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Jay Feaster Dishes on Dudley Era in Tampa

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While looking for information on Rick Dudley I came across the following interview with then-GM of Tampa Bay Lightning Jay Feaster. At the time of the interview Feaster had won a Stanley Cup and has a long chat with a reporter about his style. Most of the interview consists of Feaster contrasting himself with his predecessor in the GM job. I'm sure many people would describe this interview as "Feaster throwing Dudley under the bus" and there is certainly some of that going on here.

I read this article asking myself the question "what sort of style does Rick Dudley have?" and that question is answered to some degree. It becomes clear that Dudley is 100% focused on acquiring hockey talent--that's generally a good thing. He appears to be focused like a laser on that objective and less concerned with ensuring employees are happy campers--on net that's probably good for fans, even if it is bad for some employees. Dudley has a reputation for being very direct (i.e. not a kiss ass) with people above and below him. In Tampa when ownership refused to approve his big trade he simply resigned. You can look at that two ways, you could say that he is inflexible or you could say that he has integrity and if he isn't supported he will not stick around (Atlanta Spirit take note). It might also explain why he has has lasted a maximum of 2.5 years as GM in any previous GM stint.

Probably the best possible scenario is that Dudley is allowed to focus like a laser on acquiring talent and improving the hockey product. Waddell is around to help temper Dudley's habits that have produced unhappy owners and grumpy employees. Thus Dudley keeps his job long enough to enjoy the fruits of a winning team.

Normally I wouldn't quote an entire interview but it appears the original website no longer exists and this article is just a cached document on google. So here's the whole thing. It is long and the Dudley quotes come in the second half, if you don't care about the rise of Jay Feaster just skip down to the BOLD paragraphs that deal with Dudley.

Profile: Tampa Bay Lightning GM Jay Feaster
By Bob Andelman
(Originally published in the Gulf Coast Business Review, February 2004)

Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Jay Feaster is nothing like the men who trained and preceded him in the job.

For one thing, he's a lawyer.

Jacques Demers, the former coach turned GM who hired Feaster in 1998 as his assistant, was a hockey guy through and through. So was Demers' successor, Rick Dudley, a man who lived and breathed the game, waking or sleeping. Both relied on Feaster's acumen for contracts and other fine print business details.

"At the end of the day, it's a business," Feaster says of Tampa Bay's National Hockey League franchise. "It's managing a business and a company. People say, 'Do you regret spending the three years in law school? No! I use all that. From labor law to immigration, it's something we do everyday. I think the biggest thing my training did is that I learned to think about (hockey) from an analytical perspective."

The career hockey GMs he worked under tended to make decisions based on emotion and instinct. Feaster says his is a more fact-based approach, applying structure as he would any legal issue.

How do the two approaches compare on the ice?

Last season, in his first full season as GM, Feaster's team, coached by John Tortorella, posted a 24-point improvement, won the franchise's first division title and went further into the playoffs than ever before in the Lightning's 10-year history. This year, the team picked up right where it left off and started the season on a 7-0-1-0 tear. After a mid-season slump, the Lightning regained its groove and is once more atop the Southeast Division.

Of course, no one should be surprised that a lawyer could lead a professional sports franchise to glory. Recently departed Buccaneers GM Rich McKay, who put together the 2003 Super Bowl champions roster, also started his career in the practice of law. As for Devil Rays GM Chuck Lamar? He's a lifelong baseball guy.

"When you're somebody who played the game, that's all you ever did," Feaster says. By comparison, "I found that law degree to be incredibly liberating. I don't have to be a 'Yes' man. If this job or others went away, I will be able to provide for my family because of my law degree."

Feaster, 41, hired 30-year NHL veteran and Hall of Fame inductee Bill Barber as his right hand man to provide the hockey expertise that offsets his business know-how. Barber tends to player personnel issues; Feaster applies his legal training to the constant negotiating called for in his job.

"I'm negotiating for and with minor league affiliates, workers comp at the minor league level and collective bargaining at the NHL level," he says. "The collective bargaining agreement (CBA) covers everything we do from travel to recalling players from the minors. If they have a house here, what does the CBA say about that? I have guys who have been out of hockey for two years making claims for medical or something else they're owed under the CBA."

The international nature of the sport creates all kinds of legal opportunity - and jeopardy.

Wearing the Lightning uniform this year are players from Russia, Ukraine, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Canada ­ and they have all the same issues as American athletes, plus immigration. " Those are the things you don't think about outside," Feaster says.

Feaster maintains his license in Pennsylvania, is inactive in the District of Columbia and doesn't have a license in Florida. He does, however, continue making the rounds of seminars to stay on top of changes in the field.

After earning a degree in political science at Susquehanna University (1984) and his law degree - Cum Laude - from Georgetown ('87), Feaster spent two years in the 65-attorney Harrisburg, PA firm of McNees, Wallace & Nurick. He worked almost exclusively for the managing partner, Rod Pera, for whom most of his time was spent on the business of Hershey Entertainment & Resorts Co. - HERCO, a sister company to Hershey Foods. It was the best thing that could have ever happened to his career.

