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Matthew DiBiase shows off The Art of the Dealers.
We're down to two teams left in the Stanley Cup playoffs for 2017-18, which means that there are 29 other general managers considering what went wrong. For those who are spending the next couple of weeks locked away looking at draft picks and potential free agents, we offer up The Art of the Dealers: The NHL's Greatest General Managers.
While Matthew DiBiase's self-published book came out in October 2017, it would seem a good time to explore it now that the GM's are back in the spotlight.
Many will known DiBiase from his first book, Bench Bosses: the NHL’s Coaching Elite, which boldly rated and ranked the greatest NHL coaches of all-time. The Art of the Dealers also ranks its subjects, but obviously it's a different metric used to come up with the placements.
It's based on 17 hours of interviews with NHL players and general managers, active and retired, and a lot of research into names from the past, such as Sam Pollock, Jack Adams, Conn Smythe, Harry Sinden, and Glen Sather. Current GMs/advisors Lou Lamoriello, Cliff Fletcher, Ray Shero, Doug Wilson, Jim Rutherford, and David Poile all talked with DiBiase.
Hockey is often referred to as an old-boy's club, but that helped DiBiase. “Jim Devellano was enormously helpful in securing my interviews with Harry Sinden, Dean Lombardi, and Scotty Bowman,” explained DiBiase. “Dylan Wade (who used to head the NHL Players Alumni association) helped me get in touch with former players who shared their memories for the GMs featured in my book. I was amazed (and ecstatic) that I got an in-depth interview with former Colorado GM Pierre LaCroix. LaCroix always preferred to stay in the background when he was managing the Avalanche but when he agreed to talk to me it was like a miracle from God. I hope my chapter on him will convince those in the Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee to induct him into the HHOF as a builder. He deserves no less.”
But, as most writers know, not everything comes to pass, and while he chased Ken Holland, Bobby Clarke, Bill Torrey, and Bob Gainey “in the worst way” he did not get them on record. “Ken Holland and Bob Gainey are not, by nature, people who toot their own horns,” said DiBiase. “Bobby Clarke was involved with another book project.” Alas, with Torrey's passing on May 2, 2018, his wisdom is gone with him.
A 54-year-old “professional historian by trade,” DiBiase was born and raised in southern New Jersey, and currently calls northeast Philadelphia home. A Flyers fan, by day he works at the National Archives at Philadelphia.
DiBiase shared a little about how the book came about.
“It was during the 2012-13 NHL lock-out that I started a 50-part series for Inside Hockey on the greatest NHL general managers of all time. I was using the same rating system I used for my first book Bench Bosses and the end result was that series. Six years later I was unable to secure a publishing deal for another book project I was working on so, on the spur of the moment, I dusted off these articles, revamped my rating system to the version you see in the book The Art of the Dealers, augmented the articles with personal interviews I did with former NHL players and active and former NHL GMs. The other main thrust to this book was the fact that no has ever done a book like this before: rating and ranking general managers of a major sport using an analytical method (imagine someone doing a book like this for baseball or football or basketball GMs?) The Art of the Dealers like Bench Bosses expands the envelope of not only hockey history and analysis but of sports history and sports analysis as well.”
Bench Bosses, all 544 pages it, was published in 2015 by FENN-M&S. Yet this go-round, DiBiase couldn't score. “My agent tried to secure a deal for my second book but no one in the publishing world wanted to touch my subject. They felt it was too esoteric for their tastes,” he said. “Triumph Books wanted me to wait 32 months for a decision. That was unacceptable.”
He turned to Amazon's Createspace service and put out the 274 pages that make up The Art of the Dealers.
The next challenge is translating his rating system to the gridiron.
“I am presently working on a book where I list the 50 greatest college football coaches of all time using a rating system I personally devised. If all goes according to plan it should be released around Labor Day weekend 2019. It is tentatively titled Lords of the Gridiron: College Football’s Greatest Coaches,” DiBiase revealed. “As long as I am physically and mentally healthy I will be writing books for the rest of my life. I want to cover pro basketball, pro football, major league baseball, and college hoops in the 2020s.”
