Lou Lamoriello’s 28-year tenure in New Jersey came to a close Thursday as he left the organization to become GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Lamoriello shaped the Devils in many ways, one of which was his clever dealing that landed New Jersey some of its greatest players.
Lou Lamoriello was the mastermind behind three Stanley Cups in New Jersey, but he didn’t get there through the draft-and-develop route that teams in the modern era need to. Rather, Lamoriello was a dealmaker, reshaping his team through a number of genius trades.
From the time Lamoriello landed with the Devils in 1987 to the end of his 28-year run as GM this off-season, he made more than 150 trades. Some were minor, some were major, but almost all made an impact on the future of the club and helped create one of the most successful clubs of the late 1990s and early 2000s.
One deal you won’t find is the acquisition of Scott Stevens from the St. Louis Blues, simply because acquiring the rugged defenseman was more Lamoriello prying Stevens away through arbitration than it was about acquiring him via trade. The Blues, who had signed Brendan Shanahan via offer sheet, didn’t have the compensatory picks, and the Devils asked for Stevens instead. Eventually, the deal went through. While not a trade, it was one of Lamoriello’s greatest strokes of genius.
There is, however, one defenseman who changed the franchise for the better who Lamoriello did acquire through conventional trading methods. Here are Lamoriello’s five greatest trades:
5. New Jersey acquires Claude Lemieux from Montreal – Sept. 4, 1990
By 1990, Lemieux was a Stanley Cup champion who had shown he had the raw ability to be a gritty, goal-scoring winger for the Montreal Canadiens. In 281 career games to that point, Lemieux had notched 97 goals and 189 points. In the summer of 1990, Lamoriello sought out to land Lemieux from the Canadiens and, in exchange, gave up Sylvain Turgeon.
In 1989-90, the 25-year-old Turgeon had scored 30 goals and 47 points in 72 games, but Lamoriello went out and got the proven playoff performer in Lemieux. During the Canadiens 1985-86 Stanley Cup run, Lemieux made his name with a 10-goal, 16-point performance as a 20-year-old. Five years after being acquired by the Devils, Lemeiux did it again, winning the Conn Smythe trophy with a 13-goal, 16-point post-season as the Devils won the 1994-95 Stanley Cup.
4. Ilya Kovalchuk becomes a Devil in blockbuster trade – Feb. 4, 2010
Kovalchuk’s deal with the Thrashers was set to expire at the end of the 2009-10 season and it was clear that Atlanta wouldn’t be able to retain the face of their franchise, so rumors that Kovalchuk was on the market began to swirl. By the time February of 2010 came around, it broke that the Devils and Thrashers had reached a deal.
In a massive, eight-piece deal, the Devils acquired Kovalchuk, Anssi Salmela and a second-round pick, which became Jon Merrill, for Niclas Bergfors, Patrice Cormier, Johnny Oduya, a first-round pick, which later became Kevin Hayes, and a second-round pick used to draft Justin Holl.
Yes, Kovalchuk retired from the NHL after signing a massive 15-year, $100,000,000 contract, but the deal is still paying off for the Devils with Merrill. Meanwhile, Cormier is the only player still with the Winnipeg Jets, the organization formerly known as the Thrashers, but he’s been between the AHL and NHL for his entire career.
3. Lamoriello nabs Cory Schneider from the Canucks – June 30, 2013
It was the last major trade of Lamoriello’s career in New Jersey, but could be one that could pay off for the Devils for the next decade, especially if Schneider keeps turning out seasons like his 2014-15 campaign.
Because of the goaltending controversy in Vancouver surrounding Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider, it was evident that one of the two netminders had to be moved. Both were legitimate starters in the NHL, but the Canucks waited until the off-season to move either goaltender. When Vancouver finally decided to trade one of their goaltenders, they did so at the draft. To the surprise of everyone, the goaltender on the move was the younger Schneider, not the veteran Luongo.
Canucks fans were expecting quite the return for a young, potential star goaltender, but instead the club took back only a first-round selection, which was used to draft Bo Horvat ninth overall. Horvat could still be a tremendous talent, but that the Devils nabbed a top-10 starting goaltender for just one first-round pick was a steal.
2. Bobby Holik becomes a New Jersey Devil – Aug. 28, 1992
Holik played 18 seasons in the NHL, but he’ll always be remembered as a New Jersey Devil. He didn’t start in New Jersey, however. It wasn’t until the summer before the 1992-93 season when the Devils acquired the Czech center, along with a second-round pick in 1993 used to select Jay Pandolfo, from the Hartford Whalers, sending Sean Burke and Eric Weinrich the other way.
Holik would play the next 10 seasons in New Jersey and was a big part of two of the franchise’s three Stanley Cup victories. During the 1994-95 run, the 24-year-old Holik notched four goals and eight points in 20 games and during the 1999-00 run, scored three goals and 10 points.
All-time, Holik ranks sixth in Devils history with 472 points. His 202 goals are the third most in New Jersey franchise history, and only John MacLean and Patrik Elias have more game-winners for the Devils than Holik’s 43.
1. Tom Kurvers for Toronto's first-round pick – Oct. 16, 1989
This was a franchise changing trade for the Devils, and one that wasn’t as lucky as you’d think.
In explaining the trade to Sportsnet this past season (http://www.sportsnet.ca/hockey/nhl/leafs-revisionist-history-niedermayer-trade/), Lamoriello said that the hope was to land a pick that was close to the top of the 1991 draft because, with the Maple Leafs looking like they would be a bad team in 1990-91, it would give the Devils a shot at selecting Eric Lindros. While that didn’t quite work out, Toronto’s terrible year did give New Jersey the third-overall pick.
After Lindros went first overall to the Quebec Nordiques and Pat Falloon went second overall to the San Jose Sharks, the Devils stepped up to the podium and drafted defenseman Scott Niedermayer.
Niedermayer went on to be a centerpiece on all three Devils championship teams, became arguably the greatest defenseman in franchise history, won the Norris Trophy in his final season with the club and finished his career sixth all-time in Devils scoring with 112 goals and 476 points in 892 games.
The 1989 deal of Kurvers wasn't Lamoriello's last great deal involving draft picks, though, as he also swung a deal at what would become maybe the most important draft in Devils history.
At the 1990 draft, on June 16, Lamoriello traded down from the 11th spot to the 20th spot in the first round, while also including his second round pick for two of Calgary’s selections. The Flames went on to use the 11th pick on goaltender Trevor Kidd, while the Devils picked Martin Brodeur with the 20th selection.
In a February Q&A with NJ.com, Lamoriello admitted that the team had, “no indication that (Brodeur) would be who he was… We had the 11th pick and traded it to Calgary because they wanted another goaltender (Trevor Kidd). But in that draft we had several goaltenders we liked. We took Marty, Mike Dunham and Corey Schwab in the same draft."
More than fantastic trading, though, it was a stroke of scouting genius that landed the Devils Brodeur late in the first round.