Leafs go off script with Lou Lamoriello hiring

Before we begin to try to sort through the news Thursday that longtime New Jersey Devils president and general manager Lou Lamoriello has taken over as GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs, please allow us this moment to describe the collective reaction of the hockey world: Holy cow!

After ambling along without a GM through the draft, and seemingly content to populate the front office with junior hockey savants and youthful advanced stats devotees, the Maple Leafs out of the blue hired a guy who put the "old" in old school.

No matter how you massage it, there is something more than a little incongruous about Lamoriello suddenly stepping from his former life -- or rather the idea that he was a Devil for life -- into this new and daunting role.

And there is likewise something a little incongruous about the Leafs -- who recently traded away their most dynamic player, Phil Kessel, for essentially picks and prospects, and who have given the appearance of a franchise building a vision for the future by consensus -- hiring a Hall of Famer who spent a lifetime making the Devils franchise bend to his singular vision of what a winner should be.

Not that there will ever be a question about Lamoriello's influence on the game as a whole, and specifically on the Devils.

He was the driving force behind one of the NHL's most successful franchises -- a man who took over a floundering Devils franchise in April 1987 and built it into a powerhouse, the envy of GMs around the league.

Lamoriello methodically built a team that didn't just rise to the top but stayed there more or less annually for more than a decade, winning championships in 1995, 2000 and 2003 while advancing to the finals in 2001 and 2012.

The Devils went to the playoffs in seven of the first eight seasons Lamoriello was GM of the team and then for 13 straight seasons after missing in 1996. With all due respect to Hall of Famers Scott Niedermayer and Scott Stevens and soon-to-be Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur, Lamoriello was the face of the Devils.

Lamoriello, the former Providence College coach who served as mentor to top hockey minds like Ron Wilson and Brian Burke, is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame and the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.

The first player he drafted as GM in New Jersey happened to be a guy named Brendan Shanahan, who hired Lamoriello on Thursday to help in the ongoing rebuild of the Leafs.

Regardless of the connection between the current Leafs president and Lamoriello, the move still seems at odds with the direction Shanahan was charting for the slow rebuild of a team that hasn't won a championship since 1967 and is coming off an embarrassing 2014-15 season.

Just how is Lamoriello going to fit with a diverse group already in place at Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, including assistant GM Kyle Dubas, the former junior hockey manager and advanced stats expert; former NHLer and junior hockey magnate Mark Hunter, who is heading up player personnel; cap expert Brandon Pridham; and the team's hockey research and development staff?

Hard to imagine that Lamoriello will act in this environment as the kind of GM he was in New Jersey, where his word was law.

And while no one will ever question Lamoriello's place among the greatest hockey minds of all time, there is no disputing the fact that in recent years his Devils teams struggled mightily to keep pace in the ever-changing NHL landscape.

Some of those struggles were beyond Lamoriello's control.

Scott Niedermayer departed for Anaheim to play with brother Rob. The departures of key players like Brian Rafalski, Ilya Kovalchuk, Paul Martin and Zach Parise made staying competitive difficult.

But the Devils were also sanctioned by the league under Lamoriello for the handling of the Kovalchuk contract. And dating back to the 2004-05 lockout, the Devils were consistently behind the curve in terms of their drafting and developing of young players, a process that is absolutely crucial to maintain a competitive team.

Although the Devils did advance to the 2012 Stanley Cup finals, they have missed the playoffs in four of the past five seasons and are projected by many hockey observers to miss the playoffs this coming season under new GM Ray Shero.

Does this recent lack of success have a bearing on the potential impact of Lamoriello, who will turn 73 early in the 2015-16 season?

Maybe like a veteran player who suddenly finds a new zest for the game in a different situation, Lamoriello will be reinvigorated by this new move.

Certainly, the obstacles facing the Leafs are as daunting as those that faced Lamoriello when he took over a moribund Devils franchise in 1987.

The Leafs have made the playoffs just once since the 2004-05 lockout and famously blew a three-goal, third-period lead against Boston in Game 7 in their only playoff appearance over that time back in 2013.

The team was an embarrassment after coach Randy Carlyle was fired and replaced by Peter Horachek in the middle of last season, prompting Shanahan to begin cleaning house this offseason in the hopes of creating a new identity within the Leafs' dressing room.

Shanahan surprised many by luring his former coach in Detroit, Mike Babcock, to Toronto as head coach. Shanahan played for Babcock for one year in 2005-06 before joining the New York Rangers.

Now Shanahan has tabbed another figure from his past to join the cast in Toronto.

Will it work?

Although the Leafs unloaded Kessel, the actual personnel of the team has not demonstrably changed from last season.

Are the presence of people like Babcock and Lamoriello enough to facilitate meaningful change?

How will Lamoriello adjust to what will be a much more collaborative dynamic than he was used to in New Jersey?

With Lamoriello dramatically closing a chapter on his distinguished career and opening a new chapter in Toronto, where success is likely to be measured in years as opposed to months, maybe the better question is: How will it work?