Every day, the hockey world changes. Even if it’s just a little bit. Between jersey additions, new logos, teams making trades and rules being modified, the NHL is constantly going at a mile a minute. However, even in today’s fast-paced hockey world, some traditions are still able to stand the test of time. One of the figures in the hockey world most known for his traditional policies is Lou Lamoriello.
From 1987 to 2015, Lamoriello served as both general manager and president of the New Jersey Devils. In 28 seasons, they made the playoffs 22 times, winning 3 Stanley Cups. Another thing that he established while with the Devils was a laundry list of traditions and rules that all players needed to follow. This list included many policies that most fans didn’t like and/or didn’t understand. Players were not allowed to wear number 13, or any number between 36 and 99. The only exceptions to this rule on the Devils were Stephane Richer (44), Doug Gilmour (93), Alexander Mogilny (89), and Jaromir Jagr (68), all veterans. Additionally, New Jersey did not have third jerseys while Lamoriello was running the team. He was also known for giving very cryptic comments in interviews and barely giving any information to the media. Furthermore, he forbade players from growing beards or long hair of any sort. Finally, fans had very, very limited access to team events like training camps, practices, and prospect tournaments.
All of these rules and regulations were seen by most as Lamoriello being serious about his team. He didn’t want any distractions, from unusual hair or facial hair, to high jersey numbers, to fan interactions, to media interference. Many people credit him and his policies for the Devils’ success over the years. Once he joined the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2015, he brought his traditions with him. He also brought his success; in three seasons with the team, Lamoriello led the Leafs to the playoffs twice. Prior to him accepting a position with Toronto, they had only qualified for the postseason once in ten years. Though his policies tend to carry a bad reputation for how extensive or unnecessary they are, they may have worked, considering how well both of his teams did after they were implemented.
In late May of 2018, Lou Lamoriello left the Toronto Maple Leafs and accepted a new job with the New York Islanders as their president of hockey operations. Wasting no time, he fired former head coach Doug Weight and general manager Garth Snow, naming himself general manager and ultimately hiring Barry Trotz as head coach. Many people believe that Lamoriello’s strict rules and policies will be a good thing for the often forgotten and disappointing Islanders. According to Damien Cox of Sportsnet Canada, the Islanders “could use Lamoriello’s oh, how shall we say, personal touch. No nonsense. No beards. No individual agendas. No outside distractions. Hockey first, second and third and, sure, sell tickets if you feel you have to, but he’ll just focus on winning games, thank you very much.”
Though the regular season hasn’t even begun yet, Lamoriello has already fully taken over with the Islanders. His number policy was put into effect as soon as players hit the ice for summer practices. Some of the first changes included the fact that Leo Komarov got to keep his 47 (last worn by Andrew MacDonald in 2014) and Valtteri Filppula got to keep his 51 (last worn by Frans Nielsen in 2016). Furthermore, some younger players had to change their numbers as well. Anthony Beauvillier, 21 years old and entering his third NHL season, had to switch from 72 to 18 (last worn by Ryan Strome in 2017). Devon Toews, a 24-year-old prospect, changed his number from 46 to 25 (last worn by Jason Chimera in 2018). Ross Johnston, another 24-year-old prospect, moved on from 52 for 32. But, those weren’t the only changes. Tom Kuhnhackl, a 26-year-old who is new to the Islanders, will wear 14 rather than 34. Thomas Hickey, who was the last player to wear 14, will switch to wearing four, which was last used by Dennis Seidenberg in 2018.
The last few changes made by Lamoriello included 24-year-old Adam Pelech changing from 50 to three (last worn by Travis Hamonic in 2017), 25-year-old Scott Mayfield changing from 42 to 24 (last worn by Stephen Gionta in 2017), and NHL rookie Jan Kovar (28-year-old who has exclusively KHL experience) switching from 43 to 10 (last worn by Alan Quine in 2018). Finally, Johnny Boychuk will get to keep his 55 since he is 34 years old and has appeared in 11 NHL seasons, this upcoming one being his fifth with the Islanders. However, Boychuk, Andrew Ladd, and Nick Leddy will have to lose their beards, which Ladd has already reportedly taken care of.
Now that you’re all caught up, we can finally ask the burning question: are Lou Lamoriello’s rules important traditions that should stay in the sport? Or are they simply overexaggerated policies that have no place being a nuisance to players and teams in today’s hockey world?
Lately, it seems as if there is always something to complain about in regards to NHL players being “too flashy.” Whether it’s Evgeny Kuznetsov’s goal celebrations resembling a bird or literally any player showing any amount of fun during warmups, some people always find a way to paint players in a bad light for simply enjoying what they do for a living. They are scolded and labeled as unprofessional, being reminded that “it’s the logo on the front that matters, not the name on the back” and “it’s all about teamwork.”
Of course, it’s possible to understand Lou Lamoriello’s point of view and where he is coming from with all of his policies. He wants the focus to be on getting the most amount of success that the team can, without any outside distractions to limit his players. It’s the “stick to sports” attitude that we, as fans, see so often, especially with the severity of the political and social climates increasing over the past few years. But, what seems to get lost in translation sometimes, is that Lamoriello is 75 years old. His generation is getting older, and soon they won’t be in the picture anymore. Sure, his policies may have helped teams win, but what if they were just talented teams? What if things like self-expression and fan interactions could have pushed them to have even more success?
The reality of the situation is that it’s 2018. Lou Lamoriello began coaching over 30 years ago. Hockey is being marketed to a younger audience, one that appreciates fun, flashiness, character, uniqueness, and everything of that sort. When a player has a different, special identity, with a memorable goal celebration or crazy haircut, they will stick out more to fans. When a player stands out to their fans, they will sell more of their jerseys and shirts, and more people will come to see them and their team. Ultimately, the NHL will benefit more if higher-ups like Lamoriello take a step back and stop enforcing their older policies as much.
Just like the role of a strictly-fighting player (or “goon”) like John Scott, the role of an extremely traditional coach like Lou Lamoriello is being phased out of today’s NHL. The sooner that the league realizes it will be in their best interest to let players be who they are and have fun with their job, the better off they will be. There is always a place for seriousness and striving for success, but without unique players showing off their energetic personalities like P.K. Subban and Alexander Ovechkin, the league wouldn’t have nearly as many fans from nearly as many different walks of life as they do today.
What do you think about Lou Lamoriello’s policies? Do they still have a place in the NHL today? Let us know by sounding off and tweeting us @PuckItUpBlog on Twitter!
Want to read more about social controversies in the NHL? Click here to read about the role that mental health awareness plays in the hockey world.