TORONTO (CBSNewYork/AP) — What a turn of events.
The Toronto Maple Leafs hired Lou Lamoriello as general manager on Thursday, bringing in an experienced NHL executive to try to turn around the franchise.
Team President Brendan Shanahan said he wanted NHL experience. He got almost three decades of it in Lamoriello, who resigned as New Jersey Devils president to take the job with a team that is undergoing an overhaul after missing the playoffs for the second straight season. Toronto also has a new coach in Mike Babcock and the team just dealt star winger Phil Kessel to Pittsburgh.
New Jersey won three Stanley Cups during Lamoriello’s stay and reached the final in 2012. But they have missed the playoffs the last three seasons and the 72-year-old Lamoriello stepped down as general manager this summer after 27 seasons when the team hired Ray Shero.
The Maple Leafs fired general manager Dave Nonis after missing the playoffs again. Shanahan left open the possibility of GM by committee with himself, Kyle Dubas, Mark Hunter and Brandon Pridham all having a say. But in Lamoriello, the Leafs have someone with relationships around the league that could benefit the team in trade talks.
“I’m excited,” Lamoriello told a news conference. “I don’t know any other way to put it.”
Lamoriello said the opportunity presented a “different challenge.”
“I can assure you it was not an easy decision for a lot of different reasons,” he said. “I’ve always said anything easy isn’t worth it. Anybody can do it.”
New Jersey made the playoffs 21 times under Lamoriello.
“I have worked with Hall-of-Fame coaches, and players and a great staff, all of whom contributed to our success,” Lamoriello said in a statement released by the Devils. “In the end, it’s about the people which makes this decision so difficult.”
Lamoriello is now working for Shanahan, whom he drafted in 1987, his first year with New Jersey.
It’s unclear what his duties will be. Over the past few months, Hunter was in charge of scouting and drafting. Dubas focused on trades for a franchise that has just one postseason appearance since the 2004-05 lockout, a first-round loss to Boston in 2013.
Lamoriello said Dubas represents the team’s front office future.
“I think he’s a young fellow who has tremendous abilities,” he said. “If he doesn’t become general manager here — I’m not going to be here forever — it’s his fault.”
Shanahan said everyone in the organization will be able to learn from Lamoriello.
“I think having Lou in the organization is an opportunity for him to mentor us all,” he said.
Babcock is used to working with a seasoned GM from his time in Detroit with Ken Holland. Like Holland’s Red Wings, Lamoriello’s Devils made regular trips to the playoffs.
When Shero took over as Devils GM, Lamoriello said in May that it was “the perfect time” for someone else to replace him. Acknowledging the need “to be realistic in life” and honest about the organization’s direction, he ceded duties to Shero.
“It’s like a duck on water: You see it calm on the top and you’re going like hell on the bottom,” Lamoriello said on a conference call at the time. “There’s always emotions, but I’m not going anywhere. I’m here.”
Now he’s in charge of the Leafs, who haven’t won a Stanley Cup championship since 1967. Shanahan and Babcock have committed to a long-term plan to contend beyond just making the playoffs; Babcock was signed to an eight-year contract.
In addition to his NHL experience, Lamoriello was GM of the U.S. team that won the 1996 World Cup of Hockey and he returned to that post with USA Hockey for the 1998 Nagano Olympics.
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