From today's vantage point, the 82-game NHL schedule seems to stretch endlessly into the distance, the view of the finish line obscured by a series of 10-day road trips and mid-week battles against overly familiar division rivals.
But the truth is that the end, like an object in a rear view mirror, is a lot closer than it appears. In the parity-driven post-lockout era, four or six points gained -- or lost -- in October are just as precious as the ones battled for down the stretch. Teams have relatively little time to determine if perceived shortcomings are temporary blips or potentially devastating trends.
That might explain why the Blackhawks waited just four games to dismiss head coach
More on that later.
First, let's consider Savard and his replacement. It didn't take Bowman long to recognize that Savard's strength was motivational rather than structural. That was fine last season, when Savard was tasked with ushering 16 players into their first NHL games and he kept the group competitive right through the final weekend. But his take-no-chances system failed to make the most of one of the team's most obvious assets: the speed of its young forwards. Special teams, a constant source of frustration last season, have continued to struggle. And there were questions about Savard's use of some players, particularly promising power forward
In Quenneville, the Hawks have a more experienced hand on the wheel, but it's hard to say that he's a strong choice for this team. He'll certainly instill a focused defensive scheme, and that won't hurt. But --
But Quenneville's the man now for better or worse, and now that he's in place, the spotlight falls directly on the checkered history of Tallon. As GM, he's done an excellent job bringing in young talent, drafting wisely, making smart deals for forwards
Tallon has to be looking somewhat admiringly at the Phoenix Coyotes. Although their roster also relies heavily on blue-chippers like
Adding experience like that would win Tallon points with Bowman. From the very start in St. Louis, Bowman's teams have revolved around veteran players, and while the old master has to like the potential of this group in Chicago, he's probably uneasy with the mix. If Tallon fails to make the necessary adjustments, especially adding a legitimate second line center, he might not be around to see the Hawks play their biggest game of the season -- on New Year's Day at Wrigley Field against the Red Wings.
The Hawks might have some intriguing options available to them in that case.
That shows how far the Hawks have come over the past year. What happens during the next few weeks under Queneville will show how much farther they have to go.