Lamoriello still passionate as Islanders GM at 78 years old

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So it was no surprise Lamoriello quickly shared the credit for becoming the third GM to reach 1,300 NHL wins when the Islanders defeated the Boston Bruins 4-2 at Nassau Coliseum on Saturday.

“It means that I was very fortunate to have great coaches and great players to work with,” Lamoriello said Sunday. “Because when you have that, there’s no limit to what you can do and winning is the result of it.”

Winning has always been the priority for Lamoriello and continues to motivate him at 78 years old.

Lamoriello is 1,300-908-162 with 179 ties in 2,549 games with the New Jersey Devils, Toronto Maple Leafs and Islanders. He joined David Poile (1,421 wins with the Nashville Predators and Washington Capitals) and Glen Sather (1,319 wins with the New York Rangers and Edmonton Oilers) as the only general managers to win 1,300 NHL games. Lamoriello won the Jim Gregory General Manager of the Year Award last season when the Islanders reached the Eastern Conference Final.

“If you’re not in it to win and you don’t have the drive and the competitiveness, you shouldn’t be in this because it’s not fair to the people that are around you or are working with you or the players,” Lamoriello said. “So whenever you lose that drive and the passion, it’s time to find a cigar and find the closest beach.”

You probably won’t find Lamoriello on a beach anytime soon. A 2009 Hockey Hall of Fame inductee as a builder, he has been an NHL GM every season since taking over the Devils on Sept. 10, 1987.

Lamoriello won almost 1,100 games in 27 seasons with the Devils (1,093-759-109 with 179 ties) and another 118 in three seasons with the Maple Leafs (118-95-33). He has 89 wins over three seasons with the Islanders (89-54-19), who are 6-4-3 this season.

Former Devils goalie Martin Brodeur attributes Lamoriello’s sustained track record of winning to his passion for the game. Brodeur, a 2018 Hockey Hall of Fame inductee and the NHL’s all-time leader with 691 wins and 125 shutouts, witnessed it for 21 seasons playing for Lamoriello.

They helped New Jersey win the Stanley Cup in 1995, 2000 and 2003. The Devils also reached the Stanley Cup Final in 2001 and 2012.

“You don’t do that for that long and try for success the way he’s been doing it for years without [the passion],” said Brodeur, now executive vice president and adviser in hockey operations with New Jersey. “Even in his older years, he went to Toronto and tried to build and turn them around. Now, he went to the Islanders and he’s turning them around. And, obviously, he was the life-long GM for us, and he turned this franchise around pretty good.”

Video: Lamoriello wins 1,300th regular-season game

Islanders coach Barry Trotz said he sees some similarities in Lamoriello and Poile, who he coached under for 15 seasons with the Predators from 1998-2014.

“I think they’re both very detailed. They’re very honest. Those two things stand out,” Trotz said. “And they have the group always in mind. It’s not necessarily just the 23 players, it’s the bigger group. And they treat people extremely well in terms of first class.”

Lamoriello said he lists former Providence College baseball coach Alex Nahigan and hockey coach Tom Eccleston among his early influences. He also learned from watching winning organizations such as the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Celtics, with coach Red Auerbach and center Bill Russell, and legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi.

“You watch all of these different organizations and how they operate, and you try to take what you feel you believe in and you try to condense it into your own personality and convictions,” Lamoriello said.

Although Lamoriello has had to adapt over the years to changes in the game, the NHL and the players, he’s lived by those convictions since his tenure as coach and later athletic director at Providence College from 1968-1987.

“First of all, you have to treat people with respect, and they’ll give it back to you, respect the organization,” he said. “A philosophy I believe in is that you have to be willing to give up your own identity and maybe some individual success if you want to win championships. Individual talent and players can help you win games, but only teams will win championships.”

Brian Burke remembers Lamoriello bluntly telling him the first time they met in 1972 that he’d never play college hockey. Burke ended up playing four seasons at Providence from 1973-77, serving as captain his senior year, but has always appreciated Lamoriello’s direct approach and has adopted it himself as an executive.

“He doesn’t lie to his players, ever,” Burke told NHL.com Feb. 8, the day before he was hired as president of hockey operations for the Pittsburgh Penguins. “Be honest and blunt at all times with your players. Be honest with the media. Be a good person. Family first. On all my teams, the first rule was family first. You have a death in your family, you go home, and you tell me when you want to come back.

“That’s Lou’s philosophy too — family first. He’s a great guy. I learned so much from him.”

Minnesota Wild GM Bill Guerin also says he learned “quite a bit” from Lamoriello during his seven seasons playing for the Devils that he utilizes in management. One of the lessons came from a contract dispute in 1997 that led to Guerin requesting a trade. Guerin missed the Devils’ first 21 games before re-signing and was traded to the Edmonton Oilers later that season.

“As a player, I didn’t see it this way, but Lou was being fair,” said Guerin, who won the Stanley Cup with New Jersey in 1995. “He knew what he wanted to pay me in his pay structure, and he stuck to that. He showed patience. He never held a grudge. It was professional, it wasn’t personal, and I just learned a lot from that. He has some rules that he follows to a T, but he’s also really fair and loyal. His former players all love him.”

Winning helps forge that lasting bond, and Lamoriello hasn’t lost his hunger. It appeared he might be headed for retirement in 2015, when he hired Ray Shero as GM and remained the Devils president of hockey operations, and again in 2018, when he was replaced by Kyle Dubas as Maple Leafs GM and transitioned to a senior adviser role.

But each time, he took another NHL GM job within a matter of weeks. At this point, retirement doesn’t seem to be happening anytime soon.

“I just don’t see that day coming,” Brodeur said. “I talk to him once in a while. We connect at least every couple of months on the phone, and sometimes by text because he’s evolved to texting. And I just don’t see it. The energy he has when he talks about hockey, it’s great.”

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