For the first time in my life as a New Jersey Devils fan, there is someone else who will act as general manager the team. For the first time since March 1987, someone else will essentially run the team from a management perspective. For the first time in a long, long time, I cannot trust the GM of the Devils for he is a new person to the organization and has to earn that trust. For today, Lou Lamoriello is no longer the general manager of the New Jersey Devils. It now belongs to Ray Shero.
This is not to knock Shero. As worrisome as his past was in Pittsburgh, I stand by what I said at the end of this post: he is getting an opportunity and therefore deserves a chance to be accepted. He will be making many changes over the next few months. Given that the Devils requires a re-building effort to get back to being contenders, some were necessary. More will be just by nature of Lou no longer being the GM. Even though Lou is still a part of the New Jersey Devils and he is Shero's boss, he will not have as much power over how the team is constructed and managed on a day-to-day basis. For all intents and purposes, it's Shero's team now.
That said, I would be lying if my initial reaction was not total and utter shock. More so than when Ilya Kovalchuk decided to quit on New Jersey and bolt to a weaker KHL to get more cash. When I got told by the Associate that there would be a conference call, that was enough of a surprise. But I had no idea what it would be. Nobody did until about 4:01 PM EST when Lou himself announced the news. As Gulitti later quoted in this post at Fire & Ice, Lou said it was time to make a change. While Lou may have been encouraged to do so, he named his own successor and named . I always thought he'd go out on his own terms, I suppose I'm right. In a way, I wish I wasn't.
In that regard, that feeling does not make much sense. For the newer fan, the more analytic-minded fan, and/or the more "what have you done for me lately" fan, they probably reacted well to the announcement. The Devils missed the playoffs in four of the last five seasons. Whatever goodwill came from 2012 has run out, regardless of coaches turning out to be flops (John MacLean), ownership wanting one big name to stick around at the expense of another, and that same big name going elsewhere. The team's draft record has not been good. Because of that, they rely on a number of players (e.g. Martin Brodeur, Patrik Elias) who are well past their prime and are supported by players who can't build them up to be competitive night-in and night-out. Whether it's by five or more than ten points, the Devils have been on the outside looking in for quite some time now, and with nothing much in the system, all fingers point to the GM. In that respect, of course Lou would step down. Lou himself would probably agree he has not met his own high standard for success. And I see where one would come from that. I get that. I understand that. No one lives forever, and no one is successful forever, and so change was inevitable.
That doesn't mean I can't be somewhat forlorn about this. This is not just a new GM replacing a long-time GM. This is Louis A. Lamoriello. Let me run down the list of some of the accomplishments he has made in his career. This is a man who helped form Hockey East and became it's first comissioner before being hired by the Devils. This is a Rhode Island native who cut his teeth at Providence College and never played, coached, or managed pro hockey before he was hired as a NHL team president and named himself a general manager in 1987. After stunning many, he would go on to manage a team to three Stanley Cups, five Stanley Cup Finals appearances, nine first place finishes in their division (the five-team Atlantic Division), and 22 out of a possible 27 playoff appearances. That's a level of success most GM's only dream about.
It goes beyond the on-ice success at the NHL level. Lamoriello negotiated Slava Fetisov to come to North America to play in the NHL, which led to the Iron Curtain opening for Russian players. Lamoriello was the general manager of the 1996 United States World Cup of Hockey team, who won it all. Lamoriello has mentored others who would become general managers and executives. Dean Lombardi and Brian Burke as just two examples right off the top of my head. Lamoriello played a role in the process that ended the 2004-05 lockout, which killed off a season and birthed a salary cap league. Consider this as well. Lamoriello was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2009 and the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame while still acting as a general manager. That in of itself is remarkable as such honors are usually given after one's career is done.
All that and he made the Devils into something. Ultimately, Lamoriello turned a Devils organization that was not at all successful and turned them into something, even if the glory has faded in the past five years. And he did it his way. At the risk of waxing poetic and romantic about Lou's hard-nosed ways, there was a method to all of things he did. Whether it was something small like an edict banning facial hair outside of the playoffs or not giving out #13, it all led to a culture of respect. Those who came to play in New Jersey or work for Lou, they picked up on it and they understood what it meant, which included putting the organization before the person. And if you didn't understand it, well, that's your problem. Lou's going to manage the team by his standards, Given the success he had over the last three decades, it's hard to argue against that approach. If that goes away now, which is likely because Shero isn't Lamoriello, that's a piece of the team's identity that goes with it.
I cannot stress that enough. Lamoriello is not just another GM. He is an absolute legend. Not just in this state, not just in this franchise, but in all of hockey. He has worked tirelessly to succeed and with success comes respect. The Devils were no longer a "Mickey Mouse" team under Lou. He made them into an organization that commanded respect in the National Hockey League. He is the New Jersey Devils. I am a fan of this team partially because of Lou Lamoriello. Lou, in a direct and indirect ways, is why I love the Devils. It's why a lot of people love the Devils. It's why this blog has this name. (Aside: My only answer to any and all questions about the name of this blog: Wait.) In a state that is usually a punchline or, worse, ignored, it's something that sets it apart . There is a hockey team in New Jersey and it's been run by a strong-minded, strong-willed individual who is focused on success that they'll take any path to do so regardless of what the fans, the media, or the peers think of it. And, while imperfect, it's worked for so many more years than anyone expected since 1987.
I cannot deny this any more than I cannot deny the past five seasons. So as justified and understandable it is to bring someone new in, this is a significant change to say the least. While Lou no longer being in this position was inevitable, it still feels sad to me in some regard. Lou made the Devils the Devils. The best logo in sports, the color scheme, the name, and so forth remain the same, but what will they be? I wrote about what changes to expect earlier this evening; what will happen to their identity may be one of the biggest yet to come.
That all said, Lou's not gone for good. Just diminished. Lou Lamoriello is team president, he'll act as Shero's boss, and he is still in the organization. It will now be Shero's team, though. It'll be based on Shero's vision, built by his actions, and managed by his rules. I hope for everyone's sake that his tenure is a good, long, fruitful, and an ultimately successful one. Perhaps to the point someone starts a blog called In Ray We Trust. But that's an ideal at best, an unreachable pipe dream at worst, and a complete unknown in reality. This change can be good, it can be bad, but it is here and it's going to happen.
We will move on. Of course we will. I already wrote two posts this evening about what Shero's done and what Shero is going to do. But it wouldn't feel right or complete without some kind of final essay about Lou as GM. All I can say is thanks. He made the Devils what they are. Thank you, Lou Lamoriello. I know the team is still the team, but I will miss you.