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Former Chicago Blackhawks general manager Dale Tallon speaks at a news conference in Chicago. (Brian Kersey)
Former Chicago Blackhawks general manager Dale Tallon speaks at a news conference in Chicago. (Brian Kersey)

Eric Duhatschek

Tallon deserved a better fate Add to ...

In life, even in the mixed-up world of professional sport, the assumption is usually that good work will protect you. Provided you produce the necessary results, personality conflicts or internal politics or the fact that you were associated with a previous regime should not be held against you.

Presumably, that's what Dale Tallon thought, too. Up until Tuesday when he was unceremoniously kicked upstairs, Tallon was the fourth-year general manager of the Chicago Blackhawks, one of the brightest and best teams - and stories - in the NHL last season.

Under Tallon's guidance, the team that had been a laughingstock for close to a decade was finally getting it right.

They drafted well. They traded shrewdly. Two years ago they came within three points of qualifying for the playoffs with a young nucleus that included Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, two of the NHL's most dynamic young stars. Last year, they made it over the top, qualifying for the playoffs as a fourth seed and then winning two rounds before finally falling to the Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference final.

It was, by any objective measure, a spectacular turnaround on the ice. It wasn't just that they were winning either. They were winning with style and aplomb.

The fact that there was something to cheer about helped fill the United Center to capacity all year long. Yes, they did finally get the marketing of the team right, but if there's nothing to sell it doesn't matter how many home games you put on television or how many former stars you make peace with.

This is a bottom-line business and the bottom line in Chicago was that under Tallon's watch as the primary hockey voice, the Blackhawks became relevant again - a good team from top to bottom that featured maybe the best young supporting cast in hockey.

The problem, apparently, was that Tallon and team president John McDonough didn't always see eye-to-eye on what the duties of a general manager encompassed. Tallon liked to get out into the field; see games; watch prospects; and so, when a decision was made at the draft table, was in a position to sign off on it with some knowledge.

Not every GM works that way in the modern NHL. Some that came up through the business side do sit at their desks all day, and delegate the business of finding players to others lower down the food chain. There is no definitive one-size-fits-all model of how to be an NHL GM - and no two do it exactly alike. With 30 different teams, there are probably 30 different models. The important thing is to find one that works; and then stick with it.

It didn't happen in Chicago, however, and realistically, there were only two blots on Tallon's recent resume. The first had to do with last year's foray into free agency; the second with a clerical error this year that threatened to turn six of the team's younger restricted free agents free without compensation.

Ultimately, the latter development didn't hurt the Blackhawks because all the affected players signed new contracts with the team. Long term, the biggest challenge facing the Blackhawks were the two contracts signed back in the July, 2008 free-agent period - eight years, $56.8-million (all currency U.S.) to defenceman Brian Campbell; and four years, $22.5-million to goaltender Cristobal Huet.

That the Blackhawks overpaid for both was made clear by Tallon in his comments immediately following the signing. The suspicion, in NHL circles, was that team president John McDonough, wanting to capitalize on the momentum of the Blackhawks' strong finish two years ago, instructed Tallon to be active in free agency to keep the team's profile high, even in the off-season.

It's too bad really, because early last year Cam Barker started to provide the Blackhawks with what they hired Campbell to do - make a contribution on the power play - and holdover goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin won the starting job away form Huet. If the Blackhawks could undo both those moves, then they'd be in a position to possibly get Toews, Kane and Duncan Keith signed to extensions next year when all three come up for renewals.

As it is, that messy job now falls to Tallon's successor, Stan Bowman, son of the legendary coach, Scotty Bowman. Tallon, meanwhile, is shunted aside and has clearly decided to not ruffle any feathers.

In a statement attributed to him in the press release announcing Bowman's promotion, Tallon was quoted as saying that he would do whatever he could to "help make this a better product on the ice: and then concluded: "This is what's best for the Chicago Blackhawks."

Well, maybe he feels that way. Of course, it does smack of the same peace-at-any-price strategy the Blackhawks used when they dumped Denis Savard as coach four games into last season and replaced him with Joel Quenneville. Later in the year, Savard was brought back into the fold as a team ambassador and any lingering hard feelings were swept under the rug.

It was hard to argue with the results of that move - Quenneville was a better choice to run the team because of his broader coaching experience.

The same cannot be said for the managerial change. The man pulling the trigger now, Bowman, is brand new at this. In fact, about the best thing that can be said for this move is that Bowman can learn a lot from the man he replaced, someone who rid the team of its losing culture and made them a factor again on the Windy City sports scene.

For that, Tallon deserved a better fate than he received.





 

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