National Post Book Review
// October 31st, 2012 // Filed under Press Box
The ‘book’ on NHL general managers
By Iain MacIntyre, columnist
May 29, 2012
also printed in Vancouver Sun on May 28, 2012
VANCOUVER — The Stanley Cup final is going to be a mismatch. The Los Angeles Kings have size, talent, scoring depth, rest, coaching and a general manager who has never won the Cup. The New Jersey Devils have Lou Lamoriello. Devils in four?
“I enjoy the hockey . . . but my heartstrings are pulled towards the general managers,” author Jason Farris explained. “About what parts they’ve played in this and about the things they’d be proud of and the things they’d be pissed off about. I wear the wins and losses through the eyes of the GMs because of my appreciation for what they’re trying to do to build into the fabric of their organizations.”
Lamoriello’s knitting was established two decades ago. Los Angeles manager Dean Lombardi did a lot of sewing in the last year.
We’re not actually picking the Devils to win, of course, because the Kings are the most dominant playoff team in years and will win in five games unless Los Angeles goalie Jonathan Quick suddenly gets stage fright playing against Marty Brodeur.
But the final, like all hockey games, are a product of their managers when the game is viewed through Farris’ lens.
The Vancouver author, who also put his MIT business degree to work as a bank president before he became the Dallas Stars’ vice-president of business operations last fall, is writing my column today. But I don’t feel too guilty because National Hockey League general managers wrote his book.
Farris, a 43-year-old who has produced scrapbook-style books on broadcasting legend Jim Robson, Cesare Maniago and Vancouver Canucks captains, set out to interview every NHL manager who has taken a team to the Stanley Cup final. The deceased were difficult to interview, so in many cases Farris cobbled together chapters through research and interviews with current GMs. Farris also chose other intriguing managerial and coaching figures of his generation.
After 18 months, 50,000 kilometres and a pile of his own money — Farris self-publishes in order to maintain absolute control of his projects — his crowning achievement is Behind The Moves: NHL General Managers Tell How Winners Are Built.
Farris will admit he didn’t so much write the book as compile it. Rather than distill information gleaned from interviews into his own conclusions, he selected quotes from an unprecedented bank of transcripts and essentially allowed the managers to tell the story — about their business, themselves and each other.
Sounds like a good idea.
“My first year in the league . . . we had a GM meeting (and) I thought Bob Gainey and Serge Savard were going to have a fight. I remember Gary Bettman saying: ‘It looks like they’re going to fight. What are we going to do?’ I said: ‘We’re going to watch.’” — Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke on “the club.”
“You don’t have to tell him all the facts, but you need to tell him enough of the truth.” — New York Rangers GM Glen Sather on dealing with reporters
“Sather, I think he’s more cagey than most guys. It’s not that you can not trust him . . . you have to approach (veterans GMs) differently because I don’t know if you can take everything at face value.” — Chicago Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman
“Scotty is always snooping. He’s always curious. That whole Detroit organization — they’re a bunch of snoopers.” — Buffalo Sabres GM Darcy Regier on Scotty Bowman
“Most of these guys buy the team so they can be in the paper. You can have $100 million and nobody knows who you are. But when you buy a sports team, you’re in the paper and everyone in the world knows who you are.” — Philadelphia Flyers GM Paul Holmgren on owners
“(The union) wants stats. They want facts presented. Not that (the player) is a wimp and he doesn’t try and he didn’t dress for four games in a row because he played 14 without a point.” — Ottawa Senators GM Bryan Murray on arbitration
“My responsibility … is to lead this company the same way you lead when you own a convenience store. If you don’t check the fridge, the cream will get sour.” — Former Colorado GM Pierre Lacroix on communication
Farris said he wanted to do a book that combined his passions of hockey and organization-building.
Burke wrote the forward for the book and initially made some calls to others GMs on Farris’ behalf.
“In some cases that helped open doors and in some cases it actually set me back,” Farris smiled. “But word got around that I was doing this and I was serious about it and trying to do it the right way. I would meet them in their office and in some cases their homes. I spent eight hours with Glen Sather on his porch in Banff.”
He said he never worried whether present and past managers and coaches would cooperate.
The only subject who dodged Farris entirely was Mike Keenan, although maybe the former coach heard what Red Wing vice-president Jim Devellano said about Iron Mike: “It’s plain and simple: he’s a bad man, he downgrades people, he treats people like sh– and that’s why he has coached eight teams and managed four.”
Farris said it was one of only two quotes in the book that he sent back to its originator for reflection. Devellano told Farris he was fine with it. It occupies most of page 74.
The book sells for $99, a little more for any of the various special editions available on Farris’ website (www.NHLgms.com). As long as I could expense it, I’d have paid that much just for the remarkable GM registry that Farris includes as a supplement, listing records for all 175 men who have managed in the NHL over the last 85 years.
“The fact is, there is no one way to win,” Farris said. “Stan Bowman, who deserves every bit as much respect for winning as anyone else, did it a different way than Lou Lamoriello. Their care and personality, that’s what they’re investing.”
Farris said he printed only about 5,200 copies of the book, which has been out for several months and will soon sell out. He claims he won’t print more because he didn’t undertake the project to make money and is ready to move on to other things, like running the business side of the Stars.
He and Dallas owner Tom Gaglardi are friends from their school and “road hockey” days in Vancouver. Dallas general manager Joe Nieuwendyk is not in the book and hasn’t complained about it.
“I’d say: ‘Geez, Joe, what finals have you made?’” Farris said. “When we make a final in Dallas, I’ll happily do an updated version that includes Joe Nieuwendyk.”