SIMMONS: Props to Lamoriello in this record-setting Leafs season

The Maple Leafs now have 103 points. Their next point will be the most the franchise has ever had in a National Hockey League season.

The Leafs now have 48 wins. They have never won that many games, in any season, in any era.

So why is there any conversation about the future of general manager Lou Lamoriello?

Why, except, his age, and a contract likely expiring, is there even a conversation?

What was Lamoriello supposed to do that was better than most points and most wins in a season?

Wasn’t that why he was brought in by team president Brendan Shanahan, to work with the Leafs staff and with head coach Mike Babcock?

The group is working superbly well — why mess around with success in any single way.

Lamoriello speaks to reporters on Nov. 17, 2017 (THE CANADIAN PRESS)

When Lamoriello was just starting out in New Jersey, more than 25 years ago, he quickly established himself as an organization builder, as someone who detailed every aspect of his operation and left little to chance.

In 1995, the Devils won the first of three Stanley Cups under Lamoriello. That year, the operation did something rather unusual. New Jersey’s American Hockey League team in Albany also won the Calder Cup that season.

An NHL champion. An AHL champion. A blueprint for nothing but success.

The Leafs don’t have the best record in the NHL, but they are among the better teams, the way the Devils were among the better teams in the shortened season of 1995. Albany was the best AHL team that season, the way the Toronto Marlies, the Leafs’ No. 1 farm team, has the best record this season.

A Stanley Cup isn’t necessarily expected in Toronto this spring, but expecting an AHL championship isn’t over-estimating things. And clearly, so many of the championship pieces for a Cup run have been put in place by Shanahan first and, following that, Lamoriello and his staff.

In the three seasons that Shanahan, Babcock and Lamoriello have been together, the Leafs have gone from last in the league to 95 points to the record number this year. But points don’t begin to explain all that has gone right.

Not that many years ago, the Leafs played the Boston Bruins in the playoffs and what people remember is the Game 7 collapse. What most don’t remember is that the Leafs defence in 2013 included John-Michael Liles, Ryan O’Byrne, Mike Kostka, Mark Fraser, along with Carl Gunnarsson, Dion Phaneuf, Cody Franson and a young Jake Gardiner.

Lamoriello inherited a defence with Morgan Rielly and Gardiner, and not much else. Over time, he gave opportunities to and said goodbye to Matt Hunwick, Frankie Corrado, Stuart Percy, Rinat Valiev, T.J. Brennan, Viktor Loov and Martin Marincin.

And now this season Lamoriello signed veteran Ron Hainsey on the Toronto defence. It wasn’t thought to be much of a signing. It has turned out to be massively important. He didn’t trade for a defenceman when everyone was urging him to trade for a defenceman. Instead, he promoted Travis Dermott. By next season, Dermott will be among the Leafs’ three best blueliners.

Plekanec against the Red Wings on March 24, 2018 (JACK BOLAND/POSTMEDIA)

The additions of Patrick Marleau and Tomas Plekanec, both expensive at first glance, will be fascinating to monitor come playoff time. Hainsey, Marleau and Plekanec have an understanding of what winning is all about, think the game often better than they still play it.

And the Leafs are five strong at centre, six strong on both wing positions, chalk full of prospects who have yet to emerge.

This Leafs team is deeper, stronger, more talented, more naturally skilled than any team post 1967. So why let Lamoriello go — or push him out — even if he happens to be turning 76 in the fall?

He hasn’t lost a step, which might have been assumed when he came here three years ago. He hasn’t lost track of the league, what it takes to win, what matters to him (even though some of his rules may seem archaic).

And as someone who knows Lamoriello better than anyone, Lamoriello won’t settle for some kind of meaningless title going forward, giving him control over nothing. He has played that game in New Jersey once with a promotion that didn’t mean anything. That didn’t work. It prompted his surprising departure from the Devils organization.

Why not run the course with Lamoriello, who doesn’t want to go anywhere? He loves this team, this city, and while he’d never say so, he’s awfully proud of what has been accomplished here. An old friend of Lamoriello’s said he has never seen him happier or more relaxed.

There’s nothing wrong with going year by year now with Lamoriello. Walter Alston did it for a lifetime managing the Dodgers. Next season, you evaluate again. Until then, let the man do his job. In this record-breaking season, he’s doing it awfully well.

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Source:: Toronto Sun – Movies