A BELATED COMPLIMENTARY PIECE
If you have ever gone to an art gallery, and let's assume that hockey fans are into the greater culture and not just uber-focused on the game, then you know that almost every exhibition comes with a ton of merchandise at the museum's gift shop. Usually included are books about a featured artist or display. It's an impulse buy.
So here comes Hockey: Challenging Canada's Game / Au-delà du sport national, a complimentary book to go with the Canadian Museum of History's “Hockey in Canada: More Than Just a Game” exhibition, which was housed in Gatineau, Quebec, from March to October 2017, and is now on tour across the country.
The companion book, released in April 2018 by the University of Ottawa Press, promises “new ways to talk about the game” in its 300 pages.
Hockey: Challenging Canada's Game cover
Society for International Hockey Research members got to experience the exhibition at its spring 2017 meeting, and it was terrific; a smaller version was then on display in Montreal for the fall meeting, augmented by a lot of Quebec-specific artifacts. (And many SIHR members are in its pages, both cited and as writers.)
While the exhibition was accessible to everyone, Hockey: Challenging Canada's Game, is a little more of a challenge. The book, edited by Jenny Ellison and Jennifer Anderson, is a collection of essays, most of them very academic. They touch on the usual—origins of the game, cultural identity and the like. Further sections—Childhoods; Whose Game?; Reporting Hockey; and Rethinking the Pros—add depth and aren't the usual subject.
“As historians and fans, our love of hockey coexists with our knowledge of inequities and problems in the sport,” write the editors early. If you're looking to go deeper into the scholarly, intellectual side of hockey, then put on your tweed sports coat with the leather elbow patches for an interesting read. You can learn more about Hockey: Challenging Canada's Game / Au-delà du sport national at the publisher's website: https://press.uottawa.ca/hockey.html
- In September 2017, I wrote about Miro Frycer's autobiography, which was published in the Czech Republic. Good news arrives via Lubos Brabec, who wrote it with Frycer—there will indeed be an English-language version, out in late October. The English title, at the moment, is My Wild Hockey Life: Defection, 1980s in the Maple Leafs and Liver Transplant. The website is http://www.frycer.cz/
- The just-released book Winners: The New Generation of Maritime Sports Stars, by Philip Croucher, has a decent amount of hockey content, but it's the other sports that speak to the diverse richness of sport in the eastern end of Canada. Formac Publishing Company has put together a solid book, packed full of great photos to compliment the text on its 128 pages. Hockey-wise, there are bios on goalie Jake Allen of the St. Louis Blues, retired defenceman Chad Denny who was the first Mi'kmaq community member to play in the QMJHL, and Blayre Turnbull from the Canadian national women's team. Like CBC hyping coverage of amateur sports during a hockey broadcast, the bonus are the pieces on (perhaps unfairly) lesser-known athletes, like basketball star Justine Colley, and swimmer Chelsey Gotell; para-athletes are refreshingly treated on par as fully-able-bodied competitors. See the publisher's website for more: http://www.formac.ca/Book/3038/Winners.html
- The Ontario Library Association runs a great program called the Forest of Reading, which picks a number of books to spotlight, encouraging grade school children to read them, and then vote on a winner. This year's Blue Spruce Award went to Great, written by Glen Gretzky (brother of Wayne, who wrote the foreword) and Lauri Holomis, and illustrated by Kevin Sylvester. Here's the hype blurb for the book: “Taylor is so excited when he makes the hockey team - and not just any team, but HIS team. The boy they are already calling The Great One. Taylor wants to be great too, but he's still got a lot to learn. Lucky for him, Coach Wally is in his corner, guiding him through the ups and downs of being part of a hockey team, and being the best player he can be. As Coach Wally says, if you have a good time, work hard and do your best, 'that is all that matters.'" As you might have guessed, Coach Wally is based on the ultimate hockey dad, Walter Gretzky. Congrats to the Great team!
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