Let’s forget the job title for a moment because it really doesn’t matter what it says on the door leading to Lou Lamoriello’s office in Toronto. He’s not going to be a general manager in the traditional sense, but it also doesn’t mean the Leafs hired him to strictly become a figurehead.
Lamoriello has spent a lifetime in hockey. He offers more than a keen eye and firm backbone required to meet the job description. The Leafs deserve more than a 72-year-old executive adding his two cents to what they already know. He didn’t leave his post in New Jersey to become a GM in Toronto because he longed to be engrossed with work.
That much was obvious once the initial shock faded, once people realized his decision to join the Leafs, as ludicrous as it sounded at first, wasn’t senseless extract seeping from the Made in Toronto rumor mill. Of course it didn’t make sense immediately after the news broke because people were still digesting the news.
Lou Lamoriello is leaving New Jersey for Toronto? To become the general manager of the Leafs? He’s the guy who will handle the rebuild?
Yes. Well, no.
The Leafs have embraced a Modern Age rebuilding strategy that will be shaped by advanced analytics experts, numbers crunchers who are determined to prove hockey’s eye test can be reduced to a math problem. Lamoriello is an old-school hockey mind who used a calculator for paying players, not evaluating them.
They made for strange bedfellows, indeed, until you examine a bigger picture from afar. That’s when it becomes clear. Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment President Brendan Shanahan knew that Lamoriello could bring what no other available executive had: a blueprint for success.
The only title that mattered was the Stanley Cup title.
Lamoriello won three in New Jersey. Shanahan won three with the Red Wings. Toronto hasn’t won one since 1967. Many have tried and failed before them. The Leafs have missed the playoffs nine times in 10 years. They hired a good coach in Mike Babcock and have boasted about sharp young minds in the front office.
What they needed was someone from the previous generation who could help – keyword: help – steer the organization into the next generation. For all he cared, Lamoriello could have been named executive vice president to the president for hockey management and operations in charge of assisting personnel.
Instead, he was named general manager.
Knee-jerk reactions were predictable once the internet flared up. Risky, someone said. It would be risky if the Leafs were turning over the organization to a 72-year-old man who knew nothing about running a business. There’s no risk when a company hires an experienced veteran to help supervise the overall operation.
Again, never mind the title.
NHL franchises formed their hockey departments with the same titles for generations, but duties within executive branches evolved over the years. Job titles don’t always explain the true chain of command. Regardless of how authority is distributed, personnel decisions these days are usually made by committee.
Lamoriello might be the GM, but he was not made king in the Center of the Hockey Universe. It’s ludicrous to believe he alone will be wheeling and dealing in the trade market while overseeing the draft. Shanahan is running the show. He’ll sign off on every move after consulting with the masterminds around him.
Shanahan’s cabinet members include Lamoriello, who will have a voice. His opinions will be taken into consideration. He will make decisions. However, he will not have total command over the organization.
Of course, many assumed Shanahan was doing a favor for his former boss after Lamoriello lost power in New Jersey. Shanahan was selected second overall in 1987 and was the first player Lamoriello picked after becoming GM. Lamoriello signed him at age 39 and allowed Shanahan to finished his career where he started.
Shanahan isn’t doing a favor for Lamoriello. It’s the other way around. Shanahan desperately needed a mentor he could trust. Lamoriello brings credibility and expertise. He turned the Devils into one of the NHL’s top franchises in the 1990s and 2000s. The Devils won three Cups, lost two others in the finals.
The Devils missed the postseason four of the past five years, a sign Lamoriello was slipping as a hockey man. Maybe he was, but he still knew how to oversee the daily workings of a franchise. The Leafs hired him to help them avoid the potholes that come with a rebuild, not necessarily make hockey decisions.
Nobody should be surprised if Lamoriello is gone sooner than later, if only because the likelihood of him getting the Leafs on the road to recovery and retiring is higher than him overstaying his welcome. He climbed aboard in Toronto knowing precisely what his role would be no matter how it was sold.
Shanahan needed someone to help him generally manage the organization. That’s all. General Manager is just what the sign says.