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Lou Lamoriello attends a news conference to announce that he has been named the new general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, in Toronto, Thursday, July 23, 2015.Galit Rodan/The Canadian Press

They all saw him.

As the New Jersey Devils took the ice on Tuesday, there was the old boss, Lou Lamoriello, sitting in the same spot he did for nearly 30 years for every morning skate.

It was an odd visual, seeing Loophole Lou – the man who embodied one NHL franchise for as long as anyone has in the modern era – sipping his coffee next to Jacques Lemaire, bit shockingly not being a Devil.

"It's a weird feeling – I've been with him for 19 years," said Devils veteran Patrik Elias, the NHL's second-oldest player at 39 this season. "We went through some great, great times and some rough times, but went through it."

Expected to bottom out and get a high draft pick, the Lou-less Devils have been surprisingly competent in their first season since Lamoriello left to become general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Great goaltending has been a big part of that, but there's been timely scoring, too, with Mike Cammalleri in the top 10 in NHL scoring and Adam Henrique and Leafs castoff Lee Stempniak not far behind.

Despite the shootout loss to the Leafs game on Tuesday, the Devils were hanging on in the Eastern Conference playoff picture with a 14-10-4 record and 32 points in 28 games. It's a different regime, and a different roster, but former players still credit Lamoriello with some of their success.

He "gave me the opportunity to have a great career and great life," Elias said. "I learned the right way … the language, the lifestyle, what it means to be a Devil, to win on a regular basis, being professional. All of those things."

"A lot of his lessons and the things he instilled in you are still there," added goaltender Cory Schneider, the team's MVP and a Vezina Trophy candidate early on. "The foundation that Lou built is always going to be here."

The foundation he is building in Toronto is less clear. Lamoriello wasn't hired by Brendan Shanahan until late July, meaning much of the roster-altering process – including trading away Phil Kessel to Pittsburgh – was already complete whe he arrived.

Those close to the team, however, say Lamoriello's presence in his first three months has been immense, and that when the big moves come – likely near the Feb. 29 trade deadline – he'll be more involved than anyone.

He may be 73, but this gig isn't a relaxed transition into retirement.

"He's the first one there, and he's the last one to leave," Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly said of seeing Lamoriello at the rink every day, either for a practice or game. "He's around the team a lot more than I thought. He's had a really positive attitude, positive approach with this team, and I think it's really rubbing off. He's a huge part of the change of culture. He deserves as much credit as anybody."

"He carries himself a certain way, and he expects his [players] to carry themselves a certain way," Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf said. "I think you can see it in our room."

There's certainly a greater confidence around the Leafs this season, although you can debate who that comes from: Lamoriello, Shanahan or coach Mike Babcock. It's likely some combination of all three, combined with the notion that winning isn't particularly the goal anymore, with a youth movement and rebuild the focal points of the franchise.

The pressure is off, and for the first time in years, the players can breathe.

Whether Lamoriello is the right mind to guide that movement is a fair question. Those rough times Elias talks about include most of the last decade, including four playoff misses in the last five years in New Jersey. They went the opposite direction of the Leafs, trading picks and prospects and getting older on a road to oblivion.

The Devils three Stanley Cups – in 1995, 2000 and 2003 (over Babcock's Ducks) – also feel increasingly removed from anything resembling the current cap era, and the Leafs face a monumental task still in dumping some of their bloated contracts.

That's why, for all the talk of culture change, discipline and frivolities like his no-beard policy, Lamoriello's work as a hatchet man will be what matters most. He has already been able to make Stephane Robidas's unwanted deal disappear – poof! an injury – and he has a few more magic acts to perform in the next six months.

While he'll never be a true consensus builder, the Leafs have Shanahan to ensure that others such as Kyle Dubas and Mark Hunter get their voices heard, and it's not always Lou's way or the highway.

Even Lamoriello has allowed that he isn't attempting to remake the Leafs entirely in the Devils image, perhaps realizing that what happened the last decade wasn't working.

"We've got the Leaf sort of philosophy, we've got the Detroit philosophy, and we've got the New Jersey philosophy," Lamoriello said recently. "Brendan right now is the only conduit to all three, in different eras, but I'd like to think we'll have a combination of all and get the best of what was done. Get it together and come up with the Leafs culture."

"He has changed a lot compared to maybe 10 years ago," Elias explained, noting how a more dictatorial Lamoriello used to want players to prove themselves until they were 30, a strategy that would be death in what's becoming a younger league every season. "Life evolves, people evolve and you have to change with it."

Part of the task in Toronto is Lamoriello showing he has.

Lamoriello will need to loosen the reins a little and allow other opinions to get through. And he'll need to to sacrifice the present for a future that he may not even be part of with the Leafs, given his age and the succession plan in place.

"There's nothing in cement," Lamoriello said of the management team's ability to adapt. "When you get people together who have only one common mission. I think that's been established."