Thursday, July 23, 2015

How Long It's Been: Lou Lamoriello Wasn't President of the New Jersey Devils

This afternoon, 3 months after stepping down as general manager, in favor of former Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero, Lou Lamoriello stepped down as president of the New Jersey Devils.

He was hired as general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, by their team president, Brendan Shanahan.

Ironically, Shanahan was indirectly responsible for pretty much all of Lamoriello's achievements as Devils GM. In the off-season of 1991, Shanahan was a star winger for the Devils, when he was signed as a free agent by the St. Louis Blues. Shanny was a restricted free agent, and thus the Devils were entitled to compensation. The case went to arbitration, and the Devils got Scott Stevens, a future Hall-of-Famer.

The rest in history. Under Lamoriello, now 72 years old, the Devils reached 5 Stanley Cup Finals (very nearly 2 others), winning 3 Cups (in 1995, 2000 and 2003), and built the fantastic Prudential Center in downtown Newark. Lamoriello himself was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2009.

It was, however, time to go. The Devils hadn't made the Playoffs in 3 seasons, and don't look a whole lot closer to it now. Under Shero (son of former Flyers and Rangers coach Fred Shero), we'll see. But it was time for new blood, in the front office, on the bench, and on the ice.

At least now, I'll never have to call Lou "El Cheapo," "El Baldo," or "the Big Bald Cheapskate" again.

He was appointed Devils GM on April 3, 1987. That's 28 years and 3 months. How long has that been?


At the time, the Devils were, to borrow Wayne Gretzky's phrase, "a Mickey Mouse operation." The team was in its 5th season in New Jersey, and hadn't made the Playoffs once. The franchise, formerly the Kansas City Scouts and the Colorado Rockies, was in its 13th season, and had only made the Playoffs once, getting swept in the 1st round as the 1978 Rockies.

But a youth movement, led by rising stars Shanahan, Pat Verbeek, John MacLean, Bruce Driver, Ken Daneyko, Patrick Sundstrom, and goalie Sean Burke -- original goalie Chico Resch having found his true calling, broadcasting -- got the Devils into the Playoffs in the 1987-88 season, coming within 1 game of the Finals. Lou had made the right deals.

The Islanders were still the dominant team in the New York Tri-State Area, although that was coming to an end, as Mike Bossy's back was about to force him into early retirement, and Denis Potvin and Billy Smith would soon retire as well, Despite having reached the Conference Finals the year before, the Rangers were a joke, not having won the Stanley Cup in 47 years.

There were 21 teams in the NHL at the time. There was no team in Florida, or Texas, or Tennessee, or North Carolina, or any other former Confederate State. Nor was there a team in Ohio. There was only 1 team in California, the Los Angeles Kings. There was a team in Minnesota, but it was the North Stars, not the Wild. Quebec City had a team, but Ottawa didn't.

With the closing of the Nassau Coliseum this past spring, only 4 arenas used in the 1986-87 NHL season will still be in use in the 2015-16 season. If the arena the Edmonton Oilers are building to replace Rexall Place (known in 1987 as the Northlands Coliseum) opens on time, that will leave just 3 for 2016-17: Madison Square Garden, Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, and the Saddledome in Calgary.

The NHL had several players from the U.S., Sweden and Finland, but still the vast majority of players was Canadian. A few players from Czechoslovakia had defected, but Eastern Europe was not yet willing to let its riches of hockey talent go West.

I was a few weeks away from graduating from high school. The defining players of my childhood had begun to retire, and even go into coaching: Bossy, Potvin, Phil Esposito, Ken Dryden, Bobby Clarke, Darryl Sittler. Guy Lafleur had retired, but would make a comeback. A few of the greats I grew up with were still playing, such as Bryan Trottier, Larry Robinson, Marcel Dionne.

The Devils were then coached by Doug Carpenter, who hasn't coached in the NHL since being fired by the Maple Leafs early in the 1990-91 season. Current coach John Hynes was just 12 years old. Alain Vigneault of the Rangers had just started his first coaching job, with the Trois-Rivières Draveurs in Quebec. Jack Capuano of the Islanders was playing at the University of Maine. Tom Couglin of the Giants was the receivers coach of the Green Bay Packers. Terry Collins of the Mets was beginning the season as manager of the Albuquerque Dukes, the Los Angeles Dodgers' Triple-A team, and would manage them to that year's Pacific Coast League Pennant. Lionel Hollins of the Nets was an assistant coach at Arizona State University. Todd Bowles of the Jets was a cornerback for the Washingon Redskins. Joe Girardi of the Yankees was in the Chicago Cubs' minor-league system. Derek Fisher of the Knicks was in junior high school.

The defending World Champions were the Montreal Canadiens in hockey, the Boston Celtics in basketball, the Mets in baseball and the Giants in football. The Heavyweight Championship of the World was divided between the veteran Michael Spinks and the young Mike Tyson. They were a little over a year from colliding on the Atlantic City Boardwalk, with Spinks taking the brunt of the collision.

The Olympic Games have since been held in America twice, Canada twice, Korea, France, Spain, Norway, Japan, Australia, Greece, Italy, China, Britain and Russia. The World Cup has since been held in America, Italy, France, Japan, Korea, Germany, South Africa and Brazil.

