In the hierarchy of sports franchises, a team’s general manager is the second most powerful person in the organization, right behind the owner, yet precious little has been written about the great GM’s in any sport, let alone hockey.
That void has now been filled by Matthew DiBiase’s new book, The Art of the Dealers, The NHL’s Greatest General Managers. Based on the same rating system that he developed for his first book, Bench Bosses, The NHL’s Coaching Elite, DiBiase ranks the top 50 general managers of all time. It is the first book to rate and rank the general managers of any of the four major North American sports.
The top 50 includes many names from the NHL’s fabled past like Sam Pollack, Jack Adams, Conn Smythe and Frank Selke, as well as current GM’s such as Lou Lamoriello, Ray Shero, George McPhee and Peter Chiarelli.
Each general manager is thoroughly profiled with information about their hockey roots and careers. Their quirks, obsessions, and personalities are described as well as their good and bad trades and draft selections and the factors that led to those decisions.
Some of the early GM’s were also team owners and those who weren’t often acted like they were. They ruled their teams with an iron fist, setting down standards of behavior and dress codes and keeping salaries at a bare minimum. Many players were sent to the minors or traded after asking for a minimal raise following a productive season. The NHL may have officially instituted a salary cap in 2005, but most teams have had their own internal cap for decades.
It’s the kind of book that piques the reader’s curiosity about past and present franchises. The author also poses several “what if?” questions, such as: What if Conn Smythe had stayed in New York with the Rangers instead of leaving and buying the Maple Leafs and building them a grand palace in which to play?
I for one found it particularly interesting to read about some of the GM’s that I had heard of but never got around to researching such as Leo Dandurand and Tommy Gorman. Did you know that Gorman is the only GM to ever win the Stanley Cup with four different teams? Neither did I. He also is the only man to win consecutive Stanley Cups as coach and GM of two different clubs. Fascinating stuff! It was also intriguing to read how a guy like Irving Grundman, with little hockey background, could rise to become the GM of the Montreal Canadiens, the league’s most powerful franchise at the time.
DiBiase spent nearly 20 hours interviewing 21 of the GM’s featured in the book. Their comments about their own careers as well as that of their peers are often quite revealing. These interviews also provide valuable insights into their managerial methods and philosophies; the winning cultures they bred and developed in the front office to make their teams winners, playoff contenders, and Stanley Cup champions.
There are also “Best of their Times” and “Decades Best” sections in which DiBiase determines who were the leading GM’s in specific years and decades. The author also identifies “Heartbreak Managers”, which he defines as those GM’s who led their teams to the playoffs at least five times without ever reaching the Stanley Cup finals. Heartbreak indeed. The book closes with a complete ranking of all 188 men who served as general managers in the NHL from 1917 to 2017.
Overall The Art of the Dealers, The NHL’s Greatest General Managers is an extremely well researched encyclopedia-type book that would be a great addition to any serious fans’ hockey library.