When the NHL awards come rolling around in a couple months, there’s essentially no chance there’ll be talk of any Leafs bringing home hardware. And as a team in the league basement for seven months, nor should they.
Even when it comes to the late-season additions of young Marlies and their performance, there’s no one eligible there for any rookie honours. And looking at the coaching staff, there’s no doubt Babcock has done as much as he can with the least amount of talent in the league, but he won’t be taking home his first Jack Adams this year by any means.
But further up the chain there’s probably an argument to be made that Lou Lamoriello has had the best season of any general manager this winter. Like the above-mentioned roster and coaching staff, because of the standings he likely isn’t about to get any sort of recognition either. But out of all of them, Lou and his front office would be the most deserving.
Much like the Jack Adams, the General Manager of the Year Award is usually just handed out to the guy who heads up the team which exceeded expectations the most. [Though I will say the latter appears to follow this formula a little less than the former, and the GM award is newer so we don’t have as much evidence to go on]. But no matter how you slice it, finishing last in the league is going to keep you out of the running for any of these awards, and that’s probably fair from a hardware standpoint.
Regardless, I still think Lou Lamoriello may have been the best general manager in the NHL this season. And I want to emphasize this season, since he wasn’t hired until late last summer, so his work didn’t really get under way until nearly training camp.
Just in awe of what the Leafs are doing. This is the easy part, of course. But it’s a master class.
— Travis Yost (@travisyost) February 29, 2016
It’s been a master class, put on by the old master – someone who’d been written off to go be a figurehead last summer.
It seems when you do the research, lay out the plan, and put up the targets, Lou can still knock them down as good as anyone.
Like many have mentioned, this is supposed to be the “easy part” of the Leafs rebuild. But if it’s so easy, how have we never seen it executed so well before? And if these days are supposed to be simpler than the later phases, it’d be best to get it as right as possible to make those difficult days down the road a little less difficult.
If you did a poll of Leafs fans right now, I’d guess Lamoriello’s approval rating would be the highest of any manager the team has had since the 2004 lockout, which is pretty absurd considering this will be one of their worst seasons ever points-wise. But when you’re smart, up front with the fanbase, and execute moves with the shrewdness we basically have never seen, you gain our trust. And for his work this year, Lou definitely deserves it.
When you look around the league and compare general managers, you have to treat each situation differently. Keeping in mind the various stages of development or contention of each of the league’s thirty clubs, I think there’s a case for Lamoriello being the best at his craft over the last eight months given how the Leafs are looking to build. Someone like Brian McLellan or Jim Nill will take home the award, and I’d have no complaints about that. But Lou, given this team and this situation, has out-worked nearly everyone, and he’s been so smart about it. Since his hire, move-for-move there’s probably no one in the league who’s been better.
The Leafs have been able to do a lot of things all at once this season: Raise the stock of veterans, ship off said veterans, acquire draft picks and cap flexibility long term, call up kids and put them in a position to do well despite the lack sheltering available, and finally, somehow stay somewhat competitive night-to-night but finish in Auston Matthews territory. Rarely do we, as observers, see a plan unfolding this well.
Going back to his hiring, you can obviously make the case that the main reason Toronto brought in Lamoriello was for his abilities as a trader. Shipping off Phil Kessel last summer was the right move for the Leafs, but holding back 1.2-million dollars in cap space wasn’t ideal, and it seemed as though that was a trigger for Shanahan to bolster the front office with someone who could lean on other managers a bit more.
In terms of his performance from trades alone this season, here’s a look at what Lou has been able to exchange on the whole.
Even without getting into dollars and term too much again (since we’ve broken down each single deal a billion times already), this is just an insanely good haul for a team in the early stages of building. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen someone really go after it this way before, hence the talks of a “master class” we’ve seen mentioned above.
And make no mistake, when you look through that list it’s clear the Leafs have had to take on some painful money in the short term to make gains down the road. But overall their approach can be summed up nicely by Lamoriello himself (via TSN.ca):
All I can say is that everything has transpired throughout the year, no matter what it might be, has pointed in a positive direction. For any step that was taken back, two or three was going forward and that’s the way you look at it.
If Lamoriello keeps operating at the pace he has this past season, which, in my opinion, rivals any of his peers, perhaps those steps will add up more quickly than we expected.