Lou Lamoriello and Dean Lombardi are on opposite sides. Lombardi is the general manager of the Los Angeles Kings, while Lamoriello helms the controls for the New Jersey Devils. Their teams are in direct competition for the one of the toughest-to-win trophies in all of professional sports, the Stanley Cup. Look a little deeper, though, and their connections are stronger than you would expect from two people who are supposed to be adversaries.
There are only 30 general-manager positions in the NHL so already it’s a rare club, but their association goes further than that. Both are of Italian heritage, and both are from New England — Lombardi is from Holyoke, Massachusetts, while Lamoriello is a native of Providence, Rhode Island (Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke was also born there).
They have other ties — Lombardi worked in the late 1980s for the Minnesota North Stars as an assistant GM to Jack Ferreira, who is also from Providence and knows Lamoriello well. Lombardi’s father-in-law is NHL Hall of Fame forward Bob Pulford, who has been an executive with the Chicago Blackhawks for more than 30 years and is close to Lamoriello as well.
Most importantly, Lombardi reached out to Lamoriello after becoming the GM of the San Jose Sharks in 1996. Lombardi recalls being “scared to death” and called the longtime Devils’ management maven for pointers on how to do the job. The meeting would set the tone for Lombardi’s career.
“I remember that day like it was yesterday — I was pretty scared,” Lombardi said in an interview. “I came to see Lou, and the guy talked about nothing but infrastructure. Did not talk about players. He (shared his) organizational chart, spoke of the values you have to put in place. Not one iota about the team — just infrastructure and establishing a culture.”
Even though the two executives have these connections and even some similarities, they developed their teams in different ways. Lombardi built the Kings from within, signing only a few from outside the orgainzation along the way (defensemen Willie Mitchell and Rob Scuderi are two notable hires). New Jersey has gone the other way, relying heavily on the free-agent market and only sparingly on the farm club (one of the highlights here is homegrown product Adam Henrique).
Now the two teams are locked in a battle to determine which one will earn hockey’s top prize. The relationship between the general managers will extend beyond the final whistle.