Lou Lamoriello is widely considered to be one of the bad guys in the NHL. To be fair, he's only considered to be a bad guy by 29 of 30 NHL teams. Fans from those 29 teams find him and his tactics deplorable, while at the same time they openly wish that they had competent people at the head of their own organizations. Lamoriello manages in the margins of the CBA, the gray area in league rules and the ink stains of player contracts. What he does isn't always ethical, but it's highly effective.
Below the jump, we recap the beginning of Lamoriello's tactical maneuvering as head of the Devils organization.
In 1987, Lamoriello was hired as the President of the New Jersey Devils. One of his first acts as President of the franchise was to name himself General Manager. It was a bit of a surprise considering that Lamoriello came from Providence where he was the Athletic Director and hockey coach. He had no management experience in the professional ranks, yet he was tasked with getting the Devils into the playoffs, something that the franchise had only managed to do once in thirteen years, in Colorado during the 1977-78 season when they went 19-40-21. He quickly served notice that the top guy from little Providence College was just fine swimming in the deep end.
At the time, the Devils were comprised of a couple of very talented kids and a whole bunch of veteran riff-raff. Lamoriello realized that he lacked veterans that could hold down the fort while Kirk Muller, Pat Verbeek, John MacLean, Greg Adams and Ken Danyeko grew up a little bit. He headed into his first waiver draft looking to fill that gap in the roster.
As was always the case with the NHL waiver draft, there were ever-changing rules. In 1987, a team could not draft from within their own division, and any team selecting a "veteran", I believe defined by years of service to the league, had to add an additional player to their own waiver-eligible pool. Knowing this, Lou went to work. He first selected Reijo Ruotsalainen, the great Finn from Edmonton. Ruotsalainen was a much-beloved and highly-effective Ranger, but Phil Esposito shipped him away the year prior. Ruotsalainen went back to Europe, but was rumored to have interest in coming back to the NHL, though only for the Rangers. Lamoriello made sure that wasn't going to happen by drafting him and keeping him in Europe, away from the hated division rivals. It was brilliant.
Lamoriello's second-round pick was just bizarre. He drafted yet another Finn, Risto Siltanen. Siltanen was in the midst of leaving Quebec to go back to Finland - he had no interest in playing in the NHL. There were raised eyebrows around the league when he pulled the trigger. But Lamoriello's plan was revealed in the third round when he selected Jack O'Callahan from Chicago. O'Callahan was a steady and heady veteran defenseman, with four years of NCAA play, 55 games with the 1980 U.S. Olympic Team, almost 200 games in the AHL and 300 games in the NHL with Chicago, where he was a combined +24 over five seasons. O'Callahan was exactly what Lamoriello was looking for to play wet nurse to his baby Devils.
There was a slight problem though - drafting O'Callahan meant the Devils had to add another player to their waiver pool. How did Lamoriello solve that problem? He exposed Siltanen, his second selection, the guy who was already home, safe and sound in Finland with no plans of coming back. Over the course of a single waiver draft he added the veteran defenseman he needed, put the screws to the Rangers and thumbed his nose at the league. It wouldn't be the last time he found a loophole in a league rule and decided to drive an 18-wheeler on through.
Lamoriello's shenanigans paid off. The Devils made the playoffs and went to the conference finals. O'Callahan played in 50 games that season, bringing stability to the back and covering just long enough for the rest of the team to grow up a little bit.