Maybe ‘Grizzled’ Isn’t So Bad After All. Just Ask The New York Islanders

With the New York Islanders advancing to the NHL Semi-Finals again last night while the Toronto Maple Leafs check the data yet again on what went wrong, it seemed appropriate to pull out this blog from last year…..

Despite their numbers, organizations continue to struggle with ‘mature’ candidates. Will they have the energy, drive, passion, or health to do the job and if so, for how long? Shouldn’t we hire someone in the ‘prime’ of their careers, or an up and comer, someone tuned to the new paradigms and ways of looking at and doing things?  The world has changed and maybe the grizzled veterans haven’t…

Given all this age and stage angst, there is a certain delicious irony to the success of this year’s New York Islanders hockey team and in particular their seventy-seven years-old President, Lou Lamoriello. You might recall the hoopla over the hiring of Mr. Lamoriello in 2015 by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Here was a guy with a track record of building successful teams, a shrewd judge of talent, and a respected leader with a guiding ethos on what matters in crafting excellence.  He was considered a great choice to help team president Brendan Shanahan rebuild the multi-generationally hapless Toronto Maple Leafs. The strategy showed promise as the Leafs made the playoffs the next two years while seemingly trending upward.

But then, in 2018, Brendan Shanahan announced that Mr. Lamoriello would be replaced by thirty-two years old Kyle Dubas as the team’s General Manager. One publication reported,

Dubas succeeds the 75-year-old Lou Lamoriello in the position. Lamoriello was reassigned to the senior adviser position last month after a three-year run as GM.

“The standard of what it is to be a Maple Leaf has transformed thanks to Lou,” Dubas said at a news conference at Air Canada Centre. “Now we enter into another part of our journey, which is to reach our ultimate goal of contending perennially to be fighting at this time for the Stanley Cup instead of sitting here.”

Dubas is an advocate of analytics and relatively new to the National Hockey League. Lamoriello, meanwhile, is a grizzled veteran of the league who is no stranger to building championship franchises.

Yesterday’s savior quickly became yesterday’s man and was replaced by a young, ‘hi-pot’ up and comer with contemporary sensibilities on how to run a progressive, analytics-driven hockey organization. Mr. Lamoriello declined the invitation to become ‘senior advisor’ and left the organization, only to be hired almost immediately by the New York Islanders, another storied franchise in need of serious rehabilitation. In fact, the Islander’s plight was so desperate that their free-agent captain and best player, John Tavares, announced a couple months later that despite the arrival of Mr. Lamoriello, he would be abandoning the Islanders and hitching his $10mm per year wagon to the rebuilt Toronto Maple Leafs. Ouch!

Fast forward only two years later and the Toronto Maple Leafs failed to make this year’s playoffs altogether while the New York Islanders are one of four teams still in contention for the Stanley Cup. The team is described in one article as ‘an entertaining cast of characters focused on a team style of play’, which by the way includes no less than two ex-Leafs deemed too pedestrian for the flashy Toronto team. And by the way, the Islander’s coach, who was quickly hired by Mr. Lamoriello, is Barry Trotz another well travelled, well respected veteran.

So a toast to the grizzled Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz and others like them. It would appear that their questionable energy, drive, passion, health, and longevity have not made them strangers to building winning franchises after all. I wonder what the predictive analytics and the whiz kids who spit them out would have to say about that??

About the Author

Robert Hebert is the founder and Managing Partner of StoneWood Group Inc., a leading executive search firm in Canada. Since 1981, he has helped firms across a wide range of sectors address their senior recruiting, assessment and leadership development requirements.

Contact Robert by email at [email protected] or call (1) 416-365-9494 EXT 777


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