TORONTO - Toronto Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan used determination and good timing to land the general manager of his choice.
He had both as Lou Lamoriello was named the Maple Leafs new GM on Thursday afternoon, plucking the former Devils president out of New Jersey.
Toronto's window of opportunity opened in May when Lamoriello stepped away from his 27-year general manager position with the Devils to become New Jersey's president. Shanahan immediately began pursuing Lamoriello, knowing the 72-year-old would be uncomfortable with his reduced role with the Devils.
"Brendan says 'I know you too well, this is not going to last long,'" said Lamoriello of Shanahan's pitch after he stepped aside as GM of the Devils. "'I want you to think about something. Just think about it. Every time you feel you're not in the fire, or in the line, think about this conversation.' And it wasn't once that he said that.
"Eventually, he got to me."
Lamoriello signed a three-year deal with the Maple Leafs, joining a remodelled franchise that includes Shanahan, newly hired head coach Mike Babcock, director of player personnel Mark Hunter, assistant GM Kyle Dubas and assistant to the general manager Brandon Pridham.
Shanahan and Lamoriello have known each other for decades. Lamoriello drafted Shanahan to the Devils in 1987, his first year as New Jersey's GM. That personal relationship played a key role in the recruitment process.
"I can tell you that if I want anybody recruited to go anywhere, I'm sending Brendan," said Lamoriello, adding that Shanahan's dogged playing style translated well to the board room.
Shanahan made no apologies for his directness in pursuing Lamoriello, a three-time Stanley Cup champion with New Jersey and member of the Hockey Hall of Fame in the builders category.
"When you're the youngest of four Irish boys at a dinner table your whole life, you learn how to fight for the last potato," said Shanahan, who is also in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Shanahan, who has been Maple Leafs president for a year, asked Devils principal owner Josh Harris for permission to speak with Lamoriello on May 4, as soon as Ray Shero was named New Jersey's GM. Shanahan and Lamoriello both thanked Harris, co-owner David Blitzer the entire Devils organization for their co-operation at the start of the Leafs' news conference at Toronto's Air Canada Centre.
Harris said on a conference call later Thursday that it became increasingly clear this summer that Lamoriello was not comfortable as Devils president.
"Very, very, very, very recently we found out that Lou, as a personal matter, it wasn't working for him," said Harris. "This all came at us very quickly."
Harris and Blitzer purchased the Devils in August of 2013 after former owner Jeff Vanderbeek had to borrow US$30 million to meet payroll. The new ownership group has had to tighten its belt to improve New Jersey's financial situation and, according to Lamoriello, pointed him toward a reduced role.
"There's a lot of things that have transpired there that, some are public, some are not, with references to changes of ownership," said Lamoriello. "I would say things weren't the way they were in the past and you weren't allowed to do some of the things for financial reasons, to be perfectly honest. It really started to change a little. I think that when Josh Harris and David Blitzer came in they changed that and I just felt that maybe there was a change in a thought process as far as a transition (to Shero) and I decided to look that way.
"Then when this situation came about it just raised my level back to where it had been about five years ago."
Although Lamoriello was Shanahan's ideal candidate, he said he spoke with a handful of candidates including former Washington Capitals general manager George McPhee.
"I was really impressed with George McPhee and his record in the draft," said Shanahan. "The draft is so important to us and George had an excellent presentation with me. So that was one of the other guys. I probably met with six or seven people but some of them are with other organizations right now and even though I got permission to speak with them I'd rather not name names."
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