Three years. We now have an actual timeline on how long the rebuild of the Toronto Maple Leafs will actually take.
The Leafs surprised the hockey world Thursday with the hiring of Lou Lamoriello as the 16th general manager in franchise history, giving him a three-year contract in the process.
Since the firing of previous GM Dave Nonis in April, a move that the Leafs waited far too long to make, the team has been without a GM and has batted .500 in the process. The Leafs made the smart move by picking talented forward Mitch Marner with the fourth overall pick in the draft, though anyone short of Brian Burke would have opted to take Marner instead of hulking, could-be-great defenseman Noah Hanifin. Call that one a draw.
The Leafs also made a number of smart signings on short-term, low-risk deals when free agency opened. If they're out of a playoff spot come the trade deadline, they can flip these players to contenders for picks or prospects. Call that a win, one in line with their plan to draft and develop a winning team.
But it was the Phil Kessel trade that raised eyebrows. By eating salary and getting a lottery-protected pick, the Leafs didn't get fair value for one of the most consistent snipers in the league. The team got hosed and many wondered if between president Brendan Shanahan and interim GMs Kyle Dubas and Mark Hunter—all relative newcomers to NHL front-office positions—the Leafs' management lacked the necessary experience to make a deal of that magnitude.
Enter 72-year-old Lamoriello, who spent 28 years as GM of the New Jersey Devils before Ray Shero was hired in May. His stay as the team's president didn't last three months. The stern, business-first Lamoriello needed more, and he's hoping the Leafs will provide him with a challenge.
He'll get more than he bargained for.
This is not Lamoriello's team. Between the analytical vision of current NHLers that Dubas possesses, Hunter's scouting skills and Shanahan's grand vision for a winning club, Lamoriello's role will largely be to assume the voice of the Leafs around the league while the other three continue to learn the ropes.
Above that, it will be Lamoriello who will enforce the vision of Shanahan and company within the team and the league. Lamoriello's been nicknamed The Godfather, and he means business. Whether the Leafs adopt the no facial hair rule that Lamoriello once enforced remains to be seen, but one thing remains clear: the revolving door within the Leafs is closed and it's time to get down to the business of trying to make this team competitive again.
"I think having Lou in the organization is an opportunity for him to mentor us all," Shanahan told reporters.
You don't head up a club that Burke once called "not just the best run franchise in the NHL, it's the best run franchise in pro sports," for 28 years and not figure out how to get others to fall in line. If Lamoriello was around it's hard to imagine the Kessel deal getting bungled the way it was. There's no way any of the 28 teams besides the Penguins didn't want to have a go at Kessel or at least have a discussion with one of the most respected men in the game.
This is Lamoriello's season to size up the Leafs the way Shanahan previously did. If Mike Babcock can't coach captain Dion Phaneuf to where he wants to be, Lamoriello is the kind of guy who can convince another GM to take him off the Leafs' hands. And if on-the-fence pieces like Nazem Kadri and Jonathan Bernier don't have career years, Lamoriello will have no emotional attachment and no trouble shipping them out of town, too.
By year two, Marner and Michael Nylander should be Maple Leafs and the small, skilled team we've been promised will begin to come to fruition. Year three may see the Leafs on the cusp of the playoffs, which will likely have instilled enough confidence in either Hunter and Dubas to take on the team full time.
Still, there are many reasons why the hiring could go off the rails quickly.
"I understand that it's going to take some patience," Lamoriello said. "I understand that it's going to be not something that's going to happen overnight."
Compared to Babcock, who has an eight-year deal and his eyes on immortality as the man to finally bring a Stanley Cup to Toronto (and in eight seasons, that is a possibility) or 28-year old Dubas—who has nothing but time to lead the charge of analytics to the forefront of the Leafs organization—Lamoriello's idea of patience may be different. Given his recent track record, including poor free-agent signings and draft picks, the last ten years actually speaks volumes about his inability to navigate the NHL since the salary cap was introduced.
We might have a timeline, but we still don't know who will really do the talking for the Maple Leafs. Still, everyone's listening.