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At the start of the offseason, no one would have predicted that the Toronto Maple Leafs would head into the 2015-16 year with a 28-year veteran as their general manager, but that is going to be the cage. Thursday morning, news broke that Lou Lamoriello was departing the New Jersey Devils and accepting the vacant general manager position with the Leafs, reuniting with Brendan Shanahan, whom he selected second-overall in 1987 with the Devils.
This was a complete shocker, but also a move that makes a lot of sense when you sit back and think about it for a couple minutes. Lamoriello was a fixture in New Jersey for a long time and built a winner in a market that hadn’t experienced great success prior to his arrival.
In addition to drafting Shanahan, the 72-year-old executive also selected Hall of Famers Martin Brodeur and Scott Niedermayer and built a franchise that became a perennial contender and three-time Stanley Cup Champions under his watch. Though they have missed the playoffs each of the last three seasons while trying to rebuild, New Jersey only failed to qualify for the playoffs three times other times under Lamoriello.
Having said that, he was bumped out of the general manager’s chair in favour of ex-Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero in early May in a move that couldn’t have sat well with the man who had held the position for the previous 27 years. So while his actual departure and yesterday’s dual announcements caught everyone off guard, they also didn’t come completely out of left field when you break it all down.
Along with his connection to Shanahan, there are several other reasons why this hiring makes a lot of sense for the Maple Leafs. Lamoriello has been around for nearly three decades and he’s never been a big media guy. All too often, the coach and/or general manager become too much of a constant story in this market and it has seemed like the men hired into those positions in recent years have often courted those opportunities. Lamoriello isn’t that guy. Don’t expect any $5 words or heated rivalries with reporters.
While he might have to do a little more media now that he’s leaving overshadowed New Jersey for the center of the hockey universe, he could also very easily differ to Shanahan, Kyle Dubas or Mark Hunter or just keep things short and simple whenever he is stuck talking to reporters.
Bringing on one of the most seasoned executives in the league to join a group with seriously limited experience is a home run. As much as everyone in Toronto has the utmost confidence in the management group that Shanahan has assembled, having someone that has actually built a winner and led a perennial contender at the highest level to be a part of the project only further strengthens that group.
Over the next few years, Lamoriello can work hand-in-hand with Shanahan and mentor Dubas and Hunter, one of who could likely succeed him in the position down the line. He’s also the kind of old school hockey guy to that Mike Babcock prefers to work with as well, and though Lamoriello has a history of firing coaches, “Babs” isn’t going anywhere and it’s not hard to envision them teaming up to put a better-than-expected team on the ice this coming season.
This a home run for Toronto and another feather in the Shanahan’s cap as he works to rebuild this organization on and off the ice. The management team and coaching staff he’s assembled around him is a combination of experienced and fresh, old school and new; guys that can look at this game from both a traditional and analytical perspective and come to the right consensus for this franchise, with Shanahan, himself an old school/new school hybrid, at the head of the table.