Earlier this week, the New Jersey Devils announced their schedule for theme nights and promotions for the 2023-24 season. Among the planned events for this upcoming season was the announcement that the team would be inducting a second honoree into the Ring of Honor prior to the game on January 20, 2024 against the Dallas Stars.
As John mentioned in his article on Monday, the Devils Ring of Honor has remained dormant for reasons unknown since the team honored original team owner Dr. John J. McMullen back in 2017. This is welcome news as the Ring of Honor has become something of a meme and/or joke amongst pockets of Devils fans. After all, how can you have a Ring of Honor with only one person in it? It’s not like the Devils don’t have a rich history over their forty seasons in New Jersey to pull from and celebrate. There is no shortage of Hall of Famers, Stanley Cup champions, major award winners, cult heroes, and fan favorites to pick from. Heck, I wrote about just about all of them a month ago when I talked about collecting autographed pucks of important figures throughout Devils history.
We all have our personal favorites and wish list to pick from. It could be fan-favorite players from John MacLean to Travis Zajac, Sergei Brylin to Scott Gomez, Claude Lemieux to John Madden, Bobby Holik to Andy Greene, Bruce Driver to Brian Rafalski, and everyone in between. Any of the three Hall of Famers (Jacques Lemaire, Larry Robinson, Pat Burns) that have coached this team to a Stanley Cup championship would be a fine choice, as would the legendary broadcast duo of Mike “Doc” Emrick and Glenn “Chico” Resch. The Devils could put out a press release tomorrow naming the honoree from anyone I just mentioned and I don’t think anyone would sit back and say “well, they got this one wrong”. There are a lot of worthy candidates who are deserving.
That said, somebody needs to be the next person to go in, and with all due respect to all of the aforementioned names, there really is only one choice of who should be next. That person is Lou Lamoriello.
Dr. McMullen hired Lamoriello as team president of the Devils in April of 1987. Lamoriello then named himself general manager prior to the upcoming season. Lamoriello served in that role for 28 seasons and carved out a career as a Hall of Fame executive in the process. Under Lamoriello’s leadership, the Devils went from being a “Mickey Mouse organization” to a model franchise. The Devils made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history in 1987-88 and reached the Conference Final before losing in seven games to the Boston Bruins. They would follow that surprising playoff run up with playoff appearances in 20 of the next 23 seasons, five Conference Championships, and three Stanley Cup Championships.
There’s more to the story with Lamoriello though than just the on-ice accolades, which are staggering in and of itself. It’s the identity of the teams that Lou assembled, from the players he drafted to the shrewd trades he’d make, the coaches he’d hire and everything in between. It’s about commanding respect when many critics didn’t give the Devils their due until they beat it out of you on the ice and there was nothing left to say but to give the proverbial devil their due. It’s also the loyalty that he earned from the players. Many of the players who played under Lamoriello left for bigger paydays elsewhere, but many of them ultimately came back at some point because of the Devils commitment to winning that Lou fostered. It’s a trait that we’re still seeing to this day as former Devils captain Zach Parise has followed Lamoriello to Long Island for the final few years of his career. And of course, some of those players never left as players like Patrik Elias, Brylin, and Martin Brodeur were essentially Devils for life (minus a brief tenure in St. Louis for Brodeur that we don’t need to talk about).
There is a reason that this very website was named “In Lou We Trust” for many years. Under Lamoriello’s leadership, we could trust as fans that he was committed to winning and would do whatever he could to put the Devils in a position to do so. And he did exactly that, year after year, decade after decade. Lou isn’t without his faults, as his negotiation tactics would result in hard feelings, coaches were as disposable as paper napkins, not every move worked, team marketing was non-existent during the glory years, he wasn’t great at managing the salary cap once it was implemented, and the Devils pipeline was left in rough shape when Ray Shero succeeded him in 2015. But good times aren’t meant to last forever, mistakes are inevitable when you’re in the game as long as Lamoriello has been, and it is understandable that there would be some lean years after an unprecedented run of success like the one the Devils enjoyed under Lamoriello. The Devils having a longer than expected rebuild that they’ve just now climbed out of doesn’t diminish Lamoriello’s accomplishments during his time in New Jersey.
