The finalists for the General Manager of the Year Award announced on Thursday, May 16, including the St. Louis Blues’ Doug Armstrong, the Boston Bruins’ Don Sweeney, and the Carolina Hurricanes’ Don Waddell. The New York Islanders’ Lou Lamoriello is not one of them.
This is not to discredit the finalists; all three led fantastic seasons this year for their teams. The Blues were last in the League in January but are now fighting for a spot in the Stanley Cup Finals. The Bruins swept the Hurricanes and became the first team to reach the Stanley Cup Finals this year. The Hurricanes had a similarly unexpected and powerful season as the Islanders, reaching the playoffs when no one thought they could even win many games.
But Lamoriello took a broken-down team and turned it into a Stanley Cup contender in just one season. Perhaps the NHL thinks the New York Islanders already have enough people nominated for post-season awards. What other reason could there be to leave out Lamoriello?
“In Lou We Trust.”
The Islanders hired Lamoriello on May 22, 2018. At this time of writing, the new General Manager hasn’t even been with the team a full year. The fans embraced him from the start with new slogans like “Just Lou It” and “In Lou We Trust”.
He joined the team in crisis: the franchise player and captain of the team was dragging his feet about re-signing; the coaching staff had been inadequate for years; the team hadn’t had real post-season success in almost two decades, save the 2016 playoffs in which they reached the second round; the team was between buildings, as Barclays Center was trying to cut ties, the Coliseum no longer meets NHL standards, and the Belmont Project’s groundbreaking was postponed once or twice.
But Lamoriello didn’t let any of it bother him, not even when John Tavares walked away a few weeks later. Instead of panicking about the Islanders’ dire situation, he calmly hired Stanley Cup Champion Barry Trotz as head coach. During his first few months with the team, he brought Matt Martin back, to the fans’ overjoyed surprise, and signed veteran players Valtteri Filppula, Leo Komarov, and Thomas Kuhnhackl, to the fans’ concerned surprise. He also signed Robin Lehner, despite the goaltender’s personal struggles with alcoholism and bipolar disorder. Lamoriello worked the phones throughout the 2018 NHL Draft but allowed Garth Snow and his lame-duck team to oversee the Draft since he was still new to and uncertain of all the franchise’s aspects and needs.
He also introduced new rules and discipline to bring the team together. Then he stepped back and watched it all fall into place – probably far better than he expected.
No longer would the Isles be an individual-driven team concerned with personal points and records. This year, the team was really a team. There were no excuses, no blame thrown around, no reliance on puck-luck. Sure, there were jokes about the hockey gods, but this year, the team was open, accountable, and, best of all, good.
Only two negatives stick out of Lamoriello’s first season with the Islanders, and both are trivial at this point. First, he raised the average age of the team to almost 28. Second, he stood pat at the trade deadline. It can be debated all summer and for seasons to come, but the decision to stand pat shouldn’t overshadow everything he did for this hockey club in just one summer. At the time, huge trades weren’t truly necessary, as helpful and desired as they were. The Islanders team Lamoriello built over the summer and the attitude he and Trotz instilled were enough, and that cannot be contested.
Certainly, this season, let alone his illustrious career before the Isles, proves he is one of the best, and the Islanders are overjoyed to have him.
Featured Image: rihhof.com