Dale Tallon wasn’t about to store away his golf clubs just because he took on the biggest job of his professional career three years ago.
“Hey, a lot of these GMs play golf, so you get a lot of talking done on the golf course,” Tallon told NHL.com. “A lot can happen on the golf course.”
So Tallon, who used to play on the Canadian PGA Tour and still works as a golf pro in the summers, kept the clubs out and his game has become the envy of every other golfing GM in the NHL.
Tallon, though, hopes the other 29 managers will soon become envious of his team, too, and if the early returns mean anything there are already hints of jealousy.
The hockey revival going on in the Windy City these days has put Chicago back on the map as a hot destination, and while Tallon may lure a big name free agent or two into Blackhawks uniforms when the signing season begins July 1, the Entry Draft is where the Quebec native has done his best work so far.
Tallon’s first-round pick from last year – Patrick Kane
, who went No. 1 overall – took home the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s Rookie of the Year last week. His first pick in 2006 – Jonathan Toews
, third overall – was the second runner-up.
Tallon’s first-ever draft pick, highly touted winger Jack Skille from the University of Wisconsin, is expected to be one of the League’s top rookies next season. He was the seventh overall selection in 2005.
The Blackhawks pick 11th overall Friday night in Ottawa.
“We’ve talked about these kids and kept saying we have a great future, but now the fans are starting to see some of it,” Tallon said. “Talk is cheap, but now they’re starting to see what we’ve been talking about so it’s easier to sell.”
Tallon said winning the draft lottery last season set everything in motion.
“That thing seemed to turn all the energy in a positive direction for us,” he said. “We had drafted Jonathan Toews
the year before, but since winning the lottery a lot of positive things have happened as far as our future.”
Tallon is downright giddy that he gets to steer the Blackhawks’ new era. It’s why he left his cushy job in the broadcast booth to be the assistant GM early in the 2003-04 season. He took over as the head man in charge when the lockout broke.
“I had a nice gig, but I love this,” Tallon said. “I wanted to help rebuild this team. I felt if this opportunity ever came … down deep I always wanted to do this for the challenge, the excitement, the passion, the ups and downs.
“I had a cushy job,” he continued. “Broadcasting and playing golf is a pretty comfortable lifestyle, but this is what I wanted. This gets your blood boiling. It’s going to be rewarding when we get to where we think we’re going to be.”
“We were 28 years in a row in the playoffs and all of a sudden we hit hard times. You’re not quite sure why, but our focus now is to rebuild our farm system. It’s pretty deep and it’s starting to get really strong. This will be our priority, build from the basement up to have a strong foundation to get back to the way things used to be with Chicago.” - Dale Tallon
The challenge facing Tallon when he took over as GM was enormous. The Blackhawks had fallen into the NHL’s abyss. After making the playoffs for 28 straight seasons from 1970-97, they had been there just once (2002) in the seven seasons before Tallon’s hiring. Worse yet, the Hawks were developing little in the way of prospects and struggling to keep their own free agents, or to lure any big names.
“We were 28 years in a row in the playoffs and all of a sudden we hit hard times,” Tallon said. “You’re not quite sure why, but our focus now is to rebuild our farm system. It’s pretty deep and it’s starting to get really strong. This will be our priority, build from the basement up to have a strong foundation to get back to the way things used to be with Chicago.”
But in saying that Tallon admits the organization had to learn yet another hard lesson in order to grasp that philosophy. Tallon spent his first month as GM doling out money to free agents Nikolai Khabibulin, Adrian Aucoin, Martin Lapointe and Jaroslav Spacek. With Tyler Arnason, Mark Bell and Kyle Calder also in the mix the expectations were high.
Chicago, though, won just 26 games and finished 30 points out of the playoffs in 14th place in the Western Conference. Only the St. Louis Blues and Pittsburgh Penguins had worse seasons.
“We signed a lot of free agents not anticipating the drastic rule changes and we were cut a little there,” Tallon said. “I take full responsibility for that, but that process has allowed us to get Toews and Kane. We’ll take the positives.”
The Hawks still haven’t made the playoffs under Tallon, but they’re creeping closer as their talent grows and farm system improves. They won 31 games in 2006-07 and improved to 40 wins this past season when the revival truly began.
Blackhawks’ youngsters Kane, Toews, Skille, Dave Bolland
, Adam Burish, Kris Versteeg, Jordan Hendry and Jake Dowell all scored their first NHL goals this past season.
“We might have been nine players away (in 2006-07),” Tallon said, “and we’re only maybe three or four away now.”
The development of kids was only part of the success of this past season.Patrick Sharp
, who Tallon acquired two months into the 2005-06 season, not only put together his finest season as a pro – 36 goals and 26 assists – he signed a long-term contract in January.
“There is talk on the street, a buzz,” Sharp said. “It’s something I want to be a part of in the future.”
Many of the Blackhawks’ blueliners had big years, too. Brent Sopel and Brent Seabrook
showed they wanted to be a part of the renaissance by extending their contracts for another three years. Duncan Keith
became an All-Star. Cam Barker, the third overall pick in 2004, showed some promise in 45 games.
And Dustin Byfuglien, a D-man turned winger, was one of the biggest surprises in the League with 19 goals and 17 assists in 67 games.
Tallon believes the success of this past season – the Hawks also announced every home game would be televised locally and their attendance at the United Center skyrocketed from roughly 12,700 per game in ’06-07 to 16,800 per game in ’07-08 – will grab the attention of the League’s big-name free agents who go on the market July 1.
“I think a lot of guys now are starting to understand and see the direction we’re headed,” Tallon said. “They’re starting to see the attitude and approach we have now has changed dramatically. The perceptions are all gone. The reality is we’re committed to winning and a lot of players, free agents, are starting to take notice.”
The young guys credit Tallon for the turnaround.
“He has that ability to lighten things up in the locker room and guys enjoy being around him,” Toews said. “He doesn’t make you feel like it’s business all the time, but he’s got the players’ respect so when he comes in and tells you something you’re going to listen. What he does and says goes a long way with us.”
Kane called Tallon a “player’s GM,” because of his sense of humor and “any time you talk to him he shows you the confidence that he has in you. It shows why he drafted you. He really cares about the team and about winning games.”Contact Dan Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org