Islanders’ Lamoriello on Barzal’s future, why he likes small jersey numbers

NHL insider Luke Fox joins SN Today to discuss some of the highs and lows of the Maple Leafs most recent drafts, keying in on the Mitch Marner year, and how they ended up getting Zach Hyman via trade.

If all had gone to plan, this was supposed to be somewhat of a trip down memory lane for veteran manager Lou Lamoriello.

He was to be fresh off a return to Toronto on Thursday for his New York Islanders to take on the Maple Leafs, before heading back to his old stomping grounds in New Jersey for a meeting with the Devils Saturday night.

Instead, he and the rest of the hockey world are stuck in limbo along with everyone else, waiting for the spread of COVID-19 to slow to a point that allows normal life to resume.

With some time surely on his hands, Lamoriello answered fans’ questions via NewYorkIslanders.com, with the elusive front-office stalwart opening up on the thinking behind his adherence to tradition, his pastimes, and the future of the Islanders’ stars.

Here are a few of the most interesting tidbits from Lamoriello’s Q&A session:

On the fate of Mathew Barzal, other notes on the team’s future:

The Islanders have a fair amount of their core forwards locked up for the next few years, with Anders Lee, Brock Nelson, Jordan Eberle, Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Josh Bailey — along with veterans Andrew Ladd, Cal Clutterbuck and Leo Komarov — inked for the next three years, and some of those names signed far longer.

Their big negotiation to soon navigate is the one that will involve star young gun Mathew Barzal, a restricted free agent next season, and surely their future franchise cornerstone.

Asked if he would match an offer sheet presented to Barzal down the line, Lamoriello made clear his team’s position on their smooth-skating 22-year-old:

Lamoriello: It is our intention to not allow it to get to that point, but should that happen, the answer is yes.

He was also asked about his confidence in the team being able to sign all three of their soon-to-be RFAs — Barzal along with defenders Ryan Pulock and Devon Toews. While Lamoriello stopped short of his former protégé’s ‘We can, and we will,’ he said the team believes they’ll get the deals done:

Lamoriello: We have every intention to sign all three.

Outside of the locker room, one of the club’s most polarizing issues has been where exactly the team’s locker room will reside long-term. After the move to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center didn’t go as planned, it was recently announced that the club will return to their former home, Nassau Coliseum, until their new arena at Belmont Park is ready to host NHL games.

On that front, when asked by a fan if the new arena plans will be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, Lamoriello said all seems to be on track:

Lamoriello: I have all indications that the Belmont Park Arena is on schedule and will be ready for the 2021-22 season.

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On his old-school approach to running an NHL club:

If there’s one thing Lamoriello’s known for in the hockey world — aside from his actual management ability — it’s the myriad old-school quirks that still play a key role in how he does business (anyone remember goatee-less Tomas Plekanec after the trade that sent the longtime Canadiens pivot to Lamoriello’s Leafs and his no-facial-hair rule?)

The 77-year-old shed some light on the thinking behind his approach, explaining, for example, why he prefers players choose small jersey numbers — a quintessential old-school team rule:

Lamoriello: I still believe in tradition, however players who join our organization with an established number are allowed to continue wearing that number when they arrive. It’s not the number that makes the player, it’s the player that makes the number.

Having been in the game for over three decades, since his appointment as the Devils’ team president in 1987, Lamoriello’s been through his fair share of trade deadlines, NHL drafts, contract negotiations, and everything else that falls in between.

He opened up about how he approaches the first of those, answering a fan’s question about the most challenging aspect of navigating the deadline:

Lamoriello: Sticking to your need(s) and seeking the player(s) that you feel could fill them. If you can fill them, you do so. If you cannot, you never do something just for the fact of doing something. Always keeping in mind that you have to weigh whatever decision you make and how it has an effect on not only this season, but the seasons thereafter.

The former Maples Leafs and Devils manager also granted a look at how he evaluates potential draft picks, answering a question about how he values a players’ statistics against their character:

Lamoriello: First of all, your scouting staff plays a major role. Their reports, observations and opinions all factor in to when you’re evaluating a player’s analytics, statistics, scoring or defensive abilities. As important as the physical aspects are, their character weighs heavily. It comes down to would you want them on your team.

On his journey to the big leagues, his daily routine:

Though he’s been one of the most respected and recognizable front-office figures in the game for decades, Lamoriello’s long played his cards close to his chest. He cracked the door open a little during his Q&A, sharing his story and what a morning in the Lamoriello household looks like.

First off, he was asked how he became a GM all those years ago, and what the route to that coveted position looks like:

Lamoriello: I don’t think there is any formula to becoming a General Manager. If you look throughout professional sports, the road to a GM differs in so many ways. The underlying factor is when you’re given an opportunity to work within an organization, no matter what your role is, being the best at what you do will allow you the opportunity to rise to the next position at any time. Once you are committed to that approach, you will find yourself being given opportunities, which will lead you to having the end result taking care of itself.

On a simpler note, he was asked what the morning routine looks like for someone manning the helm of one of the game’s most historic clubs:

Lamoriello: Rise at 5AM, workout, shave, light breakfast and then off to work with a stop at Starbucks. Of course, this schedule varies when on the road.

Lastly, the Hall of Famer shared a few recommendations for some quality reads, asked about a few movies or books worth taking a gander at:

Lamoriello: I am more of a book person. We all have different preferences but to name a few, “Tribe of Mentors” by Timothy Ferriss and any book from John Maxwell’s collection of leadership books. I also enjoyed Ryan Holiday’s short books such as “Ego is the Enemy” and “The Obstacle is the Way.”

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