In Part 2 of Jay Feaster’s blog outlining how he got to where he is today, we begin with his initial discussions with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Click HERE to read Part 1.
When I got the initial phone-call from Jacques (Demers) he asked, ‘Why aren’t you in the National Hockey League?’ I said, ‘Because nobody ever gave me the chance, that’s why.’ Pierre (Lacroix) had already laid the foundation, so when I came in for the interview it wasn’t mine to lose, but they were clearly favorably disposed towards me right from the start.
I think there is a real advantage in not only being associated with an organization such as Colorado, but also personalities such as Pierre and Bob Hartley. That’s the great part about Pierre: Everything I’ve learned, and I’ve watched Pierre closely, I did so by following his example. I would ask him questions about how he did things at the NHL level and think about the first-class manner in which Colorado ran its minor league team.
I always call Pierre the ‘stealth GM.’ While other guys may be out there talking about trades with the media and seeing how they’ll play with the fan base, Pierre was like a striking cobra: Efficient; you never saw it coming and you didn’t hear about it until after it was done. I always respected that so much. He and Lou Lamoriello are of the same mindset; you don’t need to discuss your business with other people, and you certainly don’t need to discuss it with the media.
There was an advantage to being associated with Colorado and those people. But there was also an advantage to being associated with the Hershey Bears. Every Saturday night in the old Hershey Park Arena, anywhere from a half dozen to a dozen NHL scouts would be in the building. You were able to meet people. People knew that you were the guy in charge of the Bears.
I had a great relationship, for example, with Brian Burke, who was in the league office at that time, and Kenny Holland, whom I knew from AHL business. A lot of NHL GMs or assistant GMs also came to AHL meetings, and I got to know them, as well. So during the first interview I had with Jacques and the Tampa people, I was able to give them a list of NHL references. So I think having been with a first-class organization such as Hershey was also a major factor in getting my first NHL management job.
In addition, I had a lot of people who were always more than happy to help me out and share info, mostly because of my relationship with Colorado. Francois Giguere, then the Avs’ assistant GM, told me ‘If you want information, these are the people who will be able to work with you. These are other GMs who are happy to share information, you can call them.’ And that’s what I did.
Giguere, Doug Armstrong and Mike Santos, who at that time was on Long Island. Frank Provenzano, who was in Washington at that time, was a great resource. Steve Pellegrini is now in the league as an assistant GM, but at the time was with the NHL’s Central Registry. Steve was instrumental; I talked to him right from the very beginning because Francois said I should. “Make sure you learn the things that take place at Central Registry,” he would tell me. Then, right off the bat, Steve and Madeleine Supino from the Registry said ‘Come on up. When you come with the team to Montreal, come in and we’ll give you the tour.’ I went in there and met with every person in and took reams of notes on who did what, how they did it and the tricks of the trade – like making sure not to miss deadlines or misfile things. I used those contacts extensively.
All of those contacts were willing to give their time and offer advice, which is why I try to do that when former assistant GMs are elevated or someone comes in through a non-traditional path. Garth Snow for example. I called Garth the very first day he was named GM of the Islanders and said, “Look, every time we play on the ice I want to beat your brains in. Understand that we’re competitors, but at the same time this job is tough enough without having some place you can turn to, somebody whose advice you trust.”
I was fortunate when I became a GM; I had places to turn. I had Pierre; I had Lamoriello, guys who I knew. Again, I never misunderstood the fact they wanted to eat my lunch on the ice, but you could have conversations and say, “Hey, I could use a little guidance here. I don’t necessarily know what I’m doing in this instance. You’ve probably seen it before, or dealt with it. Can you give me some things to think about, or point me in the right direction?”
Depending on the situation, every relationship is different. I don’t want to get specific about what Garth and I talked about, but we had a relationship going back to his playing days in the AHL. Garth played for Bob Hartley for the old Nordiques-affiliate in Cornwall. We used to have epic battles at Hershey Park Arena between the Bears and the Aces. So he and I knew each other for a long time. He had known me when I was an assistant GM and he was playing in the league, so without getting specific it’s, again, the idea of trying to help steer guys in the right direction as far as utilizing the resources they have.
The Central Registry for example – when I was an assistant GM, because I’d made the effort and because I took them up on it, there were times when Madeleine Supino would call me and say “Are you sure you want to do that?”
Something simple, like sending a player down at the start of the season to the minors, but he played 50 games in the league the year before and now he can’t play in a minor-league pre-season game without clearing waivers. Well that’s one where you might still send him down.
Now, you get a phone call: “You know you can’t play him in any pre-season games?”
Well, maybe I didn’t know that and maybe we would have and we’d stand to potentially lose a guy for nothing because I missed something. For me, that is what’s so important – utilize the resources that are out there and not try to fool anybody into thinking you know everything.
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.