Everything looked to be going so well for the Chicago Blackhawks.
After most of the past decade out of the playoffs and a fan base that was dwindling down to the diehards, the management and ownership of the Original Six franchise started turning the corner a few seasons ago.
An abundance of high draft picks has resulted in a gushing pipeline of young talent, the next generation of Wirtz ownership started giving back to the fans and expectations rose above sea level for the first time since the days of Jeremy Roenick and Chris Chelios.
Then, when Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews arrived last season and electrified the city and league with their rookie exploits, the Blackhawks got greedy.
Rather than develop the likes of Cam Barker and Corey Crawford for the blueline and goal and continue the steady upward ascension, Hawks GM Dale Tallon overpaid for available free agents Brian Campbell and Cristobal Huet. He wanted it all to happen right away.
Then, when it looked like the chemistry wasn’t clicking immediately, the team fired coach Denis Savard, a Hawks icon and a central figure in the progression of Kane and Toews. Both Savard and Hawks fans deserved better. If Savard wasn’t the man for the next stage of development, why not dismiss him in the summer rather than embarrass the organization with a ridiculous firing now?
Tallon acted harshly and imprudently when he signed Campbell for $57 million over eight years and Huet for $22.5 million over four years. After years of painstaking building, he put the quick fix at the top of his job list.
If Campbell’s name was Pronger or Chara or Phaneuf, then a long-term, big-money deal makes sense. But Campbell isn’t one of the top six or eight defensemen in the league. His contract will surely cause headaches down the road when it’s used as a barometer for other Hawks deals.
And $5.625 million a season for Huet, who isn’t even one of the top 10 or 12 goalies in the league? That made no sense when Nikolai Khabibulin is already on the books for $6.75 million. Is Huet really that much of an upgrade? And what does this do for prospect Crawford, who was ready for NHL backup duty?
Those big contracts are going to have a domino effect on the rest of the team. What are Kane, Toews and Duncan Keith going to demand when they’re up for contracts in 2010? Campbell bucks?
And how do the Hawks justify Barker, the third overall draft pick in 2004, not developing into an NHL player. Was he a flop waiting to happen or did he not receive the appropriate mentoring?
So should we really be surprised the Hawks fired the coach? It has all the fingerprints of a franchise that tried to get too good too quickly.
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior special editions editor and a regular contributor to THN.com. You can read his Top 10 list on Wednesdays and his blog each weekend.
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