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INSTANT REPLAY: Behind the moves
Getting into Brian Burke’s head would not appear to be an easy task, but West Van author/publisher Jason Farris has done it.
Lots of kudos to Farris… and much credit to Burkie too.
The result is Farris’ latest book, Behind the Moves, which goes inside the minds of the National Hockey League’s most successful general managers – all but one of the 35 living GMs who have taken their team to the Stanley Cup finals – Burke included.
Farris did not know Burke previously. “I got to know him through this project,” Farris explains. “He really liked the concept and he and I really hit it off well. I travelled to Toronto regularly and we covered tons of ground every time we would get together.
“The book provides equal weight to all the GMs but Burke spent a lot of time giving me the ins and outs of the league, how it all works; and reads on the different guys.
“He has been absolutely phenomenal. Everything he said he would do, he’s done in spades. He and I texted back and forth a couple of times a day. He would send me back quick notes on everything.
“I’d say, ‘Look, I’m struggling with this guy.’ He’d call the guy right away. He was just terrific. He could have said, ‘I don’t want to do this book. I’ll wait and do the Brian Burke book on general management.’ He didn’t take that approach at all. He right away wanted to do this with the broad GM group not just the Brian Burke show.
“He believes the GMs are an underappreciated group. He felt nothing had been properly done with the GMs before and this was the time to do it right. It all kind of fell into place.”
Farris started interviewing in January 2010. He travelled across the continent numerous times to have face-to-face, executive-level conversations with all those 35 GMs except Mike Keenan who declined involvement. Material on deceased GMs was incorporated as well.
My favourite quote in the book is from Harry Neale who famously said, “We can’t win at home, we can’t win on the road. My failure [as GM] is that I can’t find anywhere else to play.”
But you could also pick something from Scotty Bowman, Pat Quinn, Harry Sinden, Glen Sather et al. Wow, even going back to Milt Schmidt and Emile Francis.
I really like the photos of the Cup rings and the bios of the 174 men who have held GM positions since the NHL took possession of the Stanley Cup during the 1926-27 season.
Of course, the book isn’t for every hockey fan, 1. due to the cost and 2. because it’s not ice-level stuff. You might say it’s more like baseball’s Moneyball.
Nevertheless, Farris is a brilliant marketer. The basic book is $99.95 but he also has 12 different $139.95 versions with custom dust jackets branded with a specific team and hand-signed and numbered by that team’s GM. There’s also a great little booklet with each GM’s year-by-year statistical record (which has never been done before), a GM timeline and a genealogy poster with arrows showing various connections each GM has had with the others as teammates or in coaching or front-office roles.
Because there are so many versions, the book is only sold online and shipped from the warehouse. The books are large (10”x12” and 252 pages) and weigh a ton so shipping is an additional $18 regular delivery and more for rush. You can check out the details at nhlgms.com.
This is the fourth – and apparently the last – of Farris’ authoring career (at least until the Dallas Stars win the Stanley Cup in, say, 2015) for two reasons.
Firstly, he’s now written the stories that are closest to his heart. Secondly, he has a new job.
As a kid, Farris was mesmerized by the voice of longtime broadcaster Jim Robson who was behind the mike with the Canucks of the Western Hockey League even before Jason was born.
As a goalie himself, Farris was also enthralled by his goaltending hero Cesare Maniago whose long career included 1976-77 and ’77-78 in the NHL with Vancouver during Jason’s impressionable pre-teen years.
Eventually Farris’ admiration focused on Canucks’ general managers Pat Quinn and Brian Burke whose respective 11 and six seasons in Vancouver coincided with Jason’s foray into the world of business management as a young man.
Thus when Farris began self-publishing, he wrote books with Robson (Hockey Play-By-Play: Around the NHL with Jim Robson which came out in 2005, followed in 2010 by Hockey Play-By-Play: Canuck Captains with Jim Robson) and with Maniago (Hail Cesare! published in 2006).
Now he’s done Behind the Moves.
Next up is his recently-announced position as Executive VP, Business Operations and Development, with the Dallas Stars.
Farris and new Stars’ owner Tom Gaglardi graduated together from Vancouver’s Magee Secondary in 1985. So you might think that this is a case of who you know, not what you know.
In Jason’s case it’s a double-barrelled who and what you know since he’s already had management positions in a variety of business ventures. His 18 months of picking the brains of the GMs doesn’t hurt either.
Gaglardi and Farris both played school sports in their junior high grades in addition to informal play like road hockey.
And there was an infamous, intramural-type Grad ’85 floor hockey league at Magee that holds a key connection. Farris was editor of the school annual and by coincidence floor hockey got two pages in the yearbook while inter-school senior sports like basketball, volleyball and field hockey got one.
The pair shared time guarding the nets for the third-place No-Names in the four-team league, bowing out of the playoffs in the sudden-death semi-finals. Farris was awarded “the coveted Golden Sieve Award” with a “staggering” league-worst 7.3 goals-against average. Gaglardi gave up three goals in his one game.
However, obviously they are No-Names no longer.
This is episode 444 from Len Corben’s treasure chest of stories – the great events and the quirky – that bring to life the North Shore’s rich sports history.