Going to try and recap everything about Lou's tenure as GM. Yes, I'm starting with some negatives, but the good will follow soon. I only became a Devils fan in 96, so there's only so much I feel confident writing about. If you have some input from way back in the day, feel free to add them. I made an effort to include only things that Lou had full control of. For now, here are 3 times when Lou was at his worst.
Malakhov, Mogilny, and McGillis
Lou sat, waited and did little as Scott Niedermayer pondered where he'd play hockey next. I'll never fault him for that, but once Scott chose his brother (or was it the SoCal life), Lou grabbed anything in sight and ran. Within hours of the Niedermayer signing, the Devils had announced deals for Brian Rafalski, Vladimir Malakhov, and Dan McGillis. As fans were trying to process life without both Stevens and Niedermayer, the contracts information starting coming in: a staggering 2 years and $7.2 million for Malakhov -- a player that seemed disinterested and contemplating retirement; 2 years and $4.4 million for Dan McGillis. Then two weeks later, Lamoriello had the Devils way over the cap by bringing back another ex-Devil, Mogilny for 2 years and $7 million. This was 36-year-old Alex Mogilny was coming off an 8-goal season with the Leafs (in 37 games) and two hip-surgeries with whispers of his possible retirement.
Looking back on these deals, it was pretty funny/sad how hard Lamoriello was selling these moves. He was in serious used-car salesman mode for a team looking like they'd be starting the "New NHL" without two franchise pillars. First it was stating that the Devils defense was stronger then when the season ended in '04, or letting everyone know that he hadn't seen Larry Robinson this excited before and that Malakhov was back where he thrived. As for Mogilny, it was raving about his game-breaking goalscoring ability and exceptional speed.
You can debate how bad each contract was (I'd say two were horrendous), but when all three of your new free agent signings are off the team and NHL careers over by January, something went seriously wrong. Two year contracts shouldn't be cap killers, but when you are unable to sign your team's leading scorer, your best defenseman and a backup goalie as the calendar flips to October because of two 35+ year players combined $7.1m cap hit, something went drastically wrong. When you get relief because one of the "game-breaking scorer"s who had two hip surgeries previously to signing with the Devils...ends up having chronic hip failure, something went very....well actually that turned out really well. And when you are forced to flip a 1st round pick for cap relief, I mean you get it by now. That's all sorts of awful.
August '06 to opening day of the 06-07 season was an unmitigated disaster (one with a divison title and a 15-game win streak!), but thanks to Lou using every CBA loophole, the residual damage was the loss of a 1st round pick, and ill will that carried over up until punishment time for the Kovalchuk contract. Cap mismanagement and the preference to go after ex-Devils, even if it meant overpaying past their prime players...this was Lou truly at his very worst.
Martin out, Volchenkov in
I don't know what it was about Paul Martin. Perhaps Devils fans were just spoiled from watching incredible defenseman for over a decade and expectations were out of whack, but Martin never seemed to get the respect he deserved say like Andy Greene gets today from fans. He was just a really good defenseman for a number of years in New Jersey.
That lack of respect may have extended to the GM chair because when Martin was set to become a free agent after the 09-10 season, the Devils interest seemed lukewarm. Paul said it was tough to leave New Jersey, but in the end the Devils had not made an offer until he had was ready to accept the Penguins offer. The then 29-year-old accepted their 5-year $25 million contract.
Why did the Devils not even offer Martin a deal before free agency? Well with limited cap space, and the need to leave some room for Ilya Kovalchuk, Lamoriello probably had the Flyers series a little too fresh in his mind with Chris Pronger completely eliminating the Devils best forwards. Lou's off-season priority was that the Devils become "harder to play against in our own zone, and make it more difficult on opposing forwards." It sure seemed like Lou had Anton Volchenkov in mind, and probably knew that signing both would be impossible unless Martin took a significant discount to stay in NJ. The Devils also seemed a little too high on prospects Alex Urbom or Matt Taormina at this point.
