Blackhawks general manager Dale Tallon has heard a lot of ‘no’ the past few opening days of NHL free agency. This time Tallon was the one having to turn down interested free agents after getting a yes from his primary target, defenseman Brian Campbell.
Tallon inked the All-Star blueliner to an eight-year contract Tuesday. The move followed Tallon’s signing of goaltender Cristobal Huet to a four-year contract earlier in the day.
“I’m pretty elated,” Tallon told chicagoblackhawks.com. “It’s been a long struggle the past few years. This day was always a tough day for us. We worked hard and to come home empty-handed wasn’t a very good feeling.”
Does landing Campbell, the top free agent defenseman available, mean that Chicago is officially back as a destination for the league’s top players?
“Saying that Chicago is back, that’s not the issue,” Tallon said. “The issue is that we wanted to send a message that we are committed to doing whatever it takes to get better and become a championship team.
“We stepped up to the plate and that’s the message we sent to our fans and the rest of the league -- that we’ll do whatever it takes to get to where we want to go.”
Tallon coveted Campbell, who was traded from Buffalo to San Jose at last season’s trade deadline, for his skating ability and power play work.
“That’s one thing we’ve lacked. Our power play has been really subpar the last three or four years and we needed to upgrade that,” Tallon said. “He can log a lot of minutes and is similar to Duncan Keith
with his feet, probably a little more offensive-minded than Dunc, but those two guys can play a lot of minutes.
“Now both of our defensive tandems have excellent speed and can get the puck out of trouble and up ice in a hurry.”
Signing a player to an eight-year deal is uncharted territory for the Blackhawks. But according to Tallon, today’s market demands it, and Campbell, 29, offers limited risk.
“Those aren’t feet that are going to go away. He’s a gifted skater and those are things you look at if you are signing a long-term deal like this.
“It’s nuts today. Players have a huge advantage. But if you want to step up to the plate, you have to pay the fiddler, and we paid the fiddler today.”
With Huet joining Nikolai Khabibulin in goal for the Hawks, Tallon believes he has perhaps the best net tandem in the league.
“Habby and Cristobal give us great goaltending to go with a really good defense. We scored goals last year. We were in the top 10 despite injuries. But our goals against was too high and our power play was not very good, so shoring up our defense and goaltending will help get us to where we want to go.”
Now at around $3 million over the salary cap, the Blackhawks still have a lot of work to do this summer. Signing more free agents doesn’t appear to be in the cards, however.
“There’s only so much money that’s goes around. We paid a lot of money for the services of these players. We have to be careful now and give our young players an ability to come in and play some of those other positions.”