On July 23, 2015, Brendan Shanahan hired Lou Lamoriello as general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Thirty-four months later, on April 30, 2018, Shanahan replaced Lamoriello with Kyle Dubas. Twenty-two days later, Lamoriello signed on with the New York Islanders as their GM.
It is nearly 11 months since Lamoriello left the Maple Leafs organization. No one and nothing can bring Lamoriello back to the Maple Leafs. However, if he was still with the Maple Leafs, What Would Lamoriello Do (WWLD) about the current state of affairs?
Mike Babcock Goes Maverick
On March 18, head coach Mike Babcock was quoted by Terry Koshan in the Toronto Sun, “The thing about a team is you have 23 spots on it and you have a minor-league team, you’re supposed to build the best program you can to have as much depth so you don’t miss people. If you have enough, you don’t miss a beat and you just keep on going. There are other teams that have done a better job when different players are out than we have in keeping on going. That just tells you what state you’re at and you have to keep adding better players.” (from, ‘Maple Leafs’ lack of depth showing: Babcock’ – Toronto Sun – 3/18/19)
Is there anyone in the Maple Leafs organization Babcock didn’t call out with those words? For sure, it calls out Dubas, the players, the scouting and development staff.
On TV and radio, it was suggested Babcock’s comment was intended as a distraction.
WWLD Scenario 1
If it was meant to create a distraction and take the heat off the players, Lamoriello would have made the comment himself. Hard to imagine Dubas saw this coming.
WWLD Scenario 2
If it was a rebellious comment made without prior discussion with the GM, Lamoriello would suspend Babcock for a game. It sends a message to everyone about the culture of the organization. It would serve as strike one against the coach by someone who fired 10 coaches during his time as GM with the New Jersey Devils.
Remember, Lamoriello made Pat Burns agree to shave his beard and keep it off if he wanted the job as coach of the Devils. No one can put themselves before the team.
Recognize Mistakes and Correct Them
Lamoriello was never afraid of making mistakes. During his lengthy and successful career, he’s made his fair share. He wasn’t afraid to make mistakes, because if he did he knew he could and would fix it.
WWLD Scenario 3
How do you feel about Nikita Zaitsev having five more years at $4.5 million per season? It was Lamoriello who signed him.
Zaitsev himself admits to not having a short memory. Translation, he plays a lot in his head and isn’t able to easily shake off a bad play from one shift to the next, let alone from one game to the next. In retrospect, the Toronto market is likely not the best for Zaitsev.
Lamoriello would probably look at dealing him to the Islanders. Two former Maple Leafs have been a nice fit with the Islanders. With nine games to go, both Leo Komarov and Matt Martin are only six points away from their respective career average points per season.
Trading Zaitsev to the Islanders is only an example of WWLD. Lamoriello would explore all options to correct a mistake.
WWLD Scenario 4
William Nylander. First off, Lamoriello would not have signed Nylander to the contract Dubas signed him to. It wasn’t an arbitration case.
But, if he did sign Nylander as Dubas did, it would have been with every intention of trading him in the offseason. Lamoriello does not appreciate being put in a difficult situation during contract negotiation. Nylander wasn’t an arbitration case, but check out Lamoriello’s history when he loses one of those. The player gets traded.
A lot of pending restricted free agent (RFA) decisions need to be made at the end of this season. Trading Nylander must be on the table, and I believe Lamoriello would do it.
Shoring up the Defense
At the 2018 Trade Deadline, Lamoriello decided not to make a deal to bring in an experienced defenseman or two. Could he have traded for Ryan McDonagh and/or Mike Green? We are led to believe he could have. But he didn’t. The ask was too high: prospects, and likely draft choices, too.
WWLD Scenario 5
By passing on the aforementioned trade for a veteran defenseman at the 2018 Trade Deadline, and for the reasons noted, Lamoriello must have liked what the Maple Leafs had in the system. Unfortunately for the Maple Leafs organization and all of their fans, we’ll never know what his next move was on the back end. He wasn’t given the opportunity to see it through.
Relative to Jake Gardiner, we cannot ignore how Lamoriello handled pending unrestricted free agents (UFAs) James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak and Komarov. He kept them for the playoffs. So here we assume Dubas learned something from Lamoriello. Under the same circumstances, he kept Gardiner, and for the same reason. Gardiner cannot be re-signed.
This coming offseason, Dubas must navigate the pending RFA scene. Other than Igor Ozhiganov, the Maple Leafs July 1 RFAs currently in the NHL are forwards Mitch Marner, Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson.
Flexibility to shore up the defense is limited and takes a back seat to the RFA situation. Collectively, this is WWLD:
- Convince Ron Hainsey to take a fraction of his current $3 million contract and re-sign the UFA to a one-year contract.
- Re-sign RFA Ozhiganov to a one-year contract, offering a modest bump to this season’s $925,000 contract.
- Trade Nylander as part of a strategy to keep Kapanen and Johnsson.
- Figure out a way to relieve the team of Patrick Marleau’s $6.25 million contract.
- Find a way to trade Nathan Horton’s $5.3 million contract.
Lamoriello would start the season with Morgan Rielly, Travis Dermott, Jake Muzzin, Hainsey and Ozhiganov, and fill out the roster on defense by selecting from Calle Rosin, Andreas Borgman, Justin Holl, Timothy Liljegren and Rasmus Sandin. There is the possibility that a Nylander trade brings additional support.
Maple Leafs fans may cringe at the thought of the projected defense for the 2019-20 season, but it must be along the lines of what Lamoriello was thinking. How many other options are there? In Lou we trust.
After Lamoriello left, Dubas put Curtis McElhinney on waivers. Dubas was rewarding Garret Sparks for the Toronto Marlies’ AHL Calder Cup championship.
In the Maple Leafs system is Michael Hutchinson, a UFA at the end of the season. Meanwhile, Kasimir Kaskisuo is under contract for another season. Furthermore, Eamon McAdam has spent time with both the Marlies and the ECHL’s Newfoundland Growlers and is an RFA on July 1. Not yet in a pro league are Ian Scott and Joseph Woll.
Related: Top 3 All-Time Maple Leafs Goalies
WWLD Scenario 6
Lamoriello would definitely add a veteran to the goaltending ranks. He would look and find someone similar to McElhinney. This is not a move to supplant Sparks. It is a move to mitigate risk in the event something awful goes wrong between the pipes.
The current state of affairs in Maple Leafs land is a tall order for any NHL GM. For a GM who has not yet completed his first season, this offseason presents many daunting tasks.
WWLD Scenario 7
Lamoriello would not have elevated Dubas to the role of GM as quickly as Shanahan did. This is not suggesting Mark Hunter would or would not have been a better choice. The question that must be asked is this, how do the Maple Leafs justify letting Lamoriello go?
Maple Leafs fans may soon find out what the answer to that question is. Hint: You can’t justify it.