What makes Dale Tallon such a good choice to go in as the next general manager of the Florida Panthers is not the fact that he successfully drafted Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane with the third and first overall picks in 2006 and 2007 respectively. Those were easy choices to make, although give him a smidgeon of credit for Kane, given that some scouts had James Van Riemsdyk, currently of the Philadelphia Flyers, as a better long-term choice because of concerns over Kane's size.
No, Tallon's strength was always as a horse trader - and you just have to look at two of the deals he made to get something for nothing during his Blackhawks tenure to understand the appeal in Florida. Deal No. 1: Acquiring Patrick Sharp from the Philadelphia Flyers for Matt Ellison and a third-round pick. Sharp has become a top-six forward for Chicago; scored the winning goal in the opener vs. the San Jose Sharks and has established himself as a reliable NHLer. Same for the deal Tallon made for Kris Versteeg with Boston back in 2007, when he sent the Bruins Brandon Bochenski in exchange. Versteeg was a Calder Trophy candidate last year and this season, while currently being deployed on the checking line alongside David Bolland, has shown highlight-reel flashes with that toe-drag to the inside move that he likes so much. Those are the types of trades, in conjunction with smart drafting at the top of the draft, that bring teams to the brink of Stanley Cup contention.
The worst blot on Tallon's record is the free-agent signings of Brian Campbell and Cristobal Huet two summers ago. But to his credit, on the day he signed them, Tallon freely acknowledged that he overpaid to get him, noting that you always overpay unrestricted free agents on July 1. And the fact is, he was getting pressure to make a splash from organizational higher ups who wanted to build on the momentum that they'd started with their turnaround the previous year. In Florida, with its smaller budgets, making a big free-agent splash isn't going to be an issue anyway.
What will help the Panthers is if Tallon can build a supporting cast for a team that hasn't made the playoffs for a decade. For that matter, going in there with a fresh eye might convince him that real changes need to be made to the core group - that maybe you don't build around Stephen Weiss and Nathan Horton after all, but ship them out for different types of players; new pieces of the puzzle. It's really what the Blackhawks did a few years back, when they jettisoned what was supposed to be their core group - Tyler Arnason, Mark Bell and Kyle Calder - when it became clear that they were not up to the task of leading (or even being involved) in the turnaround.
Tallon is, above all else, a smart hockey man and one that isn't afraid to pull the trigger on a deal. Maybe the best news of all is that Chicago, his old team, may be in the market to move a couple of warm bodies in the off-season because of a pending salary-cap crunch. With the cap space he has in Florida, and the hands-on knowledge of who makes a difference in the Chicago line-up, Tallon will be perfectly positioned to deal with his former understudy, the current Blackhawk GM Stan Bowman, if they need to dump salary in the offseason.