Every year, it seems, there is a compelling story developing surrounding the Stanley Cup playoffs.
This time it’s the New York Islanders, who, some 40 years ago, were the supreme dominant power of the National Hockey League, capturing four consecutive Cup championships.
Currently, the Islanders are battling the strong Tampa Bay Lightning in a series to determine one-half of the Stanley Cup finals. Las Vegas, and the Montreal Canadiens are fighting out in the other series.
The Canadiens, one of the original six teams in league’s history are also a fascinating story, considering what that franchise has meant to the sport.
But the Islanders are in the spotlight here, and the focus is on the man behind their success.
Unlike Scotty Bowman, who is arguably the greatest coach ever with nine Stanley Cup titles with three different teams, this man is not as visible as a head coach standing behind the bench.
This man is the President of Operations of the club, in other words, the General Manager. He’s the man who puts together the roster, hires the head coach, does the drafting, and makes the trades.
His name is Lou Lamoriello.
Hockey aficionados are very familiar with him, those who don’t follow the sport closely, are not.
Lamoriello is running his third team of a brilliant career.
After proving himself on the college level at Providence as a head coach and athletic director, joined the New Jersey Devils in 1987.
Lamoriello with the Devils
The assignment was considered to be a surprise to NHL observers since Lamoriello had never played, coached or managed in the NHL.
He took over a dormant franchise and proceeded to lead one of the most spectacular rebuilding programs in sports annals.
In his first season as GM, the Devils achieved their first winning campaign in franchise history.
The Devils made the playoffs in all but five of his 27 seasons at the helm, winning three Stanley Cups in the five years they reached the finals.
He got the job done with a hard-nosed negotiating philosophy, his obsession with character and loyalty, and his insistence that making mistakes is a way of growing. He pointed to himself when he would talk about mistakes. He said he learned from them.
It does not matter how huge a star he happens to have on his roster, team dedication, discipline and dedication are paramount.
It seems logical to anyone, but it’s easier said than done.
Lamoriello’s time in New Jersey was not without negative seasons.
His record in his first 17 seasons were far better than those in his last 10.
It is clear he didn’t adapt as well after 2004-05 lockout.
He relied on aging players on offense.
The Devils would still win their division races, but would either miss the playoffs or not go far once they got in.
His second stop was in Toronto, where this once proud franchise had fallen on hard times.
As he did in New Jersey, Lamoriello played a major role in rebuilding a franchise that had made the playoffs once in 10 years, but fought their way in post-season in his last two seasons as General Manager.
But his time with the Maple Leafs was the only time in his career he did not have the final say in hockey matters.
Lamoriello with the Maple Leafs
Then, it was a return to the New York metropolitan area, becoming General Manager of the New York Islanders under the umbrella as president of hockey operations.
He astutely signed Barry Trotz as head coach coming off a Stanley Cup victory before Trotz resigned from the Washington Capitals.
This was in 2018.
The Islanders were swept in the second round of the playoffs.
Lamoriello the New York Islanders
Then in last year’s 68-game abbreviated season due to the pandemic, the Islanders lost to the Lightning in six games in the conference finals.
So, here they are again.
After finishing fourth in the East, the Islanders upset the Pittsburgh Penguins in six, and played their finest game in ousting the favored Boston Bruins 6-2 in the Game 6 second-round clincher.
Another aspect to the Islanders drive for a third consecutive series upset has been their return to their home arena for 43 years, the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, Long Island.
The team outgrew its small, antiquated home, relocating to the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn in 2015.
They are slated to occupy the glittering, new, $1.2 billion UBS Arena, adjacent to Belmont Park next fall.
So, the Islanders are back where they started, and the magic is still in the air.
Back to Lou Lamoriello.
I’ve never met him, but he has played a role in my career.
In 2002, living in New York City, I was intrigued with working a local NBA package of games, in addition to my work with TNT and NFL duties with Fox Sports.
The New Jersey Nets had an opening for a lead play-by-play broadcaster.
I was interested.
The ultimate decision would be made by the man who was not only in charge of the Devils hockey operation, but the Nets basketball set-up as well.
It was Lou Lamoriello.
A good friend, who was a top sports executive and knew Lamoriello, said he would take my case to him.
My friend reported to me that Lamoriello told him he wasn’t interested in a big-time network announcer, who might bring a prima donna attitude to the job. He’d rather go with the local guy who probably be more loyal.
So, Ian Eagle, who is now one of the most prominent sportscasters in the field, got the job.
I never resented Lamoriello for his decision not to hire me.
He had his reasons and went with them.
I only wish I had an opportunity to meet with him.
He might have sensed that I didn’t consider myself a big time network announcer, nor was I ever considered to be a prima donna.
At least I would have met the man who has spun his magic in the world of hockey throughout his career.
Who knows how the Islanders-Lightning series will turn out, but its no surprise Lou Lamoriello still has that magic.