At the age of 75 most people have already put the work force behind them and are enjoying the fruits of their labor in the “golden years.” For legendary hockey executive Lou Lamoriello however, the golden years will just have to continue to wait. The 3 time Stanley Cup winning executive inked a new deal with the New York Islanders to become their President of Hockey Operations. Lamoriello had previously served as the GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs for the past 3 seasons before being asked to hand over the “General Manager” title to 31 year old Kyle Dubas. History has proven that when Lou Lamoriello is part of a front office, he runs the show and that is non negotiable.
For decades, Lamoriello was the head man in charge with a Devils team that he ran for 28 years and led to three Stanley Cups (1995, 2000 and 2003). He left for the Leafs less than three months after it was announced that he would be handing over GM duties to Ray Shero. When Lou took over the Devils in 1987, the team had not seen a winning season in their albeit brief franchise history. The results were on display immediately as the Devils would make it all the way to the Conference Finals in Lamoriello’s first season at the helm. For the nearly three decades that would follow, the Devils would be a model of consistency, making the playoffs in all but five of those 28 seasons. It would seem that at the age of 75, three championships and an induction into both the Hockey Hall of Fame and the USA Hockey Hall of Fame, there is not much left for Lou to accomplish, but thankfully for Islanders fans….Lou does not see it that way.
This past week Lamoriello remaining true to his style, relieved both GM Garth Snow and Head Coach Doug Weight of their duties. No time to waste being stagnant when you are 75. Those two moves are music to many Islanders fans ears after the teams second consecutive season of missing the playoffs. Garth Snow held the position of GM with the Islanders since 2006 when he stepped right out of the goal crease and became the head man in charge. In those twelve seasons the Islanders have underachieved to say the least. With just four postseason appearances under his watch and only one playoff series win, Islanders fans have been clamoring for his firing for years, many even went as far as to put up billboards and hand out towels at games that read “SNOW MUST GO.” When Snow survived the transition from Charles Wong to new team owners Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky in 2015, many believed a day without Snow in charge would never come.
Perhaps the strongest aspect of Lamoriello’s executive muscle is his ability to “rebuild.” Lamoriello is widely regarded as one of, if not the best team builders the sport has ever seen. The Islanders for years have been in desperate need of a culture change, and after relieving Snow and Weight of their duties this past week, Lamoriello said so himself, saying “It’s my opinion that at this point there’s a culture change that’s needed and there’s new voices needed in different areas and because of that, the changes (were) made,” Lamoriello said. “There’s been a lot of changes for different reasons, and right now is just trying to stabilize everything, start off with a fresh face, start off with a fresh mind, a fresh coach and just go forward.” That exact quote is what Islanders fans have heard when they closed their eyes at night and dreamed about the future of their hockey team.
For the past decade or so, there has been a movement in sports that has made young and unproven, executives and coaches hot commodities for teams. It is as though every team is trying to get the jump on the next Belichick, or Popovich. The attempts are endless….as are the failures. The Toronto Maple Leafs are the perfect example, essentially pushing Lou Lamoriello out the door for Kyle Dubas may seem like the “hot” move, but at 31 years of age and only prior experience running a team being in the OHL and AHL, is it really full proof? Why let Lamoriello walk out the door for an unknown? It is a trend we are seeing across sports as a whole. Maybe the duo of Kyle Dubas and Brendan Shanahan goes on to be one of the most successful front offices in hockey….maybe not. Nothing is guaranteed in sports, that is why we love it so much. The only thing that can be done to ensure a better chance at success is to bring as many good minds, and quality people into your building as possible. The Leafs just let one of the greatest hockey minds ever walk out the front door of the Air Canada Centre and right into the welcoming arms of the Islanders.
Lamoriello will have his work cut out for him if he is to reclaim the glory days of the old barn and bring the Islanders back to Long Island on a high note. The first and most pressing decision on his to do list will be making sure the Islanders return to Long Island with their captain. With John Tavares set to become an unrestricted free agent in less than a month, Islanders fans are understandably worried. Losing the captain would set the team back a number of years, and would dampen the excitement over the return to Long Island and the plans for the new Belmont arena. Retaining Tavares must be at the top of Lamoriello’s list, and then everything else will follow after that. The new arena in Belmont is scheduled to be open for the 2021-22 season, if there are no setbacks. That is a gigantic “if.” It is possible that Lamoriello, who will be near 80 when the Islanders new digs open, will not be at the helm for the team for long into their new stay in Belmont. Although he has shown no desire to retire, he is currently the only active NHL GM in his 70s. Although his tenure with the Islanders may not be one that lasts as long as his prior stop in the NY/NJ area, Islanders fans should remain excited and optimistic at the thought of having one of the greatest hockey minds ever call Barclays Center (for now) home. The fact that the Islanders resisted the overwhelming “hot young executive/coach” idea that is sweeping the sports nation, should thrill fans. Lou Lamoriello may be 75 but that strong executive muscle of his still has a few more curls left in it. This tenure wont last forever, it may not even extend into Belmont, but we know one thing for sure, the looming decisions and presence of Lou Lamoriello will be felt through that new shiny Belmont Arena for decades.