Whatever one thinks of Lou Lamoriello’s abilities as they apply to being an NHL boss in 2018 vs. 1998, one thing is certain: the man in his first official day on the job is saying things that are music to Islanders fans’ ears. Or at least, these are things they’ve long clamored to be true of their franchise.
Though his telephone conference call with media predictably did not reveal too much, his interview later with longtime sports radio jock Mike Francesa was interesting in several ways.
I was going to save this one for our morning news roundup, but 1) it’s audio, and I’m a reader; and 2) it bears posting, examining and saving to look back on. A few choice highlights from their conversation:
Lamoriello Believes in Isles Ownership, Even if You Don’t
The Islanders ownership has taken a lot of hits, including here, particularly since their disorienting post-season press conference during which co-owner Jon Ledecky read a short statement about evaluating all facets of hockey operations, but didn’t take questions, and then the team sent a slightly longer statement to season ticket holders (that also weirdly thanked Gov. Cuomo).
At the time, it all sounded so uncoordinated. Worse still, for many fans, was the relative silence afterward. Many jokes about “what is left to evaluate? the team sucks” etc. I did wonder in the back of my mind — because I try to game out all the scenarios to possibly explain human behavior — that one legitimate reason ownership could have for waiting, and staying quiet, is that they were targeting executives or GMs who were currently in the playoffs. But I wasn’t very sold on that being likely.
Turns out that was the case after all, though there’s no telling whether they decided to make their approach for Lamoriello after the backlash from fans, or if that was something they had in mind all along.
If they are really sold on Lamoriello, then perhaps the previous year’s “listening tour” bore no fruit in part because they’d have to wait another year for his GM tenure to lapse in Toronto. (Then again, reportedly they tried to get super agent Pat Brisson to join, who knows.)
Anyway, in his conversation with Francesa, Lamoriello expanded on what he said during the media call: He is sold on Isles primary owner Scott Malkin and cited him as the reason to come on board, in particular Malkin’s:
Genuine commitment, resources that are necessary to do what has to be done, and the ability to make changes that were felt necessary to have success. You can tell when someone is genuine, and also when you know the past of individuals, in this day and age you can look up who someone is and what success they’ve had.
That was at the beginning of the interview, where Lamoriello also quoted late former Devils owner John McMullen: “Money doesn’t care who owns it. It’s who the people are.”
At the end of the interview, he underlined his praise for Malkin (emphasis mine, obviously, you can’t boldface spoken word):
Well we’ve got some work to do. I appreciate the kind words and support. You know I hope the fans have a little patience because things don’t happen overnight. But they should be aware their ownership has total commitment to do whatever is necessary to have success.
Over the past two years as Ledecky was the friendly and fan interactive face of the new Isles ownership, it also became clearer that Malkin is the key money man and ultimate decision-maker. He’s mostly silent, out of the spotlight, but if he’s the one conversing with John Tavares agent Pat Brisson and Leafs chairman Larry Tanenbaum, then you know what kind of power circles we’re dealing with. So how he sees things is paramount.
I note that not to defend the Isles ownership; just to point out we still don’t fully know their quality as owners, from a fans’ perspective. (Likewise: We don’t know if bringing Lamoriello in is a brilliant move or just a kind of “do something, give it to a name guy” move.)
Lamoriello Isn’t Afraid to Fire His Friends
One area where I think most can agree Lamoriello will have a positive impact on the Islanders is on the overall organizational structure, competence and standards. Lamoriello has some weird, old school rules — fine if you make all the guys wear ties, but the facial hair rule is absolutely insane — but he brings thorough, methodical, and proven quality control to an organization.
He did it in college, he did it with the “Mickey Mouse organization” Devils, and he did it in short order in Toronto. He’ll likely do it for the Islanders, which as an organization has a great esprit de corps, but seems to suffer from too much paranoid, “us against the world” mentality, relics of years of being a low-budget laughingstock followed by Garth Snow’s overly devout determination to turn that reputation upside down.
(Remember that Snow came to the helm determined to undo and not repeat the mistakes of Mike Milbury. In the process, and while being sheltered by idiosyncratic Charles Wang and immersed in that “no one respects us” culture, he appeared to develop other self-defeating traits, including letting the “family” atmosphere appear almost impenetrable to outside ideas.)
So it was interesting and reassuring to hear Lamoriello say in the interview that yes, he knows lots of people in the organization. But he doesn’t know how they work together. And he’ll evaluate that and make changes as necessary:
“I know Garth Snow very well. Certainly I’ve known him since he played in college, and throughout his career here. Doug Weight played for me in the World Cup and Olympics. Claude Loiselle I know and worked with my son…certainly there are people I know, but I don’t know their group workings together, I don’t know their philosophy.”
There was also a quip in there about how “always in the first two weeks everyone is on their best behavior.”
The upshot is that the man who famously fired a coach of his winning team in the last month of the season (twice) is not going to let friendships, family, or historic relationships get in the way of what he believes needs to be done.
You probably figured that if you know his history, but it doesn’t hurt to hear it again, given past wounds and the Islanders’ insular history.
First Thing’s First: Draft and Free Agency
Asked what he’d do first, Lamoriello said he’d listen to the staff in place as they go over amateur and pro scouting in preparation for next month’s draft and the free agency period that soon follows.
I’m going to sit and listen and watch, a lot of people have been working at it, but certainly if I see something I’m going to speak up.
Though the timeframe is short, this is actually the ideal time for him to observe and assess how things are run. We forget this point because as fans we are more focused on — and histrionic about — the in-season wins and losses, but the next two months are where a lot of an NHL organization’s most pivotal work is done. The draft and free agency are where long-impact decisions are made.
So, good luck to Lou. And to those he’s about to evaluate.
Oh Yeah: The Standard is Winning
One common complaint about the Isles under Snow is that, from the roster management side, they always appeared content to just get better. It’s as if they took the truth that 29 (now 30) teams end each season in defeat and extrapolated that to mean that just being competitive, just “anything can happen if you make the playoffs,” was enough.
There rarely seemed to be a driven strategy or urgency to get the team over the hump, from playoff bubble to regular contender. (And of course, the Islanders have taken a step back, missing the playoffs two seasons in a row and dodging absolute disaster this past season but for the magic of Barzal.)
So a cliched throwaway line Lamoriello said toward the end, when discussing evaluating how everyone works together in the cap world, rang a little more true than normal. Sure, it’s “the right thing to say,” but it felt needed:
“Remember, the object is to win. It’s not just to compete, it’s to win.”