Lou Lamoriello will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame this weekend in the builders category. For those who don’t know what it is, the builders’ category includes coaches, general managers, commentators, team owners and others who have helped build the game. When it comes to success in the NHL, the New Jersey Devils over the last 20 years are one of the few teams the NHL can look at and call a “Model Franchise.”
In April 1987, then-Devils owner John McMullen appointed Lou Lamoriello president of the New Jersey Devils. Lamoriello named himself general manager just before the start of the next season, a move that surprised many NHL observers. He had never played, coached or managed in the NHL, and was virtually unknown outside the New England college hockey community. Lou has done a fantastic job for this organization since the day he got here. In his first season as GM, the Devils notched their first winning season in franchise history (dating back to their time as the Kansas City Scouts [1974–76] and the Colorado Rockies [1976–82]) and reached the Wales Conference Finals. They have made the playoffs in all but two of his 20 seasons as GM and appeared in the Stanley Cup finals in 1995 (won), 2000 (won), 2001 (lost), and 2003 (won). Jeff Vanderbeek bought the Devils in 2004 but has wisely left the Devils’ operations in Lamoriello’s hands.
With the way salaries and team payrolls spiraled out of control in the early 2000′s, which eventually led to the 2005 lockout, Lou Lamoriello never changed his views on player contract negotiations. He takes a hard nosed approached to this and believes in paying a third-line player as much as a first-line player if he feels they have the same value to the team. While some players have opted to leave the organization for bigger paychecks, a number of players seem to agree with Lamoriello’s views, especially those who always find their way back to wearing a Devils uniform. When it comes to the NHL draft, he’s drafted some guys that have gone on to become NHL superstars (Broduer, Guerin and Niedermayer just to name a few). He’s also gone and found players that somehow missed getting drafted into the NHL and turned them into some of the league’s most respected players (Madden and Rafalski). Lou also has a knack at finding guys in free agency who fly under the radar of other GM’s but become important pieces in the Devils organization.
Lamoriello’s time in NJ hasn’t been without controversy though. It’s no secret that Lou has been through a number of head coaches during his time here, even taking over the coaching duties himself twice but Lou knows what he wants out of his coaches and if they aren’t getting the job done Lou will do whatever needs to be done in order to get the job done. There’s no better example of that than the Spring of 2000 when Lou fired Robbie Ftorek with 8 games left and turned the team over to Larry Robinson who went on to bring home the Devils second Stanley Cup.
I was too young to understand the business of hockey back in 1987 but whatever it was that John McMullen saw in Lou Lamoriello, I am certain thankful he saw it. Lou has many admirers throughout the league but despite all the accolades from his peers, Lamoriello insists that his success is not about him, but rather a collaborative effort from everyone in the organization. I thought Brian Burke said it best in an interview about Lou. “They’re people I owe professionally and people that I owe personally, but there is probably nobody I owe in both areas of my life as much as I owe Lou Lamoriello. The influence he has had as a coach and as a mentor on my life has been tremendous.”
Congratulations Lou, this is a WELL deserved honor and as a Devil fan, I thank you for the passion you put into this team and making the fans feel like every season the Devils have a chance at the cup because of the product you put on the ice.