Last week we told you that Dale Tallon, then the Chicago Blackhawks GM, was going to be the fall guy for the mishandled mailing of contract offers, that it was going to cost him, and it would happen sooner than even he expected.
Hindsight being what it is, it's only right to tell you that it happened even sooner than we expected.
We figured the Hawks would milk the era of good feeling that comes with a couple of playoff round wins after a near lifetime of wandering with the bottom feeders. We thought management would let the fan base enjoy the afterglow, make sure all of the new season-ticket money was collected, and then, at the first opportunity, whack Tallon and put an end to what everyone knew (but few people would admit) was an unworkable relationship.
Team president John McDonough didn't like Tallon, and virtually everyone in hockey, including Tallon, knew it. From the moment he assumed his position, McDonough has pretty much gotten everything he wanted, and long before that little contract snafu came along he had Tallon in his sights.
Once Tallon took "full responsibility" for a mistake that likely wasn't anywhere near his making, McDonough moved in much the way that the Great White shark sized up the skinny-dipper in the opening scene of the classic summer (non)beach movie Jaws. The only difference is that Tallon -- or whatever is left of him -- survives. That's a little unusual in hockey. Once you've been scissored, you're usually left to wash up on someone else's shore or, if you're really incompetent or don't have any friends in the game, you just drift away never to be heard from again.
It's a little different in Chicago where McDonough's "new age" business philosophies seem to have taken hold. People aren't really people in the Hawks' business model, they are "like family" and the company really isn't a company. It's "like a family" and "family members" aren't fired, they are simply moved to the back row of the photo even if they are about as welcome as Joe Jackson on a visit to the Neverland Ranch.
Lest we forget, head coach Denis Savard wasn't fired after four games at the start of last season. He, like Tallon, was simply reassigned and went willingly to the role of "ambassador" for the Hawks, shaking hands and kissing babies and doing media interviews about how great it all is with the suddenly re-welcomed Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita and all the rest of deceased owner Bill Wirtz's prodigal sons, except Bob Pulford.
We're interested in seeing whether Tallon keeps the happy-face he put on during Wednesday's conference call with media (another "new age" tactic because media have become pretty astute at reading faces and body language, neither of which can be seen on "Hawkphone"). He could take the next bus to a team that has use for his lifetime of hockey experience, but that's not the real issue.
Tallon is a good man in the eyes of the media mostly because he is media-friendly and partly because he did a good job of rebuilding the hockey portion of what had been a dysfunctional franchise for decades. He did it in a relatively short time. Media loves guys like that and defends them with vigor. We tend to gloss over their mistakes, butTallon made his share. He wasn't fired just for the delayed contract mailings, but for a number of issues regarding salary cap matters and a somewhat loose managerial style that clashed mightly with the aggressive yet button-downed McDonough's.
Still, these things happen all the time. Despite all the glowing words to the contrary and even the somewhat bizarre "he's 58-years-old" speech (a likely age discrimination suit if we ever heard one) from team owner Rocky Wirtz, Tallon lost a power fight with McDonough and has been put as close to the curb as one can get while not being picked up by the garbage truck.
So the real question is: where do the Hawks go from here?
They have a couple of Bowmans in the house, and that's not bad. Stan Bowman, the new GM, has a lifetime of hockey experience thanks to being the son of legendary coach Scott Bowman. With his dad on board as a consultant, the former assistant GM can be expected to do a good job. He's not as well-liked in the hockey community as Tallon, but that's largely because he's not as well known.
Tallon had a long playing career, made a relatively seamless transfer to the broadcast booth, and dabbled in scouting and almost every hockey job before becoming GM. Bowman is more an up-through-the-ranks sort who spent a goodly amount of time in a cubicle, but he's said to have invested it wisely and made an effort to master the detail stuff that Tallon largely ignored. Bowman now gets the chance to show what he's learned.
According to people who know him, Bowman has the ability to take the best of what his father has to offer, but not get lost in his lengthy shadow. That's good because the elder Bowman is not unlike McDonough. He knows what he wants when he wants it and nothing gets in the way of his straight-line march to getting it. Scotty's had a load of success doing things his way and if it were just the him and McDonough going at it, more than sparks would surely fly.
So it will be up to Bowman the younger (36) to temper all that. His first job --undoing some of the contract problems that Tallon created with super-sized spending that left the Hawks in a cap knot. Those might be the most difficult challenges he'll face. He needs to find a creative way of keeping the core of the good young players who will soon be demanding superstar money or walking away to free-agent riches, and surround them with the kind of role players that allow for the success that the Red Wings and Penguins have had in recent seasons.
Having a dad and consultant who just happens to have 10 Stanley Cup rings (and, yes, the father did name his son after the Cup) is a darn good way to start, the equivalent of found money especially when it comes to creative ways to apply it to a salary cap.