Under Lou, we trusted that the Devils always had a chance to win during their heyday. It didn’t matter that the Devils were huge underdogs against the Detroit Red Wings in 1995 or that the Devils fell behind 3-1 against the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference Final in 2000 before rallying to win the series (and eventually, the Stanley Cup). It didn’t matter that so many of those fan favorites I mentioned earlier left, as the sum was always greater than the parts. It didn’t matter how many owners the Devils had or which city had eyes for prying the Devils away until they got their own team and the Devils built a brand new arena to squash any relocation rumors once and for all. Players and coaches for the most part come and go, but Lou Lamoriello was the glue that held the entire operation together.
More than anything over his 28 seasons in New Jersey, Lou Lamoriello gave the Devils credibility. Sure, Rangers fans could stick up their noses, bring up 1994 at every opportunity, and crack jokes about parking lot parades, but Devils fans would more often than not get the last laugh between the results on the ice and the Rangers disappointment that their shiny free agent acquisition from the Devils didn’t work out. Maybe Lou Lamoriello, who hates the Rangers just as much as we do, knew more than we thought at the time when some of those guys got away. Critics might not have liked how the Devils conducted business under Lamoriello, but come hell or high water, the Devils would earn some modicum of respect for consistently putting a contender on the ice and for their style of play. Even if that respect was begrudgingly earned and muttered under the breath of opposing GMs and coaches.
It’s fair to wonder if the Devils would even still be in New Jersey if Dr. McMullen hired a different team president in 1987. Its impossible to know with certainty, but its not hard to imagine an alternate reality where the Devils relocate to Nashville or one of the other expansion cities of the late 1990s, they change their name, and there is no professional sports team that brands themselves as being from New Jersey. The Stanley Cup never comes to the Garden State unless Phil Pritchard has a connecting flight out of Newark Liberty International Airport. This website wouldn’t exist as we know it, you wouldn’t be reading this, and I’d be doing something else instead of writing this.
For all of these reasons, Lou Lamoriello needs to be the next inductee into the Devils Ring of Honor. And I certainly wouldn’t disagree with you if you thought that the Ring of Honor doesn’t go far enough. If you told me the Devils should dedicate a statue to Lou outside of Prudential Center or the should lobby the city of Newark to rename Lafayette Street to Lou Lamoriello Way, I’d agree with you. Lou Lamoriello may no longer be with the Devils, but that will never change the fact that in a lot of ways, Lou Lamoriello IS the New Jersey Devils. I suspect if you asked any of the Devils legends referenced earlier in this article who should be the next person to be inducted into the Ring of Honor, they would unequivocally say Lou Lamoriello, and rightfully so. No Ring of Honor would be complete without him.
Of course, it would be very un-Lou-like for him to want the spotlight to be on him. Lamoriello might cringe at the thought of him being celebrated in this manner when he’s working for a division rival, even though he has returned to Prudential Center in the past while employed elsewhere to celebrate the 20-year anniversary of the 2000 team. We don’t know exactly what Lou would think about this because Lou has made a career out of saying nothing publicly and guarding organizational secrets like they were the nation’s nuclear codes. If Lou wants to share any insight to his thoughts on this honor, he’ll likely do so in a brief statement in the press release when its announced he’s going in.
As a Devils fan though, I would like to celebrate Lamoriello for everything he has done for this organization. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that. The Islanders have that night off on their schedule as they host Dallas the next night, so there is no reason logistically why this can’t happen. Hopefully, the Devils made this decision to bring back the Ring of Honor with the intention of honoring Lamoriello and the stars aligned where it will finally happen. It’s time, and once Lamoriello is in, I think then it will be time to have a healthy debate of who should get in as the Devils work through their backlog.