In a move that’s been rumored for a few weeks and reported yesterday by Arthur Staple of the Athletic website, the Islanders moved to hire longtime NHL exec Lou Lamoriello as their president of hockey operations, mere weeks after he left his post as GM of the Leafs. I can’t say I’m all that surprised Lou returned to the tri-state area (though I would have been floored if it was with the Rangers and not the Isles), especially with son Chris Lamoriello already holding a front office position in the organization – not to mention former ex-Devils Chris Terreri and Scott Gomez on their coaching staff. As much as I and others made fun of Lou constantly bringing ex-Devs home, he’s already got a few there to greet him. I’m sure others will follow in time…Tom Gulitti (among others) speculated he might bring aboard Scott Stevens as part of his coaching staff which would make a lot of sense, since the former HOF defenseman and current NHL Network analyst always seemed to have one foot in coaching but the other foot toward staying near family.
Even above nepotism and speculated reunions – another possible one being with head scout David Conte, now an advisor on the (gasp) Western Conference champion Golden Knights – the main reason for Lou’s hiring seems to be to give the organization more credibility, doubly important with franchise center John Tavares set to test free agency in another month. It’s no secret the Islanders have operated in fits and starts in the twelve-year tenure of Garth Snow (has it really been that long?), and while it’s speculated his contract status all but precludes his firing, the stripping of Snow’s power was rumored all offseason by Staple who deserves credit for being first with both the initial rumors and the actual hiring of Lou.
It’s been reported Lou already spoke to Tavares – at least informally before the hiring was official or announced. You would think Lou would have a pretty good idea he would be able to convince JT to stay before taking this job, especially considering Lou’s not going to take another job at age 76 to rebuild. Of course heaven forbid Lou had done this sort of thing with the Devils (speak as an emissiary to a top FA while still technically under contract as an advisor to another team) and the NHL PR police would have been all over us left and right, threatening to take away a pick or fine us. While you can certainly question Lou’s record in the post-cap era, he’ll be worth his salary to new Isles owners Scott Ledecky and Johnathan Malkin with just two actions…re-signing Tavares and being a GM upgrade over Snow, assuming Lou or Lou via Chris becomes the GM. He’ll run hockey operations in Brooklyn, giving him more power than he had in Toronto where he was the GM under Brendan Shanahan.
While it certainly won’t be easy for Lou to build a winner in the brutally tough Metro division, he’s never backed down from a challenge before. As a Devils fan I have mixed feelings on this move. Clearly Lou can do and go wherever he wants after being relieved as GM in Toronto, and the Isles – while a tri-state area competitor have never been a blood rival like the Rangers or Flyers. It’ll be annoying having him be more of a direct competitor to us going forward, especially since the Lou-Shero comparisons had started to die down among Devil fans with the team’s run to the playoffs this year, but it’ll be more pronounced than ever now. Part of me is rolling my eyes a little with Lou at age 76 taking over a brand new job since it certainly isn’t the norm for any chief executive in any sport (and he certainly doesn’t need the job for money or legacy-building), but that’s just stupid ageism…hey I hope I’m as active and vibrant as he is at that age.
I’ve had my own criticisms of post-cap Lou in his last ten years as a GM here – mainly being slow to adjust to the quicker, faster NHL style – but him trying to win isn’t one of them. Sure, the Devils as a franchise should have tried to rebuild a year or two before they started that process in earnest under Ray Shero. That said, I never like to pull out the if you’re a real fan card…but if you’re a real fan you appreciate the fact Lou always tried to win without relying on the tankathon card to go for high draft picks, and I’m sure he’ll do the same in Brooklyn. It’s easy for fans who don’t go to games and are more detached to say let’s wait five years and maybe start to win after getting a bunch of high picks but five years is a long time in life, you can’t sim through it like an EA video game. Ask Sabres fans, playing the rebuild card doesn’t automatically lead to a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Of course it would have been nice if Lou had gotten a GM job in say, Minnesota where we could follow him from afar, but how can you really blame him for taking this job? It seemed a natural fit from the first rumors this offseason given all the factors stated above with a return to the tri-state area and being closer to his own family (not just Chris) away from the rink. It’s sort of ironic that Lou shared in Devil fans hatred for the Rangers and Flyers for three decades here – famously not doing deals with either team – and now he goes to another team who’s rivaled with both. I doubt there’ll be many Lou-Shero deals at this point either haha, our only one with Toronto in the last couple years involved the immortal Sergey Kalinin.
I’m not going to wish him good luck, he’s too close to home now for that but it certainly adds some more spice to local hockey with the Rangers in the middle of a rebuild.