The Toronto Maple Leafs pulled off the stunner of the NHL off-season on Thursday, hiring Lou Lamoriello as their new general manager.
Lamoriello spent 27 seasons as GM of the New Jersey Devils before stepping down in May.
The 72-year-old Hockey Hall of Famer has three Stanley Cups on his resume, and the Devils made the final in 2012. But New Jersey missed the playoffs the past three years, leading to Ray Shero replacing Lamoriello as GM.
New Jersey made the playoffs 21 times under Lamoriello.
The move is reminiscent of the Penguins hiring Jim Rutherford a year ago. Rutherford stepped down as Carolina Hurricanes GM and was made president before leaving to take over in Pittsburgh.
Toronto had been without a GM since president Brendan Shanahan fired Dave Nonis after the Leafs missed the playoffs for the second straight year. The Leafs have just one post-season appearance since the 2004-05 lockout, a first-round loss to the Boston Bruins in 2013.
"I'm excited," Lamoriello told a news conference. "I don't know any other way to put it."
Lamoriello said the opportunity presented a "different challenge."
"I can assure you it was not an easy decision for a lot of different reasons," he said. "I've always said anything easy isn't worth it. Anybody can do it."
Shanahan left open the possibility of GM by committee with himself, Kyle Dubas, Mark Hunter and Brandon Pridham all having a say. Even with Lamoriello, that kind of collaborative environment could still exist, with new coach Mike Babcock also in the mix.
"No one makes any decision without consulting the people that are around them and their supporting staff," he said. "If you know anything about me, we'll make the decisions."
In Lamoriello, the Leafs get veteran experience and someone who has the relationships around the league that could benefit in trade talks. It's unclear what his precise duties will be.
Over the past few months, Hunter was in charge of scouting and drafting and Dubas trades, with Shanahan overseeing the entire operation.
Lamoriello said Dubas represents the team's front office future.
"I think he's a young fellow who has tremendous abilities," he said. "If he doesn't become general manager here — I'm not going to be here forever — it's his fault."
Shanahan said everyone in the organization will be able to learn from Lamoriello.
"I think having Lou in the organization is an opportunity for him to mentor us all," he said.
It has been a busy summer for the Leafs, who traded star winger Phil Kessel to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the first blow to a core that has only one playoff appearance.
Lamoriello's hiring is the latest piece of an organizational makeover. Toronto also gave Babcock a US$50-million, eight-year contract as coach.
Babcock is used to working with a seasoned GM from his time in Detroit with Ken Holland. Like Holland's Red Wings, Lamoriello's Devils made the playoffs a regularity, going 21 times since the 1987-88 season.
"I have worked with Hall-of-Fame coaches, and players and a great staff, all of whom contributed to our success," Lamoriello said in a statement released by the Devils. "In the end, it's about the people which makes this decision so difficult."
When Shero took over as Devils GM, Lamoriello said in May that it was "the perfect time" for someone else to replace him. Acknowledging the need "to be realistic in life" and honest about the organization's direction, he ceded duties to Shero.
"It's like a duck on water: You see it calm on the top and you're going like hell on the bottom," Lamoriello said on a conference call at the time. "There's always emotions, but I'm not going anywhere. I'm here."
Now he's in charge of the Leafs, who haven't won a Cup since 1967. Shanahan and Babcock have committed to a long-term plan to contend beyond just making the playoffs.
Lamoriello and Shanahan have a long history between them. Shanahan was originally drafted by the Devils in 1987, the same year that Lamoriello took over as general manager and president. He spent four seasons with the Devils before leaving as a free agent to sign with the St. Louis Blues. That decision cost the Blues defenceman Scott Stevens as compensation. Stevens would go on to become the cornerstone of the Devils' Stanley Cup championship team in 1994-95. Shanahan would eventually return to the Devils midway through the 2009 season, but decided to retire before the start of the 2009-10 season.
In addition to his NHL experience, Lamoriello was GM of the U.S. team that won the 1996 World Cup of Hockey and then returned to that post with USA Hockey for the 1998 Nagano Olympics.
Lou Lamoriello is the 16th general manager in Toronto Maple Leafs history. Here are five things Lamoriello brings to the Leafs:
Lamoriello was GM of the New Jersey Devils for 28 years. He knows everyone who's anyone and could even have some phone numbers memorized at this point. With the Leafs in a rebuilding process, relationships are valuable to help make trades.
This is team president Brendan Shanahan's first NHL front-office job, and the same goes for assistants Mark Hunter, Kyle Dubas and Brandon Pridham. Lamoriello knows how to run a team, something he perfected over decades in New Jersey.
A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE
In Shanahan, the Leafs have a former star player, in Hunter an experienced talent evaluator with junior experience and in Dubas a new-school analytics approach. Lamoriello brings the old-school traditional perspective that balances out the group.
Lamoriello's Devils missed the playoffs three straight seasons, but he also has three Stanley Cup rings to show for his Hall of Fame career. New Jersey made 21 post-season appearances and five finals, and that resume brings immediate respect.
EYE FOR TALENT
Lamoriello's first draft pick back in 1987 was Shanahan, and he and head scout David Conte also selected Martin Brodeur, Scott Niedermayer, Patrik Elias and Zach Parise. Acquiring prospects in trades and at the draft is the biggest organizational priority.