"I was doing all their slip and fall insurance litigation," he says. "I would analyze what we would go to court with and what we would settle. If it went to litigation, I parceled it out."

HERCO is an exciting company. Its business lines include HersheyPark, hotels, the Hershey Bears minor league hockey franchise, the Hershey Wildcats pro soccer team, and the 7,256-seat indoor HersheyPark Arena and 16,000-seat outdoor HersheyPark Stadium. Feaster, who wrestled, played football and baseball in high school and briefly in college, was a long-time fan of hockey; in law school, he had 10-game plan at the old Capital Center in DC.

"After two years, I went to the HERCO CEO and said, 'I would love to work for HERCO,'" Feaster says. "I liked the people, the business lines, the resorts, the park, the hockey, the arena."

And they liked Feaster; he was hired away from the law firm as assistant to the president of HERCO. He became the company's internal oversight person on HERCO insurance defense work and also was the corporate spokesperson ­ for bad news. "I had crisis communications responsibilities," he says. "If we were putting in a new ride, that went to someone else. But if we had a problem with a ride, or with the government, or if we were closing down a ride, that came to me."

After a year, Feaster was asked to run the arena and stadium.

"You'll report to the VP of the HersheyPark group," his boss said. "And I want you to be the next GM of the hockey club. Spend the next year with the team president, then he will retire and you will take over.'"

The Hershey Bears were a minor league affiliate for the Philadelphia Flyers. The parent franchise provided the players and coaching staff; Feaster's job was running the Bears' business affairs.

Dave Mishkin may be the Lightning's play-by-play man on the radio now, but he owes some of his success to Feaster, who hired him to call the Bears games back in '94 as well as be the director of hockey operations.

" He's just an understanding boss and manager, incredibly articulate and intelligent," Mishkin says. "I think his greatest strength is that he has enough confidence in his own abilities as a manager to recognize his own weaknesses. He understands there are parts of his job in which he maybe doesn't have the same expertise as other people do. So he will bring people into the fold who are experts. He's not an NHL Hall of Famer like Bill Barber. But he knows Bill will help him do his job better. He recognizes that the best way to do his job is to surround himself with good people."

By the 1993-94 season, the Flyers' plans changed. They didn't want the burden of carrying the Bears' entire roster of 50 players. Instead, they'd supply 40 young prospects; Feaster could fill out the team with anyone else he chose. It was another door opening, another opportunity. He knew that fans in Hershey craved veteran players to whom they could become attached and who wouldn't necessarily leave any time soon.

Feaster spent the next three years working with scout Bill Barber, building the team. In 1996, the Bears affiliation switched from Philadelphia to the Colorado Avalanche and the team that Feaster and Barber built won the American Hockey League's Calder Cup Championship. In 1997, Feaster was named the AHL's Executive of the Year.

A year later, the Flyers knocked the Avalanche out of the playoffs. Looking for a change, the Avalanche promoted the Bears coach, Bob Hartley, to run the NHL parent team. (Hartley took the Avalanche to the Stanley Cup in 2001. That same year, Barber, another former Bears coach under Feaster, was named NHL Coach of the Year while with the Flyers.)

Meanwhile, in Tampa Bay, Lightning Coach Jacques Demers added the general manager's responsibilities to his job. He knew hockey, of course, having coached more than 1,000 NHL games and been named NHL Coach of the Year twice, but running the business side was more than he could handle alone. Looking for an experienced assistant, he asked Colorado GM Pierre Lacroix for advice.

"The only guy I would hire," Lacroix said, "is Jay Feaster. I won't give you any other names."

Feaster joined the team for the 1998-99 season, full of hope and excitement under new Lightning owner Art Williams. "I thought, 'This is a great opportunity. It's a new owner, he'll spend money, it's long-term. Jacques will use me more.' I could see that at some point Jacques would retire and there was an opportunity to advance."

But by December, Williams was looking for a buyer. Six months in the game, he wanted out.

That wasn't Feaster's concern, however. He was responsible for the day-to-day business of dealing with players, contracts and the CBA. There was a mountain of details to climb, but he found that in Demers he once more had an excellent and willing guide.

"My time was Jacques was tremendous," Feaster says. "He was wonderful to me and my family. It was tough leaving that tight-knit family of Hershey. My family is still there; my wife's is in Rockville, MD. We came here knowing no one."

The ground in Tampa Bay continued quaking when Williams sold the team to Bill Davidson. New Lightning CEO and Governor Tom Wilson and President Ron Campbell assured Feaster that his job was secure, but Demers was fired and Rick Dudley was hired.

