In my last article, I praised the Toronto Maple Leafs for their new forward-looking management team and cited their new approach as the main reason that I finally saw light at the end of the tunnel and was optimistic about the future.
I wrote about how they were finally getting away from the “old-school” approach and seemed to be moving into a new era of using every modern analytical tool available to their advantage, and potentially even pushing the boundaries past what any other team in the NHL is currently doing with an all-star team of forward thinkers.
Hell, it looked like they weren’t even going to bother hiring a traditional general manager.
Four days after I wrote that article, they hired a 72-year old man known as “the Godfather”, with a reputation for being as old-school as it gets, as their General Manager. Lou Lamoriello, eh? This really doesn’t seem to make much sense.
Lou was the longest-serving general manager of any team, EVER, as he led the New Jersey Devils for 28 years. He had a very successful run with three Stanley Cups victories in five appearances. However, he was also know for things like not letting his players grow facial hair and not letting anyone on the team wear #13 – quirks that don’t exactly scream “forward-thinking”.
Most of his success in New Jersey came in the pre-cap era in the late 90’s, early 2000’s, when the Devils were known for their suffocating “trap” style of defense. And Lou has had a sketchy-at-best, abominable-at-worst recent draft history.
Either way, I’m going to continue to chase the dragon and pour my financial, emotional, and overall well-being down the drain to support them. I’ll watch every game on TV, and I’ll be doing my annual Ottawa Limo banger when the Leafs visit the Sens on Feb 6.
So why would the Leafs, and specifically President Brendan Shanahan, want to bring Lou in to be the head honcho of this modern-thinking, rebuilding team?
Well, for one, Brendan does have personal ties to him. Lou’s been around so long that he drafted Shanahan to the Devils when he was 18 in 1987. But, of course, that’s hardly a reason to name him the General Manager of the most popular team in hockey.
IT happened! The team went out and hired GM veteran Lou Lamoriello. After a few quite weeks, perhaps leafs nation had drifted off into the summer bbqs and putting down the phone for a bit on the golf course until BAM! Shanahan pulls the trigger.
So where are we now? Well essentially we play the waiting game again and see if this legendary GM can pull our tanking franchise out of it’s downward spiral. Lou, now 72 years old, hiring was bit of a surprise although a recent interaction player from the Utah Grizzlies gave a few clues and a limo driver actually broke the story to a local new outlet. Apparently one of the Utah Grizzlies attends some of Lou’s summer charity events and found out about the deal. The grizzly player was getting a ride home from a night out and apparently was openly discussing the deal with his Toronto University roommate loudly enough that the Utah limo service employee overheard the deal. Instantly the trade was revealed on twitter and the rest is history.
What’s important, the leafs now have an elite GM that has a proven track record of bringing teams to the top. What could possibly go wrong. WELL, for one Lou likes to run the show. It will certainly be a challenge for him to report to such a hands on President Brendan Shanahan. And what exactly has happened to the devils the few years? Let’s hope that a fresh start with the Leafs gives Lou the reinvigorating for the stanley cup Toronto desperately seeks.
Can’t help but wonder if this is just another series of building up a fancy big name organization that could preferably use a simple grassroots college level strategy to make some progress and make the playoffs. Does it make you wonder if the big name ‘hockey card trading’ style of organizational personnel implementation should be replaced by looking for up and comers instead?
Speaking of college strategies, Lou is known for implementing some basic protocols that perhaps the leafs have been lacking. It is no secret that The Toronto Maple leafs of the past two years have seriously lacked leadership and professionalism. Lou enforces strict dressing room rules, enforces a dress code and doesn’t take shit from those who are paid to be leaders. Remember Phil Kessels opening remarks for the season…a big I don’t give F*#! about training in the off season. Perhaps, Lou will be the guy that punishes this type of behaviour and eradicates it from the franchise.
After all, the team needs players that are willing to make the necessary sacrifices. What does a leaf player look like to new team that just received him in a trade? Out of shape but hungry. Let’s hope Lou can help install the needed attitude to undue a few seasons of selfishness and develop a serious core group of guys that will promote a culture of discipline.
The hockey season is a long one and every player on an elite team needs to have the attitude that, “on my good days and bad days, my actions will remain the same”
The Leafs. Man, it’s been a struggle. But, is there a light at the tunnel? For the first time in many years, I say yes.
Despite the team hitting what would appear to be rock bottom last year and trading their top player for 50 cents on the dollar this offseason, I finally am fairly confident that this team is going in the right direction.
The main reason for this is the shift in management, and more importantly, the shift in management mindset over the last year.
The former management team – Brian Burke protégés – Dave Nonis, Claude Loiselle, and Dave Poulin were absolute cancers to this team, refusing to acknowledge that the game has changed in the last decade plus. Truculence and toughness are not the measurables to use to determine a hockey player’s worth – speed, skill, and puck possession are.
Of course, smart and/or even relatively open-minded people have known this for many years, but somehow the people that get paid millions to run the most popular hockey team in the world remained ignorant to it, boldly refusing to even acknowledge that things have changed.
Yes, advanced stats that measure puck possession and shot attempts are extremely important and effective. But, that’s old news. This isn’t even a debate any more except with people with the most-simple of minds (See Simmons, Steve).
What’s especially encouraging to me is that the Leafs are not merely interested in catching up to using the tools that smart teams like the Chicago Blackhawks were using 5 years ago, but rather they are looking to push the envelope and be on the cutting-edge of the next wave of groundbreaking statistical analysis. This has been made apparent by the amount of analytics hires that have occurred in the last year.
Like most things with the Leafs, this should have happened a long time ago. There’s absolutely no excuse for the richest franchise in hockey to not use every resource they can legally use to gain an advantage. Not only were they not doing this, but they were actively ignoring and not using analytics as part of the previous management’s policy for player evaluation.
This started to change last year with the hiring of Kyle Dubas and several other analytical-friendly front-office consultants. Brendan Shanahan made a horrible first impression on me and the majority of smart Leafs fans when he retained Dave Nonis and Randy Carlyle at the start of his reign as Team President.
However, as the summer went on, and more smart people were hired, I finally got the sense of hope that I’ve been missing for so long.
I knew last season was going to be bad. I knew they wouldn’t make the playoffs. But that was ok, because hopefully (and my prayers were answered) this would mean the complete elimination of Dave Nonis and Randy Carlyle from my hockey team.
It went about as well as I could have hoped. The team bottomed out, removing any lingering doubt that their playoff push from the shortened-season a couple years ago was a mirage. Carlyle got fired, Nonis eventually got fired, and we even got a miracle with the trade of David Clarkson. The only way it could have went better is if we won the McDavid draft lottery, but the hockey gods are only willing to show so much mercy to Leafs Nation.