Ken Daneyko knocked over a table and was on his way to slamming the door to his boss’ office behind him the first time he heard the orchestra analogy from Lou Lamoriello.
The burly defenseman was in his second season with the Devils and, with Bruce Driver injured, had picked up four points on the power play in four games. But with Driver back in the lineup, Daneyko was no longer getting the same man-advantage time. Lamoriello, sensing Daneyko was upset, invited him into his office to discuss the matter.
“I liken my team to an orchestra,” Lamoriello told Daneyko, now an analyst for the NHL and MSG Networks whose No. 3 is retired by the Devils, “and everybody has to play their instrument to a T.”
“I was smart enough to know where he was going,” Daneyko recalled this past week after Lamoriello was named the Islanders’ president of hockey operations, with the same full autonomy he had with the Devils from 1987-2015. “I was a drummer. I knocked over a table, but Lou said, ‘You master that drum, you’ll play 15 years in the league. If you don’t want to be a drummer, there are 15 other teams who want a violinist.’ ”
To understand Lamoriello’s mindset is to understand his orchestra analogy: Everybody in the organization — from players to equipment managers to management to office staff — is expected to be devoted and contributing to the single goal of the team’s success, without prioritizing personal accolades or comfort.
For example, during the playoffs, Lamoriello would have his Devils stay at a hotel even at home to eliminate distractions and remain together as a group.
Lamoriello, who will turn 76 on Oct. 21 and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2009, is a hands-on micromanager who holds all employees personally accountable.
Which is why everybody eventually gets the orchestra speech.
“My nephew was an intern there once and he got the same analogy,” said NBC play-by-play announcer Mike “Doc” Emrick, who called Devils games from 1982-86 and 1993-2011. “Every person in an orchestra is important. And if anyone is not playing their instrument or not practicing, the whole orchestra suffers.”
The Islanders, who have won only one playoff series since 1993 and only eight since winning four straight Stanley Cups from 1980-83, have entrusted Lamoriello with turning the franchise around.
Lamoriello spent the past three seasons as the Maple Leafs’ general manager. Under his guidance, the Devils won Stanley Cups in 1995, 2000 and 2003 and advanced to the Cup Final in 2001 and 2012. With Lamoriello in charge, they missed the playoffs only six times in 27 seasons.
Lamoriello, named to his new position on Tuesday, immediately started a head-to-toe evaluation of the Islanders’ hockey operations department. While he said he had no “pre-conceived notions,” changes certainly are expected. Whether that includes current GM Garth Snow and coach Doug Weight remains to be seen.
As always with the intensely private Lamoriello, only he and perhaps a few close, trusted advisers will know what he’s thinking.
“He’s probably the most private person that I’ve ever dealt with in sports,” said retired sportswriter Rich Chere, who covered the Devils for The Star-Ledger of Newark (N.J.) from 1982-2015.
“One of the things he prides himself on most is he keeps control on everything,” Chere added. “One of the most interesting facets of Lou is that people that work for him and people who are around him, other GMs, they’re afraid to talk about Lou, they’re afraid to talk about transactions. There are GMs around the league very happy to give inside info off the record. When it has to do with Lou, they’re afraid to talk about him.”
At the same time, Lamoriello has the reputation as one of the fairest interviews in the NHL even if he’s close-lipped about information. Chere said he does not play favorites, telling everybody the same thing — and Lamoriello is known for returning almost every phone call.
“Underneath that demanding, private façade he has, there is no one that would do more for his friends and his athletes,” Chere said of Lamoriello, who came to the Devils after a long career at Providence College, first as the hockey coach, then as the athletic director. “He is a protector first and a general manager or a coach second. I think Lou still views himself as an athletic director or college coach who first needs to protect his kids and then build a team.”
Chere listed three key factors in Lamoriello’s long-term success. First is his devotion to the team-first/orchestra analogy model and hiring “knowledgeable hockey people.” Second is his penchant for not always making the expected moves or draft choices.
Finally, “he’s brilliant,” Chere said. “He knows this game from the basics on up.”
Another facet to Lamoriello is his ability to not rush into decisions.
The NHL Draft will be held June 22-23 in Dallas — the Islanders have eight picks, including Nos. 11 and 12 overall — and the free-agent market will open on July 1. Logic would dictate that Lamoriello would want to have decisions on the rest of his management and coaching staff before then.
There’s also the ticking clock on trying to re-sign franchise player John Tavares.
“There’s no timeframe for anything,” Lamoriello said. “When there is time, you use it. When there isn’t, you make a decision.”
A league source indicated to Newsday this past week that Lamoriello was attracted to the Islanders’ job because he believes he can win right away and the organization has the assets to do so.
So rather than being sidelined in Toronto as president Brendan Shanahan moved him into an advisory role, Lamoriello again has full say over an organization at an age when most either would consider retirement or be retired.
“I have learned that nothing about Lou surprises you,” Daneyko said. “He’s going to bring something to the Islanders that’s been missing the last five, 10 years.”