The New Culture of the New Jersey Devils: Just Another Team


Under Lou Lamoriello, the New Jersey Devils were one of the most unique teams in all of sports. The way the teammates had to dress, the unwritten rules, the closed-door media approach. Simply, everything Lou stood for made him unique. With Lamoriello gone and Ray Shero now in charge, a new culture will take form. But the organization’s movement from older practices make for less uniformity among the team and results in the Devils looking like just another unsuccessful franchise.

By looking at some of the unwritten (or perhaps written, we will likely never know) rules that Lamoriello enforced, it is clear that most of them had evident reasoning behind them and in some way added to the organization’s mystique.


Eric Gelinas’ decision to don the jersey number 44 marks the seventh time in franchise history that a skater took on a number higher than 40. That group, including Stephane Richer (44), Jaromir Jagr (68), Rocky Trottier (88), Garry Howatt (88), Alexander Mogilny (89), and Doug Gilmour (93), earned the right to keep higher numbers since they were all highly regarded players throughout the league. Why does Gelinas get to go where few Devils have gone before? Mostly because of the team’s new management, both at the executive and management levels.

Lamoriello was not crazy for instilling this rule. It promoted uniformity among the players and added a hint of distinction when a player donned a high number. Granted, some argue that this rule had to be thrown out the window because of the Devils’ three (likely five when Martin Brodeur’s 30 and Patrik Elias’ 26 receive the honor) currently retired jersey numbers. Still, management could have worked around that by issuing numbers 31-36 for late season call-ups, just like last season.

Joe Whitney wore #33 in 2014-2015 and it wasn’t a problem. Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

In addition to the no number above 40 rule, Lamoriello also forbade the number 13 from being on any jersey. In Lamoriello’s 26 seasons as general manager, no Devils skater donned this unlucky number. There are plenty who believe that former (and late) owner Dr. John McMullen believed in the superstition behind 13’s unluckiness and thusly did not want the number going to anybody. Lou’s refusal to distribute the number, even to an established star like Mike Cammalleri, added mystique to the Devils’ organization and was a source of intrigue.

Cammalleri will once again don his trademark #13. Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Among other small-scale preferences, Lamoriello also required players to dress in suits when at the arena in order to promote uniformity. For similar reasons, Devils players never grew out facial hair (besides some light scruff), which was also believed to be one of Lamoriello’s trademark peculiarities. Not only did it add uniformity, but in today’s NHL we see plenty of instances where players go too far with the facial hair look, oftentimes causing themselves to stick out.

Having individual players stick out like that was never what Lamoriello was about; he always cared about the front of the jersey (the team logo), not the names on the back. While I think that players should have been allowed to don the mustachioed look during Movember, I can understand why Lamoriello wanted players to look the same and dress the same. It made for a professional organization, especially when the team was winning.

Brevity and Reticence

Above all, Devils fans will remember Lou’s mannerisms, both in press conferences and in his daily business. Lamoriello is famous for his vague responses in interviews in addition to his generally meaningless go-to phrases.

Whether asked about a contract dispute with a restricted free agent, intentions to re-sign a player, an injured player’s return, or a potential retiree, Lamoriello found that one phrase, “status quo,” worked most successfully. Not only was it on point, but it was also Lamoriello’s catchphrase, always employable and never informative.

Status quo was not only Lamoriello’s go-to response, but it was also a way to describe Lamoriello’s Devils. The on-ice success in conjunction with the abnormally closed book off-ice lifestyles of the players made the Devils one of the most mysterious teams in the league, but while they were consistently enigmatic, they were even more successful. Toward the end of the Devils’ reign of terror, pundits and fans alike slotted them to be a playoff contender without second thought. No league executive could pull off Lamoriello’s trademark phrases or the way he ran the team.

Further, Lamoriello never liked to disclose information, especially when he was in negotiation. Most moves that Lamoriello made were kept under wraps so that other organizations and fans alike would be privy to Lou’s intentions. Lamoriello’s moves over the years – including the Cory Schneider trade, the Ray Shero hiring, and the decision to join the Maple Leafs organization – sent tremors throughout the NHL.

In contrast, Ray Shero has been a relatively open book since taking over in New Jersey. While moves like the Kyle Palmieri trade; the decision to buy out Dainius Zubrus; and the selection of goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood in the second round of the 2015 NHL Draft showed that Shero could keep a secret, he has had trouble keeping his mouth closed in some situations. For example, his insistence on signing Adam Larsson to a long-term contract was so obvious that he ended up overpaying for the Swedish defenseman.

Lamoriello’s unusual management style and team rules made him one of a kind as a general manager. While at the helm in New Jersey, Lamoriello’s Devils looked and acted professionally. They were wildly successful on the ice and merited dynasty labels from experts. Sure, each individual tendency seemed a bit silly, as Mike Stromberg points out on In Lou We Trust, and pointless on its own, but the summation of these practices are what made the Devils as powerful as they were, specifically to the tune of three Stanley Cups championships and five appearances in a span of eighteen years.