Now that we’ve had a little time to absorb the Leafs’ addition of Lou Lamoriello to their front office, it might be good to circle back again and discuss how he can fit with the current group. It seems a lot of fans and media who follow the team closely still aren’t sure what to think, and many are looking for any excuse to go into all-out panic about what they believe might disrupt a good thing Shanahan’s had going.
There are some big voices overlooking this team right now, and how they manage to gel or fit or hash things out is causing some concern, perhaps mainly because they’ve been added at different times and from very different places.
On one side of the room you have Kyle Dubas and his small army of numbers analysts pushing what is considered a new approach to management and team building (at least in hockey), and now on the other you have a man who was born in 1942 and has essentially run the league’s “old boys club” for the last three decades. Then beyond that you could probably argue Mike Babcock and Mark Hunter fall somewhere in the middle, and they obviously need to be heard as well.
It’s easy to see why folks are cautious about believing this’ll work. The styles in that group appear to be contrasting, at least somewhat.
But I think this will run relatively smoothly, and the reason I feel that way is because each of these figures seem genuinely smart in their own right and open to doing whatever it takes to keep winning in a league they’ve each admitted is always changing.
None of these guys seem okay with letting the NHL get ahead of them – their overall boss, Brendan Shanahan, the least of all. For months we’ve come to to know this team wants to cut its own path and not fall into dated “out of the box” methods for building a contender.
Lamoriello made it clear upon his hire that he was buying in to what Shanahan was selling as his plan for rebuilding the Leafs. It’s been a collaborative or committee-like setup to this point, and the team hasn’t hid the fact that Dubas and Hunter have been relied upon heavily this offseason. It would be quite surprising to see Shanahan let them be undercut now, so my best guess is they still want this to be a group effort, even if that group isn’t particularly like-minded.
Actually, especially if that group isn’t like-minded.
One of our own commenters, Jeremy Ian, hit on this point last week in Jon’s piece regarding the Lamoriello hire, and floated the idea of adversarial collaboration. It typically applies to scientists with competing hypotheses, but the approach is being used elsewhere. Instead of digging up an article or wiki page, here’s Jeremy’s explanation, which sums it up nicely.
…It means using dissent and disagreement to make smarter decisions. Puts a lot of pressure on the collaborators to understand their roles. It’s really hard to trade differences if collaborators get ego-involved or have autocratic styles; you have to be willing not to win all your battles…
Now the last part is likely where some of the concern lies with the Leafs and Lamoriello. Is he fine with this way of doing things? Is Mark Hunter going to be trusted as the authority on the draft? Will Dubas be allowed to continue ensuring the team can find valuable players and contracts by trusting the numbers and not being fooled by the percentages? Those are the types of roles that need to be established, though, like the “adversarial” part of this idea suggests, it’s still fine to question everything.
Even if Shanahan isn’t modeling his front office based on adversarial collaboration explicitly, it would seem that is along the lines of the way it needs to operate.
This sort of talk made me think of a blurb from War Room, a book about the New England Patriots which provides a rundown of how Bill Belichick established some of the systems that have made them so successful, but also simply provides some knowledge about how he challenges those around him.
Those who didn’t know Belichick were occasionally intimidated by his curiosity. The coach would sometimes ask people around him what they thought, which could lead to nervous rambling from those who weren’t sure what the “right” answer was. But (Scott) Pioli always knew the right answer: There wasn’t one. Belichick was just asking for opinions. He wasn’t trying to set people up. He might challenge a position that didn’t seem quite right, but overall he was generally interested in the football thoughts of people on his staff and how they saw certain situations
Pioli said “A lot of times (Bill) would just get your position on things but never tell you his. Now, this is why Bill is so different than so many people I’ve encountered in my life, period: When he’s asking those questions, you know that every fiber in his body is about winning and doing what is best for the team, with no personal and/or selfish motive”
This is where the Leafs need to get with Lou, and perhaps they’re already there, we obviously don’t know. But if his thing is to act alone as some sort of tyrant (which, again, I highly doubt) the Leafs are probably going to be in trouble.
And that isn’t because the game has passed him by, necessarily. It’s because the management group can’t afford to let someone undo what they’ve done in the last few months or let this sort of upward momentum be squashed. Again, they’re trying to carve out their own slice of the league in new ways.
Maybe Lamoriello isn’t a committee guy, it’s evident now that he definitely isn’t some sort of placeholder for the Leafs’ big chair, as was originally speculated. But he definitely needs to realize he’s got some important voices already in the room he’s going into, and he’d be foolish not to take the utmost advantage of the hockey minds he’s been fortunate to already be surrounded with.