“The Art of the Dealers: The NHL’s Greatest Managers” by Matthew DiBiase
Ice Hockey, professional, management, list
November 12, 2017
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)
In his first book, “Bench Bosses”, author Matthew DiBiase broke ground by ranking hockey coaches using a metrical system, the first of its kind. He now follows up that excellent work by doing the same thing with NHL general managers (GMs) in “The Art of the Dealers.” This is also a groundbreaking work as it is the first book that ranks GMs in any of the four major professional sports in North America (baseball, basketball, football and hockey).
Like “Bench Bosses”, “The Art of the Dealers” incorporates a system that at its core, is a simple concept. A GM earns points for positive accomplishments that his team achieves, such as a winning record, a Stanley Cup championship, or playoff appearances. The GM loses points for negative occurrences such as missing the playoffs or a losing season. DiBiase, through extensive research, took the records of every man who has served as a GM in the 100 years of the NHL and ranked them based on this system, featuring the top 50 in the book.
The book starts with the highest rated GM and has narratives on each of the top 50. No spoilers in this review, so there will be no names of these 50 men listed. There are some surprises, in not only who is and isn’t included but also at some of the rankings. This is because a GM’s entire career is used to determine the total point value he earns. Some GMs of very successful teams started or ended their careers managing teams that weren’t very good, thereby reducing their total value according to the author’s system. This in turn will result in that GM ranking somewhat lower than some may believe he should be. Conversely, some GMs who many to believe to not be among the greatest may achieve this ranking because they took over teams that were championship caliber, thereby earning points thanks to the work of their predecessors.
The narratives dive deeper into a GM’s work during his career. DiBiase writes about each GM’s draft choices and trades, both the good and the not-so-good. While they do not affect the value assigned to the GM, these are very helpful in painting the complete picture of the man’s career. These make for some entertaining reading. Because the book covers the entire history of the sport, nearly every star player is mentioned in these accounts.
Two other short sections of the book make it a complete account of how GMs have fared in the league. One is a breakdown of each decade and who were the best GMs during those decades. This made for an interesting comparison – if one wants to know how the best GM’s in the Original Six era compare to the best ones in today’s game, one only needs to read this chapter. The other section that makes for great reading is about the “heartbreak” GMs – those who have had success by seeing his team make the playoffs at least five consecutive seasons but have not won the Stanley Cup. When reading this, I actually felt sympathy for these men – hopefully those that are still in the game can shed this label soon.
This was a wonderful book to read and one that I will be using for reference again and again. Every hockey fan, not matter what era or team he or she prefers, will want to pick up this book and learn how these GMs were able to build winning hockey teams.
I wish to thank Mr. DiBiase for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
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