"Going from Demers to working for Dudley was diametrically opposed," Feaster says. "Rick is hockey 24/7, 365 days a year, any hour of the day or night. I used to say to Rick that he's the kind of guy who hates to take two hours out of his hockey day on December 25 to open his presents. It was a real adjustment."

At any given time while he worked for Dudley, if HERCO called and said, "We want you to be the rollercoaster operator at HersheyPark," Feaster would have been on the first plane out of town.

Feaster, who has been married for 15 years and is a father of four, says that Dudley called him at home at all hours of the day and night. He would call at 10:30 p.m. and tell his assistant, "Remind me tomorrow to talk to you about" One night, Feaster's cell phone rang at 8:30 at night. His son Bobby, then 5, answered without asking who was calling. "Dad," he cried out, "it's Mr. Dudley!" Dudley was amazed. "Was that Bobby?" he asked Feaster. "How did he know it was me?"

"I didn't have the heart to tell Rick he was the only one to ever call at those hours."

Feaster handled CBA issues and contract negotiations with Dudley having the final approval on all deals. "I'd say, 'Here's what I project it will take to sign these guys.' Our relationship should have worked better than it did because Rick didn't want to be an administrator. He wanted to be out scouting. In my situation, with a young family, I was happy to be the guy in the office, being the administrator."

In his first year as assistant GM under Demers, Feaster didn't travel. But Dudley didn't like to travel with his team. The team had a first year coach in Steve Ludzik, so Dudley decided someone on the road in case issues arose and Feaster drew the short straw.

Dudley's lack of sensitivity to Feaster's personal life came to haunt him in the 2001-02 season when one of the Lightning's biggest stars, Vincent Lecavalier, asked to be traded.

"Rick laid out a trade. But Mr. Davidson said, 'Here are my conditions before you do that," Feaster says. "The deal Rick had on the table didn't accomplish those conditions. It was a deal I didn't support. One of the things Mr. Davidson said was that we had to condition the marketplace as to why we would do that. We had to lay a foundation. This (Lecavalier) was the franchise. It was something that didn't make sense. There was a conference call and I was questioned by Tom and Ron. "Does this trade satisfy Mr. Davidson's needs?' I said, 'No.' Rick saw that I didn't support him. I wasn't on his team. That's when our relationship started falling apart."

Dudley resigned in February 2002, in the middle of the season. His job went to Feaster, who hired Bill Barber as his director of player personnel.

"It had been a drain," Feaster says of the Dudley era. "I was at the point where I was prepared to just leave. I had talked to the East Coast Hockey League. Their president was going to become an owner and had to step aside. I also talked to the HERCO folks. I was not going to stay.

"I uprooted my family to come here because I felt that I could become a successful GM in the NHL. And I thought that would happen under Jacques Demers and Art Williams. Finally getting the job vindicated why we made that move."

Feaster brings his own philosophy to the construction of the team, although he relies heavily on Barber for specific player personnel recommendations.

"We needed to become a tougher hockey team. That's a work in progress," Feaster says. "We were too easy to play against. I grew up in Central Pennsylvania when the Broad Street Bullies were winning. And I was a fan of the Boston Bruins, one of the toughest teams to play the game."

He also felt that the constant roster churning under Dudley needed to stop. Dudley believed if he had a player who was a 4 and a 4.5 became available, the team should make a move. Feaster, on the other hand, believes that any guy he is moving into the locker room must fit in, while also taking care that the player who is leaving wasn't an important part of the team's chemistry.

"Last year, our guys talked about there being stability on the franchise. They got to know their teammates and build trust. It helped us get off to the start we did and it will pull us out of the spin we're in. I didn't do that; John Tortorella did that. But I allowed the environment to continue developing."

Another difference between Feaster and his predecessor is what qualities they look for in personnel.

"Rick's mantra used to be a size/speed ratio," Feaster says. "We looked at a player two years ago. When I read the reports, they talked about 'Vision like (Wayne) Gretzky.' 'Playmaking reminds of Gretzky.' 'Looks like Gretzky.' 'Worships Gretzky.' But the reports all ended, 'Not for us. Not a Tampa Bay Lightning player.' Because according to Dudley, a player had to be 6'2", and fast. I said to the scouts, 'We want to pass on the guy you said will be the next Gretzky because he doesn't fit the matrix you created?' We had guys in the organization that were 6'8" who skated real well but had the heart of a pea. Then we had a guy 5-foot nothing with the heart of a lion who carried us in the playoffs last year, Marty St. Louis."

Feaster knows that today's team philosophy is tomorrow's old news. Just a week ago, ESPN The Magazine predicted that Feaster would soon fire Tortorella. But Tortorella just guided his team to three straight wins and a return to first place.

"You grow old very quickly in this job," he says. "There are so many things that have to happen. I think you can (have longevity) if you have ownership that believes in you and takes a long-term perspective on the club. At the end of the day, you have to look in the mirror and say, 'I did what I believed in, what I believed was right.'"