Changing of the Guard for the New Jersey Devils

devils_lamoriello

“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything,” – George Bernard Shaw.

This past Monday, Lou Lamoriello announced that he would be stepping down as general manager of the New Jersey Devils and named Ray Shero his successor. Lamoriello also added that he would be staying with the team in the role of President. Regardless, the move signals the final move of a change in the Devils’ culture, and will usher in a new era for Jersey’s Team.

Shero comes with a loaded resume, constructing the Pittsburgh Penguins teams that went to back-to-back Cup Finals in 2008 and 2009, winning the latter which was the third Stanley Cup in franchise history. The Penguins fired Shero before this season after he served with the Penguins since the 2006-2007 season.

Shero did have his moments with the Pens however, constructing teams that were dominant in the regular season, but seemed unable to find postseason success after the two Finals appearances and the 2009 championship.

Shero’s tale can come later, a story that is only half written as of now. The attention turns to Lamoriello, whose decision to finally hand over the reigns of the club he has seemingly built up from nothing came as a shock to many. Looking at some of Lamoirello’s career highlights truly show what a great mind for hockey and the Devils franchise he was and still is and that without Lou, there would be no New Jersey Devils.

The Devils hired Lamoriello as team President on April 30th, 1987 and he named himself G.M. before the 1987-88 season. Before coming to the Garden State, Lou served as the athletic director for Providence College. Still, Lamoriello was fairly unknown by the NHL and Devils fans, but all of that would soon change.

Just that season, the Devils made the playoffs for the first time in team history following the heroics of a John MacLean overtime goal against the Chicago Blackhawks, in the final game of the regular season no less.

Then the process began for Lamoriello to be a pioneer for the sport of hockey in bringing in Russian defenseman Viacheslav Fetisov to the NHL. He makes his debut in 1989, marking over a year Lamoriello toiled to get him over to the NHL and breaking through the veiled Iron Curtain.

1989 would serve as the starting point for Lamoriello to begin construction of the team that would become eventual Stanley Cup winners in 1995. He traded defenseman Tom Kurvers to the Toronto Maple Leafs for a first-round pick in the 1991 NHL Draft. The Devils end up with the third pick in the draft and select defenseman Scott Niedermayer.

In the 1990 NHL draft, at the behest of his scouts, he picks a little known goaltender named Martin Brodeur. It is worth noting that 19 teams passed on Brodeur, including his hometown Montreal Canadiens, before the Devils picked him with the 20th pick.

Mere months after, Lamoriello snags forward Claude Lemieux from trading forward Sylvain Turgeon to the Montreal Canadiens. Almost to the day a year later, he acquires defenseman Scott Stevens from the St. Louis Blues as compensation for the Blues signing free agent forward Brendan Shanahan.

1992 finds Lamoriello being awarded the Lester Patrick trophy for outstanding service to hockey in the United Stated. But his work is not done there.

The Devils are led by Brodeur, Stevens, Lemieux and Neidermayer as they go on to sweep the heavily favored Detroit Red Wings in the 1995 Cup Finals, the first championship for the Devils organization. Lemieux would win the Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP, scoring 13 goals in the playoffs.

Lamoriello’s services were not only relied up on by the Devils, but in all aspects of American hockey. As general manager of the United States, the U.S. beat Canada 5-2 to win the gold medal at the World Cup of Hockey. Two years later, serving again as general manager of the United States for the 1998 Nagano Olympics, the U.S. finished sixth. This was the first time NHL players would participate in the winter games.

Not one to shy away from controversial moves, Lamoriello fired head coach Robbie Ftorek with eight games left in the regular season and promoted assistant coach Larry Robinson just before the 2000 playoffs. The Devils would go on to garner their second Cup in franchise history over the Dallas Stars thanks to another heroic overtime goal, this time from the stick of Jason Arnott in Game 6.

2001 would see the Devils vying to become the first back-to-back Cup champs since the 1997-98 Red Wings, but the Colorado Avalanche prevail in seven games.

In March of 2002, forwards Jamie Langenbrunner and Joe Nieuwendyk are brought in from the Stars for Arnott, Randy McKay and first-round pick in the 2002 draft. The following season, the two former Stars along with the rest of the Devils are hoisting the Stanley Cup for the team’s third. Langenbrunner’s 11 goals lead all players in the postseason, and his 18 points are tied with Niedermayer for the League lead.

Lamoriello would place himself behind the Devils bench in 2005 and then again in 2007 after firing coach Claude Julien just before the playoffs.

Lamoriello’s success is recognized as he is inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2009, and later the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in 2012. The Devils also would make their fifth Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 2012 on the heels of a magical run, eventually being defeated by the Los Angeles Kings in six games.

His magnum opus would occur during the NHL entry draft in 2013 when he traded the Devils ninth overall pick to the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for goaltender Cory Schneider, preparing the team for the eventual departure of Martin Brodeur and setting them up for the future in net.

This season, after firing head coach peter DeBoer in December, Lamoriello created a three headed coaching juggernaut along with Scott Stevens and Adam Oates. The move was unorthodox, but was nothing new with Lou as there is always a method to his madness.

The Devils have missed out on the playoffs three straight seasons, and after some questionable player moves and acquisitions, fans began to feel that the time for Lou to call it quits was here. As much as Lamoriello wanted to stay general manager until he no longer could physically do it, he unselfishly realized that in order for the team to become the perennial Cup contender it once was, new blood was needed. Whether is was stubbornness or pride, the eventual realization that the Devils needed to change with the times became clear to Lamoriello. Enter Ray Shero.

In just looking at some of these career highlights, Shero will have the biggest shoes to fill, but what he needs to realize is that this is his team now. Yes, Lou will be around the Devils in some capacity, but he also needs to realize that this is now Shero’s team and he needs to allow Shero to do what he sees fit.

One thing is for certain, Lou always played things close to the chest and never had anything come out to the media until he wanted it. This was a move many saw coming, but perhaps not as soon. Many in the hockey community associate Lou with the Devils and vice versa. He will go down as one of the greatest general managers not only in hockey, but also in sports.

Lou consistently built teams ready for success and three Stanley Cups, five Final Appearances, five eastern conference championships, nine divisional championships, and 21 playoff appearances, 13 straight from 1996-97 to 2009-2010 only speak to half of the tale.

The Devils should only hope that Shero has half the success of the man who turned a Mickey Mouse organization into one of the premier organizations for the game of hockey under his watch.

Peter Rossi

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