The fact that Lou Lamoriello has been the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs for a full year came as something of a surprise to me yesterday. I guess it felt that way because I'm still trying to figure ol' Lou out a bit. That is, I'm still on the fence about whether or not his hiring was a good idea, and that's partly because it's hard to tell where his influence begins and ends, and partly that his record with free agents and trades doesn't exactly reassure me.
How does the balance of power work with Brendan Shanahan? Is Lamoriello in Toronto to train Kyle Dubas? What say does Dubas get in anything? Whose idea was it to trade Dion Phaneuf? Who wanted to sign Matt Martin?
Based on Lamoriello's age and the (crazy) internal rules he sets for his team, we can infer that he probably has some pretty old-school ideas about what kinds of players the Leafs need, but it's hard to tell to what extent these ideas hold sway with Shanahan and Dubas on the scene. A perfect example of how hard it is to predict Lou's moves came up just the other day, when Lamoriello signed Auston Matthews to an ELC with max bonuses, and then went on to say that the way he did things in New Jersey isn't necessarily the way he'll proceed in Toronto.
A quick look at Lou's body of work so far with the Leafs doesn't help clarify the situation much, either. Yesterday, Acting the Fulemin laid out the moves that the Leafs have made since Lou's arrival (in the comment section):
Good to Great
Harrington for Rychel
Winnik and a 5th for Laich, Carrick, and a 2nd (!)
Reimer and Morin for Stalock, Ben Smith, conditional 4th (now a 3rd)
Roman Polak and Nick Spaling for the idea of Raffi Torres and two 2nds (!) (!)
Phaneuf, Frattin, Bailey, Rupert, Donaghey, for Cowen, Greening, Michalek, Lindberg, 2nd (!)
Carrick signing (potentially doesn't mean much, potentially could be a very sneaky-good deal)
Boyes signing (it was worth a shot and cost us virtually nothing)
Verhaeghe, Gibson, Nilsson, Beck, Finn for Grabner
Panik for Morin
Most of the draft after the first round
Holland, assuming he clears waivers today
Iffy to Bad
Bernier for Andersen + Andersen extension (a high price for a slight upgrade)
Martin (a high price for a guy who hits people)
Myself, I'd probably move the Roman Polak signing to the "Bad" section, and I'd probably have the James Reimer deal in the "Okay" section, but more or less, I agree with his breakdown.
It seems that the Leafs have made more good moves than bad ones with Lou at the helm, and so, generally speaking, we have to laud the work that Lou has done so far. That being said, anyone who doesn't have certain misgivings about the way the Leafs are being run right now isn't paying close enough attention.
This summer alone, the Leafs have done the following:
- Trade for Frederik Andersen (and sign him to an eyebrow-raising contract)
- Draft Keaton Middleton
- Sign Matt Martin
- Chase Kris Russell
- Sign Roman Polak
The optimistic Leafs fan will look at this list and say "but Andersen is going to be a very good goalie and all those other moves are trivial at best!" Ah, optimists.
A small digression, if I may: Part of what makes fictional TV characters like The Simpsons' Dr. Nick Riviera, or 30 Rock's Leo Spaceman so funny is that they say such idiotic things right before they treat someone and not only does everyone fail to ask for a new doctor, they keep going back to the same guy. So when the Leafs sign a guy like Matt Martin to the term and money they did, it's a bit like watching a surgeon saying
The kneebone's connected to the... something. The something's connected to the... red thing. The red thing's connected to my wrist watch... Uh oh.
...and then we keep letting the guy do surgery on the Leafs.
Or maybe an example from Arrested Development is more apt: When George Sr. is put in jail, the family initially chooses Buster to run the buisiness. His brother Michael is incredulous.
Michael: Buster? The guy who thought that the blue on the map was land?
Lucille: He's had business classes.
Buster:Wa-Wa-Wa-Wait. 18th-century agrarian business, but I guess it's all the same principles. Let me ask you, are you at all concerned about an uprising?
That translates into:
Me: Lamoriello? The guy who thought Roman Polak was good?
Optimists: He's won before!
Lamoriello: Wa-wa-wa-wa-wait. I won my last Cup 13 years ago, but I guess it's all the same principles to team building. The League hasn't changed much since 2003 anyway. Let me ask you, are you worried about a lack of enforcers?
Sure, the Leafs haven't done anything crippling yet, but what if they'd actually managed to sign Kris Russell? The obvious follow-up question then becomes "what other hair-brained ideas have they got?"
Allow me to breathe into a paper bag for a minute.
It's important to remember that we don't know the extent of Lou's involvement in each of the poor decisions I listed above. Maybe he had nothing to do with the Middleton pick. Maybe signing Russell wasn't something he was particularly keen on, anyway (though it sounds like he was). Moreover, the situation with Auston Matthews' ELC a couple days ago and then yesterday's Peter Holland-on-waivers news are good reminders not to jump to judgement. I don't want to be too quick to criticize Lou, because sometimes things work out just fine. I still think it was an unnecessary risk to put Holland on waivers, but it's sure going to pay off at his arbitration hearing.
Many fans are right to point out that good teams aren't made overnight, and that we need to be patient with Lou. Let me stress at this juncture that I am being patient, and I am not saying that the Leafs' rebuild is doomed or that things have already gone off the rails. But bad teams are not made overnight, either. They happen slowly, with a series of small decisions gone wrong. And we would be eternally foolish not to recognize them when they happen because we were too caught up in the optimism inherent in "wait and see". Just look at how many people jumped to the defence of the David Clarkson signing!
I am not averse to optimism, and I am not saying that the Leafs won't build a great team, but I would like to encourage a more critical response than "wait and see", because the damage done by dumb trades and signings takes years to reverse. We can't influence the decisions made by this management group, but we can at least manage our own expectations.
I'm a little scared, Lou.