It took all of two weeks for Lou Lamoriello to stroll into the New York Islanders front office, poke his head around and start knocking down walls.
Garth Snow is gone (sort of), Doug Weight is gone (sort of) and even if both firings were entirely predictable when Lamoriello was hired on May 22, they offered an immediate reminder that he holds a New Jersey-esque level of power in his new organization rather than what he made due with in Toronto.
Time is of the essence for Lamoriello as he steers the Islanders through a “culture change.” He’s got cornerstone John Tavares due to become an unrestricted free agent in 25 days and is now searching for a new head coach.
He’s also taken on the general manager’s title after ending Snow’s 12-year run – although it’s not yet clear whether he’ll keep it beyond, say, July 16 when Mark Hunter’s contract with the Leafs expires.
“If I felt like I was rushing I wouldn’t do it,” Lamoriello said in explaining Tuesday’s seismic changes. “I’m a believer that when time’s on your side you use it, but when you know what you feel the right decision is you make it.”
This a departure from the environment he inhabited over three years with the Leafs, where he reported to president Brendan Shanahan and inherited his assistants. One of them was Kyle Dubas, who replaced him last month.
The Islanders are an organization that had grown stale under Snow, making the playoffs just four times in his 12 seasons while often having to operate on the cheap. With Lamoriello at the helm as both president and GM, and with his son Chris up next on the executive list as assistant GM, they are likely to become a much bolder operation.
Of particular interest is whether Lamoriello leans on some Toronto ties when he makes his next hires – Hunter is considered a strong candidate to be GM while Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe and Leafs assistant D.J. Smith are both possibilities behind the bench.
There are plenty of other intriguing names out there to consider beyond them. Barry Trotz is currently one win away from coaching the Washington Capitals to the Stanley Cup and isn’t signed beyond this season. Alain Vigneault was fired by the Rangers in April. There’s also a whole host of guys like Scott Stevens who have longstanding Devils ties and have transitioned into coaching.
“We’re going to get the best coach available,” said Lamoriello. “Whether I know him or not it’s not going to enter into the decision.”
The real wild card in all of this is Tavares, who has the potential to become the NHL’s first blue-ribbon unrestricted free agent in a decade but has maintained a strong line of communication with the Islanders since the season ended.
He could virtually have his pick of the league if he wanted to. Money and term aren’t likely to be a serious sticking point in New York or anywhere else. But the 27-year-old centre knows his legacy will be tied to championships and needs to be comfortable that this next contract is signed with an organization where the Stanley Cup is the sole focus.
It sure sounds like Lamoriello is trying to dramatically reposition the Islanders in that light. He intends to impose structure and change the way the entire organization operates.
“It’s just doing little things a certain way, a different way, a consistent way,” said Lamoriello. “It’s only going to be time before we see exactly how it works out.”
What’s interesting about the Snow and Weight dismissals is that both men had plenty of term left on their contracts and will stay on with the organization in as-yet undefined roles. They’re still going to be getting paid, and so Lamoriello is open to picking their brains from time to time.
However, they are two pillars of this franchise that no longer have any meaningful power or influence on how things are done. More changes could still come, too, with Lamoriello declining to disclose his plans for the assistant coaches or other lower members of the front office.
“The bottom line is there are a lot of tremendous people here,” he said. “There’s been a lot of changes for different reasons and right now it’s just trying to stabilize everything. Start off with a fresh face, start off with fresh minds, a fresh coach and just go forward.”
Lou has his groove back.
And it’s going to be his way or the highway on Long Island.