If I didn’t see the stunning news about Lou Lamoriello becoming the new GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs posted by reputable sources on Twitter this morning, I’d have thought it was an Onion headline gone viral. Although an era truly ended the minute Lou ‘stepped down’ as GM, and quite possibly it was an era that needed to end – I still found myself floored by this news. I’m not neccesarily surprised Lou went to another organization although I wasn’t sure he’d be a GM again at his age (72 now, 73 a few weeks into the season)…but the fact it happened this soon, not even two months after he ostensibly stepped aside though proves once and for all his departure wasn’t exactly by choice. It would be one thing if he left, then came back after a season away and you could argue he found he missed being a GM but clearly that’s not what happened here. While this wasn’t quite Jerry Jones firing Tom Landry – Lou did get two seasons under new ownership, after all – it isn’t far off for a generation of Devil fans that know only Lou and success.
I’m doubly surprised it’s the Leafs that Lou’s taking over although I shouldn’t be given his obvious relationship with long-time player Brendan Shanahan, and their lack of a GM till this point. Considering how they’re in rebuild mode – trading Phil Kessel at the draft being the latest example of this – why would Lou at 72 sign on for three years to a seemingly long-term project? He probably could have still gotten any one of a dozen jobs next offseason that didn’t entail as much of a rebuild. Perhaps working for Shanny and with an Original Six organization with money appealed to Lou at this point in his life. And clearly he feels as if he’s got something to prove after three straight playoff-less seasons here complicated by off-ice issues:
“Maybe it was a process of the way things have gone in the last five years in New Jersey,” Lamoriello said. “There’s a lot of things that have transpired there. Some are public and some are not with references to changes in ownership and I would say things just weren’t the way they were in the past and you weren’t allowed to do some of the things for financial reasons, to be perfectly honest, and it really started to change a little. And I think that when Josh Harris and David Blitzer came in, they changed that and I just thought that maybe there was a change in a thought process as far as a transition and I decided to look that way…Then, when this situation came about, it just raised my level back to where it had been about five years ago.”
I’m still wondering what Lou means by the last part of that quote. Did he feel stale here after nearly three decades? Or was he being leaned on too much by owners Josh Harris and David Blitzer (most likely the answer would be yes in terms of off-ice matters at least)? Clearly from 2010-13 there was an ownership black cloud with Jeff Vanderbeek’s financial difficulties, which is really what brought on the last few years of problems on and off the ice. Lou himself didn’t help matters with a series of underwhelming drafts, spotty coaching choices and highly questionable FA signings and re-signings, but by the same token unfortunately we’ll never know what would have happened if ownership was able to pony up for Zach Parise in the summer of 2011 and Ilya Kovalchuk didn’t have time to go home during the 2012 lockout.
If this offseason hasn’t already been about a clean break from the past, this sealed it once and for all. Lou didn’t even last three months as president without the GM title in New Jersey. To their credit, ownership let Shanahan speak with Lou and to his credit Lou thanked them for doing so but clearly not all was peaches and cream behind the scenes here. It’s just so surreal to realize how much has changed in one offseason and right now there isn’t much to hang onto in terms of hope as a Devils fan.
Forwards – still old and a thin prospect pool although this year’s draft definitely infused more talent on paper
Defense – okay there’s definitely hope for better days here but they haven’t fully matured and who knows how they’re going to play under the new ‘fast, attacking and supportive’ system, without much of a core of veteran leadership left around
Goalie – sure Cory Schneider’s great, but will he continue to be great long enough for us to benefit when (if?) things get better?
Coaching – so far, I like John Hynes…he seems like a dynamic leader that knows what he wants. Of course so far, he hasn’t coached a game in the NHL yet
Owners – yes Harris and Blitzer ‘saved’ us from bankruptcy, but they still have to show they’re committed to winning. People don’t want to hear this or think the comparison has validity but they also own the NBA’s Sixers, in the midst of perpetual rebuilding with a low payroll. And now we’re rebuilding with a low payroll. Granted there are some differences but I can’t exactly blame people for making that comparison…these guys have to prove not only that they want to win but that they know how, firing two GM’s in Philly and Lou here doesn’t exactly prove anything other than they make hair-trigger decisions
Ironically my biggest ray of hope (no pun intended) is Lou’s replacement, Ray Shero. Unlike the owners’ Sixer hires, Shero is at least a professional GM with real experience. And yes I do think it was time to rebuild to a degree, especially up front – with the rebuild on D already in the midst of taking place – it got old watching the Walking Dead skate up front. Still, this is a very unsettling time for Devil fans who know nothing but Lou and success. Although you shouldn’t care about how your rivals are doing when you have your own problems, it’s human nature to look at the fact that the Rangers are in the best five-year stretch they’ve had since the early ’90’s, while the Islanders are also on the upswing with a young, dynamic team going into a new building, and be worried that you’re going to lose the next generation of fans to the more successful NY teams.
New ownership, and many fans have gotten the change they wanted for years…now it’s time to follow the Missouri State motto and SHOW ME that change is good.