No one in the NHL, on the face of it, has or will have a better summer than Toronto Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan.
In late May, just when everyone connected with hockey figured Shanahan lost the fight to sign the best coach in the league, Mike Babcock turned up at a press conference beside Shanahan at the Air Canada Centre with an eight-year contract. Shortly before that, Shanahan began chasing the man responsible for drafting him as a player back in 1987, Lou Lamoriello, who was booted upstairs by the new owners of the New Jersey Devils when Ray Shero was hired to replace him as general manager after 28 years.
Other people were interviewed by Shanahan for the vacant Leafs GM post but Lamoriello was his target. Shanahan's persistence once again resulted in a press conference at the ACC, with Lamoriello sitting beside Shanahan on Thursday, having signed a three-year deal to be GM.
If you are going to sweep out the country-club atmosphere, as Shanahan and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment president Tim Leiweke promised, along with a lot of their predecessors, then there are no better people to do it than Lamoriello and Babcock. Both have definitive Type A personalities, both are demanding taskmasters and brook no nonsense.
When Lamoriello was asked about potential changes, he said change will come only if he decides it's necessary after examining the organization. Then he said this: "The one thing that fundamentally will not change … is the word accountability."
That was followed by something anyone who ever played for the Devils during Lamoriello's 28 years that saw 21 playoff appearances, five conference championships and three Stanley Cups had heard many times. The kind of player he wants are those "willing to give up their own identity for that logo and never [mix] what's on the back of the jersey for what's on the front."
Lamoriello, 72, also represents the missing piece of the picture Shanahan has been painting since he took the first year of his tenure to sit back and study this dysfunctional franchise. He is as old school as it gets, demanding shirts and ties at all times of team employees, but he is also one of the most respected men in the NHL. A long list of hockey people cite him as their primary mentor, from Shanahan to former Leafs GM Brian Burke and former Leafs head coach Ron Wilson, who both played for him at Providence College. There is no one in the NHL from commissioner Gary Bettman down who dares not to take Lamoriello's calls.
Shanahan has his analytics guy and prodigy headed for the GM's chair in Kyle Dubas, he has the up-and-coming talent scout in Mark Hunter and he has a salary-cap guru in Brandon Pridham. Now he has a sage old hand in Lamoriello to show them the NHL ropes and how you put all that information assembled in new ways to work in building a team.
However, there is a but here. This situation is entirely new for Lamoriello. For the bulk of his working life, going back to his days as athletic director and head hockey coach at Providence, Lamoriello was the unquestioned man-in-charge. His word was the law.
But his arrival in Toronto was bass ackwards in traditional NHL terms. While Lamoriello said he will have complete autonomy as the GM, he was the last one hired in Shanahan's front office. The head coach, assistant general managers and player personnel man were already in place. And Lamoriello will report to Shanahan, who is the one with the final word, not to mention it is one more cook for a company that has always believed four can cook an omelette better than one.
However, while he clearly wasn't ready to fade off into the sunset when the Devils forced him upstairs, Lamoriello indicated he is also not stuck on the idea of being the undisputed No. 1. If he proves to be the kind of mentor to Dubas and company as he was to so many others, then this may finally turn the Maple Leafs into the year-by-year contender they have always aspired to but never managed.
Much was made on social media of Lamoriello's drafting record over the last 10 years as he and his player-personnel guru with the Devils, David Conte, had more misses than hits. Don't be surprised if Conte fills one of the many scouting vacancies on the Leafs.
And don't be surprised if a re-energized Lamoriello gets his mojo back with a young and eager cast around him.
FIVE THINGS NEW GM LOU LAMORIELLO BRINGS TO LEAFS
Lou Lamoriello was general manager 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 successive seasons, but he also has three Stanley Cup rings to show for his Hall of Fame career. New Jersey made 21 postseason appearances and five finals, and that résumé 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.
Stephen Whyno, The Canadian Press