I personally don't like goodbyes. I'd rather say "See you later." However, life doesn't work out the way you want.
In traditional Lou Lamoriello fashion, today's news came out of nowhere. Lou Lamoriello stepped down as President of the New Jersey Devils. Seemingly minutes later, he was named the General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs. I am admittedly still in shock about this, hours after the announcement. The one man who did more than anyone else to make the New Jersey Devils relevant as an organization and command the attention and respect of many in hockey is now with another organization. The one man who drove the team to any kind of success - even to a point of no return - and actually achieved it is with another organization. The one man who is responsible both directly and indirectly for my love of this team is with another organization. Shocked is an understatement.
Sure, I can take a rational step back and state that maybe I shouldn't be. Would someone who has been in charge of at least the hockey operations side of the team since 1987 really just accept a lesser position like team president? Especially if he was encouraged to do so? I've long maintained that among all others, Lou Lamoriello earned his right to decide when he was done with the position. Clearly, he has exercised that right today. There is little I can do about it but accept it. That all said, I'd rather have what will likely be my final say about Lou Lamoriello until the unthinkable happens.
First and foremost, I want to thank Mike for having a post up on it earlier today and Gerard for changing what he had planned to account for it. I'm grateful for all of the ILWT writers for their support, as I cannot post during the work week.
Second, I bear no ill will for Lou or the Toronto organization. OK, I'll still wonder whether the Maple Leafs are the Flyers or Rangers of Canada. (I'm leaning Flyers.) But they saw an opportunity, Lou still wanted to be a GM, and the two made a deal. It's already surreal knowing he's on a contract and he decided to join another franchise in the process of it's own sort of re-build. I have no idea how it will go there. I can't even expect him to say so tight-lipped. I wish Lou well personally, though I don't wish he makes the Leafs too good as the Devils play in the same conference.
Third, I'm not going to completely rehash all of the accomplishments and what Lou meant as a GM. Namely because we've been there before. Gerard did so today. When Ray Shero was hired - which was another shocking turn of events that day - I wrote a post explaining that Lou made the Devils what they are that goes into more detail. Most, if not all, of that post would be entirely applicable today. Instead, I'm going to focus on the title: that he was the greatest New Jersey Devil.
It may be a poor argument in that Lou never played pro hockey, much less for the Devils. However, he was responsible for what the organization would become. That is, an organization that strives for excellence. Everything Lou did was an attempt for that. He wasn't perfect. Sure, some of his free agent signings were poor from the beginning. Sure, we can make arguments that he was behind the times in terms of team management beyond the game. Sure, we can state that he focused too much on the short-term as much as the long term. Sure, we can agree that like a lot of executives in sports, he was loyal to successful players to a fault. All of this can be said. Despite the name of the site, Lou was and is not a deity. But what you cannot argue is that there wasn't a purpose for all of what Lou Lamoriello did.
Moving picks to get players to help you now? Lou would do it if needed, with varying success. Moving up in a draft to snag a falling player or move down to get someone desirable? Lou did that and won big. Establishing team rules for players? Maybe a little struggle at first, but those that went along earned respect and showed they would be willing to follow other changes. Establishing that the primary focus is on the logo and not the nameplate? Completely consistent with trying to tie that logo to success. Trading a fan favorite that wouldn't fit in? Sorry, but it must be done - and also with success at the end of the day. Utilizing the rules to your own advantage? You bet; in fact, it was one of Lou's first actions as GM. Going to great lengths to get an asset to help the organization? Ask Slava Fetisov about that. That success - three Stanley Cups, five Stanley Cup appearances, several division titles, and 22 playoff appearances out of a possible 27 - made it easier to go along with it all. It was a package deal, and it was a package hundreds of players and tens of coaches took.
Nevertheless, the goal at the end of the day was to make the Devils successful. Lou did more than any player or coach in doing so. Therefore, he was the most important part of the team. He earned the right to let something play out, to not immediately hate or love a decision when it was made. He earned, well, my trust. Today, that is no more; but I cannot deny the past.
As much as many are writing the requiem, explaining why Lou was out, I think it's simpler. It's not about the team rules or a lack of a third jersey or firing coaches a lot. They weren't successful anymore. Simple as. The team stopped succeeding and it wasn't in a position to do so for quite some time. The team missed the playoffs four out of the last five years, and this past season was easily one of the worst teams in quite some time. Strangely, I don't begrudge Lou. The goal for the Devils was to try to succeed as much as possible, that means making the playoffs, and that requires taking risks to do so with trades, free agency, and more. The trades weren't bad, it was the free agency ones that went foul. Combined with a lack of replacements for cornerstone players (easier said than done, I admit), and that's a bad situation with other things that didn't go well. While poor drafting, bad signings, weak depth, and more may be managed one-on-one, all of them together isn't easily fixed. From an ownership perspective, that demands change - and that has to include the architect of the teams. I'd like to think Lou would agree with that, but I can't prove it. Nevertheless, being the greatest doesn't mean it lasts forever.
Lou's legacy remains as it is. The last few years that were unsuccessful still can't erase the amazing run from 1994 through to 2010 with 2012 as a lovely bonus. He was named to the Hockey Hall of Fame while still active as a GM, after all. And from what I've read around the league on this day, the amount of platitudes Lou gets from former players and former coaches speaks for itself. When coaches Lou fired praise him for his work, you know he how much respect he commanded. And at the end of the day, that's what he was about. Respect his ways, he will do whatever it takes to help you succeed for the Devils. Sure, I imagine there are some who want to point out his flaws, and some are disgruntled, and so forth. All of which proves that Lou is human. The accomplishments, the accolades, and the legacy all point to the same conclusion. He was the greatest Devil - and he wasn't even a player. He, more than most, made it possible.
As I write this goodbye to Lou, I do want to note that now Ray Shero and the Devils has a fully clean slate to work with. I think this is good for him, the organization, and even the fans. With Lou as President, one could argue he had a powerful man over his shoulder. Now, he's in full control of the re-build the Devils must undergo. He can make the tough decisions without much challenge. There's no perception of just being a yes-man or possible undercutting in the organization. He won't have to be burdened by the past. The Devils will now need a new team president, but it's safe to say Shero's in charge. We can move on from the great Lamoriello era with closure. We can fully accept that change came - and it was arguably necessary.
There is one thing that I would like the Devils organization to do, though. I want them to do something that Lou would never agree to: honor him. I don't mean just a Tweet saying "thank you," though that was fully appropriate for the day. I want something permanent. I want something that will last. I want something like the rink named after him. I want a Lou Night, preferably when he's ultimately done. I want a banner in the rafters, right next to Stevens, Daneyko, and Niedermayer. What I really want is a statue. Take that pose from the the Tweet I just linked, erect it right by the PNC tower on the opposite side of Championship Plaza, and stick a plaque at the base stating: "Louis A. Lamoriello - He made the Devils more than winners, he made the Devils respected." He would never agree to it. The good thing is that he can't say anything about it now.
So, again, I thank you, Lou Lamoriello. You were legitimately the greatest New Jersey Devil. I do not know where they would be without you. A part of me wishes I didn't have to use the past tense, but, again, this is how life worked out. You're with another team and so we must move on as you have. Goodbye.