You don’t often hear league employees publicly express positive sentiments about teams or individuals in Gary Bettman’s NHL, for obvious reasons. But when it came to Lou Lamoriello winning his first Jim Gregory General Manager of the Year Award, NHL senior vice-president John Dellapina could not hide his sense of approval. And he was bang-on in his assessment.
“This is not an old award,” Dellapina said. “But still, and I think I speak for everyone at the NHL, for us to have a General Manager of the Year Award that did not have you as one of the winners on it just didn’t seem right. And now it seems right.”
So if there is a ‘career achievement’ element to Lamoriello being chosen over fellow finalists Jim Nill of the Dallas Stars and Julien BriseBois of the Tampa Bay Lightning, that’s perfectly fine. Lamoriello winning his first GM of the Year at the age of 77 after 34 years in the NHL is tantamount to Red Kelly, one of the greatest defensemen of all-time, winning just one Norris Trophy. That happened largely because the Norris wasn’t established until 1953-54, Kelly’s seventh year in the league. He was a first-team all-star three times prior to winning the Norris, so you can assume his trophy case would have been more full had the Norris existed. The same goes for Lamoriello. If the league had started awarding the Jim Gregory prior to 2009-10, it’s safe to say Lamoriello would have picked up at least as many of them as he has Stanley Cups, which is three. To put it into context, Lamoriello is the first Jim Gregory winner who has already been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder.
Lamoriello is one of the greatest team builders in NHL history. Full stop. In his years with the Islanders, New Jersey Devils and Toronto Maple Leafs, Lamoriello is without peer when it comes to identifying talent and, more importantly, assigning the right value to that talent. He is uncompromising and he runs a very, very tight ship. It works for him and continues to serve him well.
Which brings us to Lamoriello’s work with the Islanders this season. Much of it was an extension of what he did in his first season with the organization. Ask any GM what his most important job is and most will tell you that finding the right coach for your group is No. 1 on the list. And Lamoriello did that with Barry Trotz. He came to the Islanders and one of the first things that happened was he lost captain and star John Tavares, then went about making the roster a competitive, hard-working group that has been defined by its ability to keep standing. In the off-season, he added goalie Semyon Varlamov and center Derrick Brassard, then did some very good work at the trade deadline, acquiring center Jean-Gabriel Pageau – and signing him to a six-year contract extension – and defenseman Andy Greene, a player Lamoriello signed as a free agent out of college back in his days with the Devils.
The body of work obviously impressed his peers, the fellow GMs who vote on the award. A total of 11 of them had Lamoriello first on their ballot, with nine having him second and three had him third, meaning 24 of his 30 competitive peers had him among the top three GMs in the league.
“Anytime you have an award in a team atmosphere, it’s really shared with everyone and is a part of everyone,” Lamoriello said. “Because it would not happen unless you had the people around you and I’ve been very fortunate to be surrounded by not only talented people, but great people. It’s rewarding when something like this comes about that you know the type of individuals you’ve been surrounded with and they allow these types of things to happen.”
That’s true, but someone has to put those individuals in place and whether it’s players, coaches or equipment managers, Lamoriello has an eye for finding people who are singularly dedicated to winning. That’s why he’s won three Cups. That’s why he’s in the Hall of Fame. And that’s why he’s a deserving winner of GM of the Year.