February 27, 2012

Behind The Moves: NHL GMs Tell How Winners Are Built

Every hockey fan has two dreams right from childhood.

One is obvious - to be the scoring star who scores the big goal to win the Stanley Cup. Who would not want to be Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux or Sidney Crosby?

The other is to be the team's general manager. Think about it - to be the man who is responsible for assembling a  Stanley Cup champion! It is at the heart of every hockey card trade, hockey pool draft, and water cooler trade rumor debate we have ever engaged in.

Yet how many of us really know what it is like to be a NHL general manager? Most of their work is done behind the scenes, and it is only once his work is all said and done do we get to see his newest draft pick or analyze his big trade or free agent signing.

But now, thanks to a new masterpiece from author/publisher Jason Farris, we can all get a fascinating look into the lives of hockey's general managers. Even better, we all get an insider's look into many of the moves of various general managers past. We get direct insight into trades, signings and decisions that shaped franchises for years. Through an amazing collection of quotes by their peers, we get a look at many of the game's greatest general managers that is nothing short of fascinating.

Jason Farris spent 18 months and 60,000kms travelling the GM community, engaging GMs in conversations about their jobs. He invested incredible time (over 120 hours of interviews on tape!) building trusting and open relationships the greatest general managers in memory. He sat with Glen Sather at his retreat in the Canadian Rockies. He penetrated Lou Lamoriello's bunker. He befriended Brian Burke.

The result is Behind The Moves: NHL General Managers Tell How Winners Are Built. It is appropriately hailed as "the most important hockey book in over a decade" as it offers the most amazing view inside the normally secretive life of a hockey general manager. Everything here is completely unedited. Normally guarded and stoic, these managers magically opened up for Farris, and it was totally all on record. Farris shares all the best in this truly one of a kind book.

Buy The Book - NHLGMs.com

At its heart this book is a thick coffee table book. As with all Jason Farris books, the layout and presentation are top notch and rich with imagery and sidebar content. I've often felt a major publishing house should hire Farris to be in charge of the visuals inside hockey books. His books are always beautiful to look through, sometimes overshadowing the text itself. The various clips of hockey memorabilia, newspaper headlines and captivating photos catch the eye on every page.

The content packing the 252 pages is almost overwhelming. Statistical registers. Time lines and genealogy posters. Biographies of all 174 men who have been a GM. Former NHL president John Ziegler offers an essay on the NHL general management, while Detroit Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch and LA Kings CEO Tim Leiweke offer a final words on the men they have hired.

There are four main sections with in the book. 

Farris first introduces us to the GM community. With the mind of a team owner he looks at how GMs are evaluated and hired. He also offers a dictionary of GM lingo and their unwritten rules. 

He moves on to look at the modern GM, specifically looking at how the job has changed over the years in the expansion era. Readers definitely get a better understanding of the business and legal side of their job.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the book is when Farris looks at the challenges of a being a GM. Through countless quotes from hockey's greatest general managers, we get incredible insight as to what GMs have to deal with. That includes dealing with owners, coaches, players, agents and media; trades, free agents and drafts; managing the salary cap; building team chemistry; and achieving success in the playoffs. There are some lighter moments included here, as GMs show it is not just the players who are capable of a little hijinx and tomfoolery. 

In the final section of the book is actually broken into multiple chapters. Farris looks at the best of the best, the so-called "GM Godfathers" and other GMs who were instrumental in hockey history. He also offers biographies of all 174 men who have held the title of a NHL general manager as well as the statistical registers. The bios are mostly comprised of quotes of their peers, which makes for a fascinating read.

All in all, this is an amazing book. The presentation quality is high, and the content is even better. The use of quotes from all his interviews are the heart of text. Though not always presented in conventional chronological order, the author masterfully paints a picture of each topic with the managers' own words. Every page offers a surprise.

The bottom line: Behind The Moves is the most impressive undertaking in hockey literature I have ever seen. You will learn a lot about your favorite team and why your GM made the moves he did. What fan would not want that?

So is there a down side to this book? Yes, and it may be a significant road block to many hockey book buyers.

Behind The Moves is not available in any store. It is sold directly by the author and his publishing company at the website www.NHLGMS.com. No big deal. But it costs a minimum $99.95 (Canadian or US). For $139.95 you can upgrade and get the professional edition/deluxe GM package which includes the Timeline of NHL GMs wall chart, the NHL GM Genealogy poster, the 40-page Statistical Register of NHL GMs, and an NHL GM League Information Card. You can choose from several limited editions which are autographed by various general managers.

Be it $100 or $140, that's a lot of coin for a hockey book. That represents the hockey book budget for many readers. You can pick up a half dozen books for the same amount of money.

Is it worth $100 or more? I can tell you that this book may be the most interesting book HockeyBookReviews.com has ever seen in the four years this site has existed. Behind The Moves: NHL General Managers Tell How Winners Built is a luxury item, yes, but this book really is an amazing undertaking and incredible final product. Don't take my word for it. Ask these guys:

“Nothing like this book has been done before. An invaluable addition to hockey history and hockey lore.”
– Frank Selke Jr., former NHL general manager and son of legendary Montreal Canadiens GM, Frank Selke

“Behind the Moves provides direct access to the greatest living hockey minds. It pulls back the velvet curtain on the GM community and lets readers access insiders’ information about successful NHL general managers.”
– Neil Smith, GM of the 1994 Stanley Cup Champion New York Rangers

Be sure to check out www.NHLgms.com to learn more and see exclusive looks inside the book.

Update: Read Brian Burke's book review

Behind the Moves is part encyclopedia, part history book, part manual for would-be managers. And it's your ticket to the general manager's office, where you'll find out all about the trades, the championships, the negotiations with agents, and the day-to-day dealing with owners and the media. You'll enjoy it, and you'll learn a lot, too.  Full Review

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