In the final installment of his three-part series, Tampa Bay GM Jay Feaster writes about conducting business in today’s NHL, the legacy he hopes to leave behind and Anaheim GM Brian Burke. Click to read the first and second installments.
With the new collective bargaining agreement, there never comes a time when you sit there and go, ‘Boy, now I have all the answers,’ and, ‘Boy, I know everything now.’
A big issue for me is knowing whom you can trust and whom you can’t.
I know there are some managers in this league who go straight to the media when an email comes to them saying, ‘If you have any interest in this player…’ I know that email might as well be copied to TSN, which is not how I do business. The sooner you learn who you can have a confidential conversation with in this league and who you can trust, the better.
There are some people who understand that’s the way you do business, which is very important to me. And it’s important to make sure your entire organization is run that way. My guys know if they’re out scouting and they talk out of school, there are serious repercussions. That’s just how we do it.
One of the things I’ve always said – and people in the American League, other NHL teams, the league office and the players who’ve played for me will all tell you – is my word is my bond. With me, things don’t have to be written out in a big contract. If we shake hands on it and I look you in the eye, you can count on my word.
I always said when I came here as assistant GM and then was promoted to GM, that whenever I’m done in this league I want to be able to walk out with the integrity I came in with. And if it ever gets to the point where I can’t, it is time for me to get out. That’s something I feel very strongly about.
Again, it’s because that’s what I saw with guys like Bob Hartley, Pierre Lacroix, Francois Giguere, Michel Goulet and Lou Lamoriello when I came into the league. That also included guys like Brian Burke when he was at the league office.
I have to tell this story about Burkie. My very first day on the job was Nov. 1, 1998. The team was on a road trip – out west, I think – and they were coming back east, with a game coming up against Washington. But there was a GMs meeting on Nov. 2 and Jacques Demers, our GM back then, said he wanted me to be there. At that time the assistant GMs could still attend the meetings with their GM.
The plan was for both of us to go to the meeting in New York and then take the shuttle to D.C., so Jacques could coach. Then I’d fly back to Tampa with everyone on the team charter. So I flew to New York and when I got to the meeting, Jacques – who was also a rookie at these meetings – told me to sit next to him at the big table. So I did. What I honestly didn’t notice was the rest of the assistant GMs sitting in chairs with their backs against the wall.
Here I am waving to the other assistants – some of whom I knew and some of whom I didn’t – and Burkie comes into the meeting and says, ‘Hey Jaybird, how are ya?’ So I said hello and then he leaned in so nobody else could hear and said, ‘Jaybird, want a piece of advice?’ I said, ‘Yeah, sure.’ And he said, ‘See those chairs back along the wall?’ I said, ‘yeah.’ And he said, ‘Those are for the assistant GMs. You can stay here if you want, but I’m going to tell you right now, you’re going to have an awful lot of sour colleagues if you do.’
Well I jumped up like I’d been shot in the butt. Obviously I wasn’t sitting there trying to be smarter or better than anybody else. My boss said sit down, so I sat down; neither of us knew the protocol. But for Burkie to do that – and Brian does that to this day – was exceptional. Brian will make sure to do everything he can so you don’t embarrass yourself. Something like that seems like a little thing, but it’s huge in the grand scheme of things, because you never want to show up your colleagues and friends.
Imagine the other assistants thinking: ‘There he is at the head table. What, he doesn’t see the rest of us are back here at the wall?’
Jay Feaster has been with the Tampa Bay Lightning since 1998 and became the team’s GM in 2002. He will blog on THN.com throughout the 2007-08 season. Read his other entries HERE.