Q&A with new NHL salary site General Fanager

The salary of Toronto's Phil Kessel is one of the most searched on General Fanager. (Nathan Denette/CP)

When CapGeek vanished, a Toronto Maple Leafs fan threw a paper bag over his free time and spent 30-to-60 hours a week to construct a replacement.

And so when Tom Poraszka launched General Fanager in early May, traffic spiked immediately out of the gate.

There was a thirst for easy-to-navigate, well-displayed, accurate salary information on NHL teams and players, and Poraszka had built a well.

“We’re still getting upwards of 10,000 people to the site a day, so it’s nice,” the 27-year-old Toronto resident told us recently in a phone interview. “I’ve spent way too much of my own time following hockey and participating in fantasy sports. It seemed like a good amount of time that I could delve into something more productive and something other people could benefit from.”

Like its game-changing predecessor, General Fanager is essentially a one-man show. During normal business hours, Poraszka works as a project manager at an interactive marketing company managing a team that runs a major automotive website.

All other hours are spent on his hobby, now a fantastic resource for NHL nerds like us.

Poraszka is responsible for the site's design, development and data collection (mostly from CapGeek's archives). But the hockey fan is fast to credit friends, colleagues, and his financee with assists in the project. Not to mention the fans and journalists that fact-check his numbers on Twitter.

Picking up CapGeek's torch, Poraszka insists that General Fanger won't survive without community support and input. He asked that the following Q&A not include a photo of him.

In the tradition of late CapGeek founder Matthew Wuest, he says he wants to provide a service to fellow fans and he is not seeking personal acclaim.
general_fanager

SPORTSNET.CA: What is the meaning behind the General Fanager name and the logo you designed?

TOM PORASZKA: I thought "General Fanager" was playful and fun, so I went with that. There’s been some positive and some negative about the name, but it’s just a name. We had Paper Bag GM, which didn’t work at all.

I always thought it funny to see sports fans wear paper bags when they’re ashamed of their association with the team. As a Toronto hockey fan, thinking back to the Harold Ballard days when he asked his coach [Roger Neilson] to wear a paper bag when he fired him and brought him back in [in 1979], I thought it was a bizarre story. Wouldn’t it be kinda funny if you’re pretending to be a general manager but you’re wearing a paper bag to live that life?

Did you ever meet CapGeek founder Matthew Wuest?

PORASZKA: I never met or spoke with Matthew. I gave him props on Twitter, but that was about it. I used the site daily, and after it went down, I still instinctively would start typing the web address in my browser. He put in a lot of hard work. I have a lot of respect for what he did, and it would be difficult for anyone to try to reproduce that. I’m just trying to do my best and give hockey fans a tool to use while giving credit to the man who did all the hard work and laid the groundwork.

"I used CapGeek daily. Saying as a fan I wouldn’t be interested in [salary information], that just isn’t right."

Were you already working on a site before CapGeek disappeared?

TOM PORASZKA: I was working on a general hockey site. The basis for it was the draft picks section we have now. I didn’t expect it to take off; I was doing it as a hobby to learn the programming language.

When CapGeek went down, it seemed like a good fit to start a resource that more people would benefit from and that I was missing. To be honest, I didn’t expect it to go very far. As I got closer to launching, it was something I enjoyed using so I wanted to see what other people thought. I wanted to have more tools ready before launch, but I talked to friends and colleagues, and they were saying what I had already was enough to get use out of.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman downplayed fans' interest in player salary information in April. What did you make of his comments?

PORASZKA: I understand where he’s coming from. As someone in the league, you’d prefer that information kept in the league. Any of us who work for a living don’t want our salary and compensation to be public knowledge. That’s fair.

But as a fan, first and foremost, I considered that statement inaccurate. I used CapGeek daily. Saying as a fan I wouldn’t be interested in it, that just isn’t right. And based on the reaction since we’ve got, there’s a fair number of people that share that sentiment.

There are no ads on the site. Will this be a money-maker eventually?

PORASZKA: It’s been a passion project. It’s been a lot of fun, but I’ve put a lot of time into it. At some point I’ll put ads on the site to cover the costs I’m starting to see. With the traffic we’re getting, we’ll have to pay for servers to handle it all. We’ll be simple with advertising. This is not intended to be a big money-maker. I just want to cover costs and keep things afloat so we can continue to offer the service.

You have a day job, but you’re doing this on the side. How many hours on this do you invest?

PORASZKA: It averages anywhere between 30 and 60 hours a week. I wake up a few hours early to work on the site, work on it at night, and then on the weekends it’s pretty much all I do. It’s been a lot of work.

Good Lord.

PORASZKA: I’ve aggressively tried to do as much as I can in as little time as I can because it seemed like something people needed and I was having fun with it. At some point, that [work rate] is not going to be sustainable.

You're not the only one out there trying to fill the void. NHL Numbers, for example. What will make you the go-to source?

PORASZKA: I’m aware of quite a few, and there seems to be more popping up every few days. [Examples: Cap Friendly and Hockey's Cap] There’s always going to be people doing the same thing—that’s OK by us. The most important thing isn’t being the No. 1 provider of the information; it’s important that the information is available to users easily in a way they enjoy it.

I’m going to do things fans want or things I think they want, like the draft picks feature, which hasn’t been done as well in other places. I’m going to be proactive in developing new features as well as addressing user feedback – we’ve got a ton of it already. This is great; it makes it feel like a community effort.

"I’ve aggressively tried to do as much as I can in as little time as I can because it seemed like something people needed and I was having fun with it."

Where do you get your salary info?

PORASZKA: Ninety per cent of the info came from CapGeek, and we state that clearly. We want people to know Matthew did all that hard work to get that information. We fill in the gaps with media reports and other great sites like NHL Numbers and War On Ice.

Since we’ve launched, our [new] information comes from reporters and a couple of sources that have been really helpful. They’ve asked to remain anonymous, but they’ve been cross-checking the information to make sure it’s accurate. These sources have access to contract information, so we trust them. Some of that info is available on our site but not anywhere else, so hopefully that will differentiate us. We want the most accurate data we can get.

How will you prepare for the upcoming draft and free agency?

PORASZKA: We’re getting some new features out before the draft—that’s the target—and I’m talking to colleagues to help out during the draft and free agency so we can stay on top of everything. We should be quick to the trigger on both days. We’ve talked to our sources to make sure they’ll confirm details, and we’ll ramp up our servers a couple weeks before July.

That’s why we’ll add ads before July, to cover the costs and make sure our servers don’t go down.

So what new features are in the works?

PORASZKA: There’s an Armchair GM feature CapGeek had; we’re putting together something that’s similar that will allow you to customize a roster and see how it affects the team’s cap positioning. We’re looking at a Buyout Calculator, too. We’ve got some others in the works, but we’re not sure they’ll be ready for free agency, so I’ll keep them closer to my chest.

Shortly after you launched, a who's-who of the hockey world followed you. Have you been surprised by anyone -- an agent, a team, the league -- that reached out?

PORASZKA: We haven’t heard from the league, but we’ve heard from fans, player agents and former GMs, and reporters I’ve followed and trusted for so long. That these people in the industry are now following the site is kinda surreal to me.