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Jason Farris, centre, with podcast hosts Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek. Twitter photo
It Takes 23 to Win: Building and Being Part of Great Hockey Teams might be the hardest book I've ever had to explain here at “Two Minutes for Reading So Good”—and that is in no way, shape, or form a knock. It's just that there is so much going on in it.
The basics are easy. It's the work of Jason Farris, who has previously done books on general managers, goalies, announcer Jim Robson, Texas hockey history, and goalie Cesare Maniago, and it's self-published under Farris' imprint, meaning when the print run is sold out, it's gone.
So you'd better act quick (www.23toWin.com), and don't flinch at the $59.95 price tag. It's the kind of book that you'll pick up again and again, leaving it out to flip through and ponder when Hockey Night in Canada is muted during commercials, just to wonder at the idea of it, let alone the content.
At an elevator pitch level, it's about teams, and having players pick teammates to make up a squad based on their own careers. But there are historical elements, like the history of hockey team photos and team travel; there's sections on international hockey, women's hockey and sledge hockey; there's copious amounts of statistics; there's a celebration of team programs and hockey cards; there are some great photos from the Hockey Hall of Fame.
See what I mean about a whole lot going on?
In conversation from Dallas, where he formerly worked for the Stars as the team's Chief Operating Officer, Farris answers the first question with a question of his own
“Where did the idea come from?” he questioned. “I've always thought about teams and teammates and whatnot. I like constraints and people having to make trade-off decisions, and that's really what the modern NHL is about under the cap. I just wanted to apply that same process to players, to put some constraints on them, to think about what they valued in their past. I'm not just interested in the star players, but I'm interested in the role players. I wanted to see how players sat in a room and viewed others across the room, and what they contributed. I figured this would be a way of getting at that.”
He conducted one interview while he was a Stars employee as sort of a test balloon, and then, having amicably parted ways with the Stars, and getting ready for his next gig (as of yet unannounced), he dove in with both feet, recorder and laptop, completing the book in nine months.
Farris talked to every player in person or on a video call, sitting with them as they selected their team. He's not sure of how many hours of “tape” there actually is, maybe 80; for comparison, his earlier book, Behind the Moves: NHL General Managers Tell how Winners are Built, had at least 120 hours.
There were 23 players chosen. “I wanted each of them to be legitimately a player that people would recognize playing in the slot that I had them in. I didn't want a first-line winger playing on the fourth line. I wanted a true fourth-liner. I got guys that were in each position,” Farris explained.
“But then it was a real jigsaw puzzle, because I wanted to have four guys out of each of the decades, four out of the '60s, '70s, four out of the '70s, '80s, four out of the '80s, '90s, so it was a nice mix of players over those years.”
Each and every franchise, including dearly-departed teams like the Cleveland Barons, is represented except, oddly, the Minnesota Wild,
The goal was to find well-travelled players, whether it was with the Kansas City Scouts or the New York Rangers. “I picked guys that had played 600 or more games in the league, but had played, importantly, in four or more cities, because I didn't want, as interesting as Steve Yzerman's all-star team would be of just Detroit guys, I wanted a variety,” he said. “In some cases, players played in great places and then terrible places. Frank Mahovlich played on three dominant teams, and then he played on the Toronto Toros and the Birmingham Bulls. Dennis Maruk played on some really bad hockey teams, but was a good player, but played on some really bad teams. You've got a mixture of guys that played in different places that reflect the true nature of the league—not everybody's in star-studded situations.”
Farris just called up the players and made his pitch, and almost all were on board immediately.
Like Ray Ferraro. “Once I told him what I was doing, there was dead silence on the phone. I thought he was coming up with an artful way to tell me to go take a hike. But what he was really doing was figuring out, he was already down to the third line. 'Geez, if I take this guy, then I can't take that guy.' He was all the way into it.”
Remember that most players had over 200 teammates, if not a lot more than that. “The universal response was, 'I haven't thought about so many of these teams and teammates since we played together,' and in many cases, it was 20, 30 years ago. The teams disband and they move on. They really enjoyed seeing all the names back in front of them.”
Using the criteria he came up with, and providing the players with a printout of every single team they played on, often with line combinations, Farris “ended up with a really neat swath through the league that really reflects the players that had played in the league over the last 50 years.”
Of the 23 he used, there are four Hall of Famers and 11 Stanley Cup winners. The insight of goaltender Dominik Hasek, for example, is very different than 1970s tough guy scorer Wilf Paiement.
Each player ends up reflecting the era that they played in. “So Wilf Paiement has a lot of pretty physical, bruising, nasty players that he's picked,” said Farris. Paiement's team, drawing on his time with brutal teams in Kansas City and Colorado, a halfway decent Toronto club, and a contender in Quebec City, reflects his time in the league as well. Wilf's values matter in selection too—“the type of players from his pool that he has to select from that he likes, whether that's on-ice, off-ice, or a mixture of the two, you really get an interesting thumbprint for each of these teams from those three things: The era, the teams, and their personal preferences.”
To create It Takes 23 to Win, Farris had to rely on his own team, from those who helped him secure phone numbers and interviews—Brian Burke from the GM book helped with Brad May, for example—to those who did the layout and editing. The Society for International Hockey Research is well-represented, and Farris is well-known in the group, especially after spear-heading the Dallas meeting in the fall of 2018, in conjunction with the Stars.
Kevin Shea and Eric Zweig wrote pieces, Lloyd Davis edited, Ernie Fitzsimmons helped with old photos. “There's a whole network of people that are part of it, and SIHR is certainly a common thread that runs through it all,” said Farris. “Having done seven books before, five under my own publishing arm, I've got people all over the country that do different things for me, in terms of design, graphics, editing, stats work, and pulling memorabilia. I was able to pull that group together pretty quickly and get a lot more done than I'd be able to do obviously on my own.”
A new addition was an illustration, a team picture of the 23 players who contributed to the book by Steve Galvao “The list of people listed in the back is a long one and an important one, because all of them had something to do with it.”
Now, to market. There will be no ebook—and no reprints. “My other books, most of them have sold out, and they're almost impossible to find second-hand, and if you do, even the GM book, typically it sells for more than what I sold it for,” he said.
Farris is confident in what he has created.
“I lead with the product. I'm relying on people that take an interest in it, people like you, that will help me get the word out, because this is simply sold on my website. I've already paid for it all, so I've already made the big investment. Hopefully, people will enjoy it like they have my others,” said Farris. “So far, it's always worked. This is a bit of a different market for books, in terms of people paying for content, so we'll see. I'm hopeful people won't let me down and will see the value of this.”
In the end, Farris will agree it needs to be seen to be believed.
“This one is a little more complicated to explain to people what it is. The GM book, 35 living GMs that have taken a team to a Cup final—that's fairly understandable. This one, there's a lot going on. Somebody said to me the other day, 'It's really five books in one.' Each section is really a completely different take through the same theme of teams and teammates, and assembling them. This concept of players assembling their own teams, takes a little while for people to get their head wrapped around. Hopefully, I can communicate that.”
Get It Takes 23 to Win at www.23toWin.com
Until Christmas, I plan on making “Two Minutes for Reading So Good” a weekly column; too many hockey books, too many authors to celebrate!
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