As the first day of free agency played out, the Devils let Martin walk, signed Henri Tallinder as a cheaper replacement to a 4-year $13.4 million deal, and then went all in on Anton Volchenkov. If this switch took place a few years later, the hockey world would have gone mad. The Devils blew away all other teams with a 6yr $24.5 million contract that Volchenkov reluctantly took at the urging of the Senators management.
While most Devils fans expected that either Salvador or White would be bought out, Lamoriello said that Volchenkov would actually complement the two of them. There was no way of seeing around the number of years of the deal. When asked about the length of contract and playing that style, Lamoriello quipped, "that's what they said about Scott Stevens." Sadly, from the first few games, it was clear Volchenkov was no longer the destructive force that shutdown the Devils top line 3 years prior in the '07 playoffs. While there were a few glimpses here and there, they weren't getting what they had hoped for in year one of a very long contract.
Regardless if Volchenkov played better as a Devil, the sad part was their was a clear disconnect between Lou's thoughts on what the team needed, and what the actual team needed from watching the playoffs vs the Flyers. The Devils needed to get more mobile on the back end. The priority should have been Martin, especially after just trading away Oduya. Rather Lou was doubling down on a big immobile group that already included Salvador, White and Fraser. Lamoriello was chasing a Scott Stevens type that wasn't out there when the Devils really could have used another Paul Martin.
Brian Rolston x2
This is a two-parts: We'll start with the obvious one: The Brian Rolston signing in the 2008 off-season was all sorts of terrible. The ex-Devil had Lamoriello chomping at the bit for free agency to begin. With a reported 17 teams after him, it was Lamoriello that gave him the extra year that few teams would give a 35-year-old, along with the dollars, and NTC. Brian Rolston was back with the Devils for 4 years and $20 million. While the "Cowboys" in Tampa Bay were doing all sorts of crazy things, even they stopped short of giving Rolston 4yrs or even $5 million on a 3-yr deal when they traded for his rights just before free agency began. Never a good sign...
Even though Lamoriello declared that age was of no concern when it came to Rolston, the contract was doomed from the start as expectations were never going to be met. Unfortunately age looked to be a concern from day 1, and pretty much anything and everything went wrong from weird power play configuration and personnel with him on it, having him play at center, a position that he hadn't played the previous 3 seasons, and then suffering a high ankle sprain that took him out of action for a few months.
But those were just minor details. Rolston didn't look like a player struggling or just wasn't getting the bounces. He simply looked disinterested most of the time in New Jersey, devoid of any effort. Not even being reunited with his coach during his best years changed much for him. It took Rolston being embarrassed as he passed through re-entry waivers for him to show a pulse. That was after he, laughably, called himself the scapegoat for the team's troubles. Some of this is unfair to Lou, but when you sign 35-year-old forwards to big 4yr deals, not a lot of good will come. For the Devils, there was no good.
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The second part is the trade that ended Brian Rolston's career as a Devil initially. I'm predicting this one will have people disagreeing with me, but dealing Brian Rolston for Claude Lemieux a month into the 99-00 season was Lou once again looking to the past. Yes, the Devils won the Cup, but I'm not ready to credit an early November trade for Claude Lemieux as a stroke of genius or a key factor in their Cup run. If you feel your team is missing a certain something to go deep in the playoffs, why make a deal like this just a month into the season. And why deal a 26-year-old forward almost straight up for a 34-year-old.
Rolston would go onto to play 8 productive seasons before the Devils came back calling with a huge 4-yr contract. Claude Lemieux's useful days were pretty much over by the end of the 2000 season. The Devils sold too low on Rolston the first time, and then bought way too high afterwards. They ended up for paying for all the years that they missed out on.
Honourable Mention: The Ryane Clowe contract, The signing of both Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg to 2-yr deals at ages 40 and 39 respectively, almost everything to with allowing Brent Sutter did him around for a few years.