If we look closely at the Toronto Maple Leafs, the hockey club boasts not one but two generational talents.
Most people who follow the National Hockey League (NHL) associate generational talent in the expansion (post 1967) era with the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Sidney Crosby, and Connor McDavid. You will not find a single Toronto Maple Leaf on this short list.
So where are Toronto’s two generational talents? The answer is they are not on the ice at the Air Canada Centre; rather, they are inside the front office of 50 Bay St., Suite 500. In fact, come October 2015, you will find one of the two watching from upstairs and the other one giving out detail instructions during live games from behind the Leaf bench. They are none other than General Manager (GM) Lou Lamoriello and Head Coach Mike Babcock.
The Generational GM:
Simply put, no other GM in modern day NHL even come close to matching the credentials of Lou Lamoriello. Known as The Godfather, The Mastermind, and Uncle Lou, Lamoriello served as the GM of New Jersey for an unprecedented 28 consecutive years from 1987 to 2015. During his tenure as the linchpin of what became one of the most respected model franchises in the NHL, the teams that he assembled reached the postseason 21 times, reached the Stanley Cup Finals on five separate occasions (1995, 2000, 2001, 2003, and 2012), and won ultimate prize three times (1995, 2000, and 2003). Between 1988 and 2012, Lamoriello’s teams made the playoffs in all but three seasons (1988 to 1989, 1995 to 1996, and 2010 to 2011).
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) July 30, 2015
On the international stage, Lamoriello also has plenty of experience as he served as the GM for Team USA in the 1996 World Cup of Hockey, in which his team claimed the gold medal, and the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano.
He is also a shrew negotiator who played an instrumental part in settling the 2004 to 2005 NHL lockout that led to the resumption of play the following season.
Leafs Nation are well-acquainted with Brian Burke, who served as GM in Toronto from November 29, 2008 to January 9, 2013. By all account, Burke is a high profile hockey executive who in his capacity as President of Hockey Operations for Calgary, a role that he has held since September 5, 2013, hired Brad Treliving as GM of the Flames on April 28, 2014. Burke also played a key role in launching former Leaf GM Dave Nonis’ career as a hockey executive having offered him the positions of senior vice-president and director of hockey operations with the Vancouver Canucks in 1998; senior advisor of hockey operations with the Anaheim Ducks on June 21, 2008; and senior vice-president and director of hockey operations of with the Maple Leafs on December 4, 2008. However, what is most interesting is that while Burke was captaining the Friars Division-I ice hockey team at Providence College during his senior year, he was coached by Lamoriello. Therefore, using the original Star Wars trilogy (Episodes IV to VI) as an analogy, if Nonis (the protégé of Burke) were Luke Skywalker (the Padawan of Obi-Wan Kenobi), and if Burke (the protégé of Lamoriello) were Kenobi (the Padawan of Yoda), then Lamoriello is essentially Yoda by deduction.
If there are any doubts about his status as a living legend, they are put to rest when Lamoriello was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2009 (under the builders category) and the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in 2012. Quite frankly, how many teams in the NHL have a generational GM that is already a Hall-of-Famer?
The Generational Coach:
I may be stating the obvious, but Mike Babcock has won every possible grand prize that a coach could possibly win, so much so that he changed his mind at the last minute to accept Brendan Shanahan’s invitation to become the 30th head coach of Toronto on May 20, 2015, in part because he wanted a new challenge ( beyond the lucrative offer of an 8-year contract worth $50 million dollars–an average of $6.25 million per season).
To this date, Babcock has built an unparallel generational coaching resume to say the least. Over a span of 10 seasons from 2005 to 2015, he has guided Detroit (another NHL powerhouse) to the postseason every year without exception, reaching the Stanley Cup Finals twice in back-to-back seasons from 2007 to 2009 while winning the holy grail in 2008. During the decade-long run, Babcock’s Red Wings finished atop the division six times, including in four consecutive seasons from 2005 to 2009. Indeed, Babcock came within a game of winning two more Stanley Cup championships having lost Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final to the Devils in 2003 and to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009.
Babcock’s track record on the international stage is equally impressive, thereby cementing his status as a generational coach. Having guided Team Canada to the Gold Medal at the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Ice Hockey World Championships in 2004 and back-to-back Winter Olympics in 2010 (Vancouver) and in 2014 (Sochi), Babcock is the only coach in the Triple Gold Club when we factor into his 2008 Stanley Cup Championship with Detroit . Interestingly, Babcock is also the only coach to have won five separate international or national titles seeing that he also led the University of Lethbridge to the Canadian Interuniversity Sport University Cup back in 1994 and Team Canada to the Gold Medal at the IIHF World Junior (U20) Championships back in 1997 prior to his NHL coaching days.
Just How Much Generational Talent Could We See In Toronto?
So there you have it folks. The Maple Leafs may not necessarily have two generational players on their roster at the moment, but they do have two generational talents on their management team. If Mitch Marner and William Nylander can exceed expectations to become more than just elite players, or if Toronto were able to sign both Steven Stamkos and Connor McDavid over the next three years, then the Centre of The Hockey Universe could feature generational talents both on and off the ice. In fact, in the best case scenario, Toronto could potentially have four generational players–McDavid, Marner, Stamkos, and Nylander; a generational GM in Lamoriello; and a generational coach in Babcock three years from now. All in all, the Maple Leafs could feature a grand total of six generational talents in the organization come 2018!
Kenneth Lam is an Assistant Professor in the School of Health Policy and Management at York University; a former Junior Fellow at Massey College; as well as a Peer-Reviewer for American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Canadian Scholars’ Press Inc., Healthcare Policy, Oxford University Press Canada, and Women’s Press.