"David brings knowledge and expertise," says general manager Lou Lamoriello. "In my mind, his status is second to none."
An unprepossessing 52-year-old with a rumpled Columbo look, Conte drafted last season's Calder Trophy winner, Scott Gomez, with the 27th pick in 1998 and was responsible for selecting two thirds of New Jersey's first line—wings Patrik Elias, 51st in '94, and Petr Sykora, 18th in '95. In recent years Conte also recommended that the Devils sign two rookie free agents, center John Madden and defense-man Brian Rafalski, both of whom made major contributions to the 2000 Stanley Cup victory.
"I don't think we're unique in anything we do," says Conte, who last month interviewed for the general manager's job in Calgary that went to Craig Button. "Part of [the success of the draftees] is patience and a lot of it is coaching. I have a hard time putting my finger on it, and frankly, I don't spend a lot of time thinking about it."
Conte played five seasons in Europe in the 1970s, experience that gave him a broad range of contacts and provided insights into players from overseas. "In a nutshell, it's personality, not nationality, that we concern ourselves with," says Conte. "The recognition [of his stellar reputation] is nice, but the best for me was when I went on the ice after we won the Cup and Scott Gomez put a championship hat on my head. That made me feel good."
Sandis Ozolinsh Traded
Another Good Deal by Lacroix
By acquiring spectacular one-dimensional offensive defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh from the Avalanche for backliner Nolan Pratt and three draft choices, the Hurricanes got the power-play quarterback they needed. For Colorado, however, the trade accomplished considerably more.
First, by dealing Ozolinsh, who made $4 million last season, the Avalanche pared a payroll that was approaching $48 million for 2000-01. With center Joe Sakic heading to arbitration this summer and a contract that may reach $8 million, Colorado could have close to $30 million tied up in four players—Sakic, defenseman Raymond Bourque, center Peter Forsberg and goalie Patrick Roy.
Second, trading-deadline deals for Bourque and wing Theo Fleury the last two years cost Colorado a total of seven high draft choices and young players from the club's well-stocked system. By sacrificing Ozolinsh, general manager Pierre Lacroix replenished the supply of future picks. "The timing was right," says Lacroix. "When you're trying to rebuild while you're winning, you have to make that kind of decision."