May 1, 2012
Lamoriello the constant as game has changed
By STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency
PHILADELPHIA - The anniversary passed without much notice and without any celebration from Lou Lamoriello.
"I didn't realize that it even mattered until I went on a radio show in Toronto," he said. "They told me it my 25th anniversary on the job. To be honest, I thought they were kidding."
It's never really about him. Except he happens to be the longest-serving general manager in professional sports and just about everything in hockey has changed over the past 25 years, except him.
He has been in the same job, same team, caring about the same three things -- winning, family and the Devils, and not necessarily in that order. Maybe Glen Sather has been around the NHL longer, just not in the same place, and nowhere near as consistent.
Lamoriello is in Year 25 on the job: No one else in the game has been a GM longer than 14 years.
And few have experienced anything close to his success.
The Devils are in the playoffs, again, which is where they have been for 21 of his 24 seasons (the lockout stole one year) running the club. He's missed the playoffs three times, once fewer than his one-time protege has missed in almost four seasons in Toronto.
"The first time was in our second season," said Lamoriello, who turns 70 in October. "The second time came after we won our first Stanley Cup, and we learned something from that. The third time was last year and that was all my doing. I put a coach (John MacLean) in a position that was unfair. That one was all on me."
In between, there were three Stanley Cup titles, numerous 100-point seasons, including this one, and strong and consistent performance from a trap-happy franchise that has been as much about family as it has been about hockey.
"I've always looked as professional athletes in two different ways," said Lamoriello. "When you're dealing with the athlete, you deal with him as an athlete. When you're dealing with the person, you don't bring in the athletic part of it. I think sometimes people forget there are two people in pro sports, the person and the player. We have to look at them and deal with them that way."
That has been Lamoriello's philosophy from the time he left Providence College for his first professional job.
"We've always been about character here, right from the beginning. I took over a team that had Kirk Muller, MacLean, Joe Cirella, Craig Billington. Real character guys. And it just took off from there."
His first draft pick was Brendan Shanahan. He has had few early picks over the years but after missing the playoffs the first time, he selected Scott Niedermayer. That was it for quick fixes. The rest came from outworking and outsmarting the competition year after year.
"When I was at Providence I had a few offers to coach in the NHL, but I was happy coaching college. I thought 'Why would I want to go to the NHL, coach for a few years, get fired, and that's it.' I wanted something more. I wanted a stable job."
When the late John McMullen first called Lamoriello and offered him a job, it wasn't to run the Devils, it was to coach the team. Lamoriello said no. McMullen didn't let up, however. The next time he brought Lamoriello in, he introduced him to the deputy Secretary of State of the United States. Lamorielloo was impressed with the meeting, just not the offer.
A year later it happened, in 1987: Lamoriello was hired to run the Devils hockey operations. And over the years he's worn some other hats also.
When there was cross ownership between the Devils and the New Jersey Nets, he was involved with the operation of an NBA team. When the late George Steinbrenner got involved with the Devils, he got Lamoriello involved with the New York Yankees.
"It's been a pretty amazing life, and I've been associated with some great people. To me, it's always about winning. Your job is about winning."
Lamoriello doesn't care what it takes to win, so long as he gets there. He changes coaches with regularity. His philosophy, considering he comes from a coaching background, is succinct and slightly vicious.
Not counting the few times he's been behind the bench himself, 16 different men have coached the Devils in Lamoriello's time. He doesn't apologize for his methods. In fact, he trusts his instincts completely.
"Who knows more about my team than I do?" said Lamoriello, whose Devils are playing the Philadelphia Flyers in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. "Coaching is the toughest job in sports. But if it's not working, it's not working. No point in continuing. I feel it's my responsibility to make the change. The bottom line is winning. You're judged on winning. Nothing else. That's the business.
"You can't allow media, or the fans, to make decisions for you. You have to make them. You have hard decisions to make. You can't let anyone influence you. I don't ever compare myself to anyone else. The way I look at it, my job is on the line every year. And that's the way I approach it."