. Now, it’s matter of extending the culture in the dressing room, for the players to execute on the ice.
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