Rutherford believes Leafs’ Lamoriello has leg up
Lou Lamoriello chose the challenge of being general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs over the cushy job with the New Jersey Devils that meant far less control than he’s ever had before.
That the hockey lifer wanted to keep running a team wasn’t shocking, and it’s not unprecedented. Lamoriello follows the trail blazed by Jim Rutherford, who took the Pittsburgh Penguins’ GM job a year ago after Ron Francis replaced him with the Carolina Hurricanes and he got bumped to the president role.
Rutherford said there was an adjustment going to a new team after 20 years with the Hartford Whalers/Hurricanes franchise and that Lamoriello is in a better spot because of his long-standing relationship with Leafs president Brendan Shanahan.
“I went to Pittsburgh and it was one of a few teams where I really didn’t know anybody that well personally,’’ Rutherford said in a phone interview Thursday. “If you know somebody, like Lou does with Brendan, that certainly helps.’’
In the small world that hockey is, Rutherford replaced Ray Shero with the Penguins and Shero in May succeeded Lamoriello as Devils GM. Few people saw Lamoriello leaving or joining the Leafs, a secret that was kept quiet in his hallmark fashion until Thursday morning.
“Every day I was with Lou, this was never on my radar,’’ Shero said on a conference call.
Even though the Devils insist Lamoriello was co-operative in the decision to step down as GM, principal owner Joshua Harris said it had become clear the arrangement “wasn’t working’’ for the 72-year-old. Lamoriello spent the past 27 seasons as GM and had the final say over just about everything the team did.
“When you’re used to having absolute control of an organization — Lou was obviously president and Ray was GM — I think it was just a different situation for him,’’ Harris said. “I think if we all take a step back and think about this from a human perspective, it’s relatively easy to see why he might consider a great team like Toronto as an opportunity.’’
Along with his hockey responsibilities, Lamoriello had business duties with the Devils. Rutherford wondered if, during his time in Carolina, he and Lamoriello were the only two in hockey or professional sports to run those two operations at the same time.
“Both those jobs are difficult, just one of them let alone doing both of them at the same time, and over a long period of time it can certainly wear on you,’’ Rutherford said. “So when you get an opportunity like I have and like he’s just taken, where he’s only focusing on hockey, to me it was a nice relief.’’
Hockey — more specifically tearing down, rebuilding and remaking a Leafs roster that has proven flawed — is Lamoriello’s chief responsibility now. He won’t have the same autonomy as in New Jersey, but it’s unclear how his old-school mentality and control will mesh in Toronto’s front office.
One of Lamoriello’s duties is to mentor 28-year-old assistant GM Kyle Dubas, who easily could be the heir apparent. It’s similar to Rutherford’s situation in Pittsburgh, where 39-year-old Jason Botterill is considered one of the hot names as a future general manager.
Like Rutherford to Botterill, Lamoriello might be a shortterm bridge to Dubas. Lamoriello is on a three-year contract as GM and believes in Dubas, with or without his mentorship.
“I think that he’s a young fellow who has tremendous abilities,’’ Lamoriello said of Dubas. “I know of his background. If he doesn’t become general manager here, and I’m not going to be here for a lifetime, it’s going to be his fault.’’
Toronto Maple Leafs President Brendan Shanahan and Lou Lamoriello (right) hold up a jersey at a news conference to announce that Lamoriello has been named the new general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, in Toronto, Thursday.