Rutherford be­lieves Leafs’ Lamor­iello has leg up

Cape Breton Post - - SPORTS -

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.’’

CP PHOTO

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.

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