Mike Babcock, Lou Lamorillo and clues to a potential carrot coaching match

Mike Babcock, Lou Lamorillo and clues to a potential carrot coaching match

The long and distinguished list of head coaches launched by Lou Lamoriello in his career as NHL Hall of Famer executive and 10 Stanley Cup ring owner includes Larry Robinson. About halfway through the 2001-02 Devils season, emerging from back-to-back trips to the Stanley Cup Final (including a championship in 2000), Lamoreello suddenly made a change from Robinson to Kevin Constantine in late January. The Devils were ninth in the Eastern Conference – perhaps a bit disappointing given what they have achieved in the recent past but certainly within walking distance of the playoffs.

Many were puzzled by this move at the time. Robinson was one of them.

“I got there (the Stanley Cup final) in my first two years. And now, all of a sudden, in my third year I can’t train?” Robinson told the Globe and Mail at the time. “I don’t think that’s true.”

It’s entirely possible that Barry Trotz, who was sacked by Lamoreello as head coach of the Islanders, is thinking something along the same lines at the moment after taking the Islanders to the semi-finals of back-to-back Conference – he lost twice to Lightning, who was clearly a More and more talented. He went on to win both cups – before missing the playoffs this season, when the club had to contend with a number of hurdles (not the least of which was a slate that was weaker than it was last season).

Trotz, like the rest of the hockey world and like Robinson in 2002, definitely knows he can still coach. As long as he wants to, he’ll be behind another National Hockey League seat in the fall.

Meanwhile, fans of the islanders – many of whom appear as confused and upset as Robinson and others 20 years ago – are left waiting to see who Lamoreello deems the “new voice” he said was necessary in his brief comments about disapproving Trotz.

But the change from Robinson to Constantine, along with some of the audio footage provided by Lamoreello in his conference call on Monday, could be indicative of the direction the general manager is leaning.

They can refer to Mike Babcock.

It starts with familiarity. Lamoreello has a history of dealing with known volumes when hiring a new coach. He returned to Robinson to start the 2005-06 season after Pat Burns’ health forced him to retire. Jacques Lemerre, who first coached the Devils from 1993 to 1998, made a comeback in 2009-10, when Brent Sutter quit, and again early in the 2010-11 season after John McClane was fired. Three times, Lamorillo took over himself, in 2005-2006 when Robinson was fired (again), in 2006-2007 when he let Claude Julien go with a week left in the regular season, and in 2014-15 when he, Adam Oates and Scott Stevens formed an odd trio. After the release of Pete Debor on Christmas Day.

Lamurillo is not someone who seems too keen on bringing in a coach he doesn’t know very well. This may disqualify some outstanding and qualified candidates.

And while it wasn’t Lamoreello who hired Babcock in Toronto – he signed as general manager there about two months after the coach agreed to an eight-year contract – it’s clear the duo have developed a strong relationship with the Maple Leafs. In an interview in February 2021, Babcock told Sportsnet’s Kristen Simpson, “I knew that when Lou left, I would be fired.”

Mike Babcock behind the Maple Leafs bench. (Dan Hamilton/USA Today)

When Babcock finally admitted he mistook his approach to Mitch Marner in a highly publicized story that leaked after he left the Maple Leafs, he said it was Lamorillo who relied on him.

Babcock told Pierre LeBron early last year: “When something went wrong, I talked to Lou a lot about it, and I spoke to (then Leafs assistant managing director) Mark Hunter about it, and how to best deal with it.

It’s not just familiarity that makes relevancy.

Although Lamoreello lacked details on why he let Trotz go, he used one interesting phrase before the nearly 15-minute conference call ended.

“I think with this group that we have, they know now that the new voice is what is necessary for us to achieve success in my opinion,” Lamoreello said.

upon notification.

There has been speculation, based on the timing of the announcement, that Lamoreello eventually made the move to fire Trotz based on what he heard from the players in post-season meetings. Sure, he waited until after that was done before he pulled the trigger, though one Eastern Conference executive said he’s heard grumbling about the state of Trotz’s job since February. Since Lamoreello refused to offer much of an explanation, this speculation will continue until there is more concrete evidence.

What may also be true is that Lamurillo simply felt that the Islanders players had become very comfortable under Trotz.

Or maybe a combination of the two. Every player on an NHL team has a different relationship and experience with their coach than the man sitting next to them, and it would be foolish to define “players” as one broad, homogeneous unit.

But this phrase that Lamoreello used, “on notice,” could indicate that he thinks players need to collectively pay a little more. That’s why he’s made changes in the past, including that moment 20 years ago when he switched from Robinson, who is seen as a player coach, to Constantine.

“It’s the players’ fault,” Lamoreello said in 2002, via the same article from The Globe and Mail. “This team needs a coach for Kevin’s character, structure, discipline and accountability.”

And Constantine could use the hammer. According to one player who played with him in the mid-2000s, “Once you know him, he can be friendly, but he usually got us very focused and was tough.”

Babcock is also not known as a warm and mysterious man. This seems to be a large part of the reason why he was eventually left behind by Maple Leafs. The game and players’ personalities have changed since Babcock first entered the league, and he told LeBron he would change his coaching style if he got another chance, but he could still be the kind of guy Lamoreello looks up to. The islanders also have a tight-knit and veteran group, so there’s probably mutual respect between the players and Babcock, who still has a Stanley Cup and two Olympic gold medals on his résumé.

“I love the players,” Babcock said. “Do I push them too hard? Absolutely. But by saying that, do you want to cross the line with them? In no time at all.”

At times, he’s overstepped the bounds, whether it’s asking a rookie Marner to order his teammates’ work ethic or treating players in a way that has led former Red Wings striker Johann Franzen to describe him as a “terrible person” and a “bully”. Is this important to Amoreello?

It’s unlikely that there will be much information leaking from Islanders GM, of course, and there is no indication how long this search for training might take. But if Lamurillo targets Babcock, and the coach sees the veteran islander’s roster as a good chance to get back into the game and achieve instant success, it probably won’t take long to get it done.

(Top photo by Lou Lamoriello, left, and Mike Babcock: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

2022-05-13 19:07:30

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