The President of the United States was Ronald Reagan. George H.W. Bush was his Vice President, and his son George W. was on the board of directors of a Texas energy company, having recently quit drinking (or so he says). Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, their wives, and the widows of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson were still alive. Bill Clinton was in his 4th term as Governor of Arkansas, while his wife Hillary was working as a lawyer in Little Rock. Barack Obama was a lawyer working as a "community organizer" in Chicago, on various issues related to poverty, while his eventual wife Michelle Robinson was attending Harvard Law School. Joe Biden was Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and was, along with Ted Kennedy, about to lead the charge to keep the archconservative Robert Bork off the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Governor of the State of New York was Mario Cuomo, and of New Jersey Tom Kean. The Mayor of the City of New York was Ed Koch. Andrew Cuomo was working at a New York City law firm, Chris Christie at one just outside it in Cranford, New Jersey. Bill de Blasio was about to finish graduate school at Columbia University.

The monarch of Great Britain was Queen Elizabeth II -- that hasn't changed -- but the Prime Minister was Margaret Thatcher, and of Canada, Brian Mulroney. Liverpool Football Club was the current holder of both the Football League title and the FA Cup, but was about to cede the former to their neighbors Everton and the latter to Coventry City.

Major novels of 1987 included Patriot Games by Tom Clancy, Outbreak by Robin Cook, The Commitments by Roddy Doyle, Misery by Stephen King, Not Without My Daughter by Betty Mahmoody, Beloved by Toni Morrison, Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow, and The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe. All would be made into major motion pictures. K.W. Jeter -- no relation to Derek -- author of books set in the Star Trek and Star Wars universes, coined the term "Steampunk" in a letter published in Locus: the magazine of the science fiction & fantasy field.

Recently released films included the 1st in the Lethal Weapon series, Angel Heart, Raising Arizona and Blind Date. The Fox Network would make its prime-time debut in 2 days, with Married... with Children and The Tracey Ullman Show. Fox would premiere 21 Jump Street a week later. CBS had recently premiered its soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful. The Love Boat, Silver Spoons, The A-Team and Fraggle Rock had all been recently canceled; soon to follow were Remington Steele, Gimme a Break!, Fame, Hill Street Blues, Scarecrow and Mrs. King and Airwolf,

U2 had recently released their breakout album, The Joshua Tree. The Smiths released Louder Than Bombs, Prince Sign o' the Times, and Whitesnake their self-titled debut album. Former Beatle George Harrison was about to release his album Cloud Nine, while Michael Jackson was about to release his much-awaited follow-up to Thriller, Bad. Actor and singer Dean Paul Martin, son of the Rat Pack crooner and comedian, was killed in a plane crash at age 36.

Personal computers had become commonplace, but there was as yet, no Internet as most people understand it. There were portable telephones, but they were still the large ones known as "bricks." The Atari 5200 SuperSystem was the leading home video game system.

America was still rebuilding its space program in the wake of the Challenger disaster the year before. AZT had just been approved by the Food & Drug Administration for use in the treatment of HIV and AIDS. The current holder of the Nobel Peace Prize was Elie Wiesel, survivor and chronicler of the Holocaust.

In the spring of 1987, the MS Herald of Free Enterprise capsized in the English Channel off Bruges, Belgium, killing 180 people. The Taiwanese army executed 19 unarmed Vietnamese refugees in what became known as the Lieyu Massacre. The Hashimpura Massacre occurred in India when Uttar Pradesh state police rounded up 42 Muslim youths and shot them. An 18-year-old West German named Mathias Rust evaded Soviet defenses and landed a small plane in Moscow's Red Square. He would serve a little over a year in prison. Michael Eisner and French Prime Minister Jacques Chirac signed an agreement to build Euro Disney outside Paris.

The first Rugby World Cup was played in New Zealand, and the host nation beat France in the Final. The World Wrestling Federation (WWF, now WWE, World Wrestling Entertainment) brought 93,173 fans to the Silverdome outside Detroit for WrestleMania III, the largest crowd for an indoor "sporting event" in North America until the 2010 NBA All-Star Game. The Maryland Stadium Authority approved the plan to build Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Indiana University beat Syracuse University, on a last-minute shot by Keith Smart, to win the NCAA basketball title. And the Islanders and Washington Capitals played a Playoff series that went to the 4th overtime of Game 7, the Islanders winning the "Easter Epic" on a goal by Pat LaFontaine.

Danny Kaye, and Maria von Trapp, and Patrick Troughton died. So did legendary drummer Buddy Rich, and the great Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes. Brooklyn Decker, and Maria Sharapova, and Ike Davis were born.

April 3, 1987. Lou Lamoriello is named President of the New Jersey Devils. Although there were some disappointments during his reign, the team became a model franchise, winning 3 Stanley Cups, making the Playoffs in 21 of his 27 seasons, and building one of the best arenas in North America.

Now, the Mulberry Street Marauders will have to get along without him. Since moving to New Jersey, the team has, literally, never made the Playoffs without him. They'll have to learn how to do it without him.

It should be noted that Lou's sons Christopher and Tim will remain in the Devils' organization, Christopher as a senior vice president of hockey operations, and Tim as a senior staff attorney.

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