Bowman the younger will have to show his mettle in making deals, and develop even more talent for drafting and developing players, not easy now that the Hawks aren't landing first overall picks any more. The most difficult task will be climbing out from behind Tallon's shadow when Tallon and many of his supporters are still casting them about the house. He'll also have to keep McDonough at arm's length -- if not completely out of the hockey department -- but if he has any talent for handling a whip and a chair, that shouldn't be impossible. He may even, from time to time, remind his father that this is Stan Bowman's team and that it will be run as he, not Scotty, sees fit.
That's a lot for a newbie GM, even one who graduated from Notre Dame with a degree in finance. There are hockey people who would likely bet against him, but Bowman the younger is made of stern stuff. He's had two serious bouts with cancer and survived radical surgery. There are no guarantees, but he goes to work every day and seems to be beating the disease. Once you've stared down death, everything else, including a lion in the president's office and a legendary father who can sit in any chair, including the owner's box, are lesser challenges.
I, for one, would never bet against Stan Bowman.
Traditionally players do a duck-and-cover routine whenever someone in the hockey department is shown the door (or in the case of the Blackhawks, a "reassignment", but not Marty Havlat. In a series of "tweets," postings on websites and even a few radio interviews, the former Hawk (and one Tallon was said to be interested in retaining), blasted McDonough and the Hawks organization.
''My negotiation with Chicago was not between Dale and my agent, it was between Dale and McDonough,'' Havlat told Canadian website TSN.ca. ''Why? Because McDonough couldn't stand that Dale was so successful and getting the credit for building the Hawks from a last-place team to making the conference final in three short years. Remember, we were also the youngest team in the NHL last year.''
Havlat eventually signed with Minnesota and admits that Tallon was "like a father to me," so it's difficult not to assign his rants to the family matters bin when he went on to say: "'I was too closely identified with Dale. McDonough knew long ago he was going to fire Dale. He wanted someone he could claim as his own. He wanted to stand up at the convention and claim credit for signing this guy or that guy.''
He also said: "'The players loved Dale, and they are with him. Every single player on that team is with Dale. I still talk to the guys all the time. Hockey players know a phony when they see one. ... I am really disappointed Rocky Wirtz would let something like this happen.''
That alone provides more than your usual "all we can do is play" response.
For the record, McDonough, who does deserve major kudos for his marketing and fan base-building success, acknowledged that Tallon was a popular figure with the players and the city of Chicago and that Havlat is entitled to his opinion. He did say in a radio interview on WSCR AM670 that the player "may be misinformed."
Tomorrow is the stated deadline for Tampa Bay Lightning co-owner Len Barrie to come up with commissioner Gary Bettman's order of $10 million to cover his perceived share of the debt charged to the team for the just-completed season. That Bettman imposed a gag order on the proceeding and gave no indication of what or even if there would be a penalty should Barrie fail to comply indicates that this likely will be resolved in relatively short order.
Barrie, a former hockey player who also developed and mostly owns a major golf resort on Canada's west coast, is reportedly able to secure a substantial amount by putting the Great Bear Resort up for sale. Barrie is said to be on the cusp of closing a deal for $350 million in securities for parts of the Victoria, British Columbia property and that money acquired from it will be instrumental in covering the Lightning's cash call.
The money is said to be coming from a Dubai investment firm that is raising cash to buy into the resort. The deal won't be done until sometime in the fall, but it's expected that Barrie will get a letter of commitment from the firm and use it to solicit credit for the funds necessary to make his payment on the Lightning. The NHL will lilely accept it.
Barrie has run afoul of both his partner, Oren Koules, and the league regarding what his managerial rights are, especially since he appears to be shy on funds. Koules has reportedly funded much of the team's losses, but a dispute regarding who is responsible landed both men in the commissioner's office earlier this year. Both owners have also had difficulty repaying the team's previous ownership, which still provided much of the funding in the original sale.
The choice of Jacques Lemaire to coach the New Jersey Devils may be regarded as a "back to the future" move by GM Lou Lamoriello. It also looks like a slap in the face to longtime presumed coach-in-waiting John MacLean.
MacLean, a former Devils standout, has been their No.1 assistant for seven seasons and been bypassed as a head-coaching candidate three times. But Lamoriello never lets personal relationships get in the way of team decisions. Hee's betting that former Devils bench boss Lemaire is the right coach for the right time for a team that has struggled to get out of the first round of late.
Lamoriello is often accused of going to often with "gut" decisions, especially regarding coaching, but in defending the choice of Lemaire. he pointed out that the wildly successful head coach is a renowned teacher who works well with veterans.
Given that the Devils' roster is going to change significantly next season, with an influx of youth replacing the veterans who left via trade, free agency or age limitations, Lemaire does appear to be a good fit. He's a defense-first coach, something the Devils got away from in their two years with Brent Sutter at the helm, and that cost them dearly in their recent back-to-back first-round losses.
Lemaire can help fix that, and not necessarily at the expense of offense. He's labeled as a defensive specialist, but as a player and coach, he showed both talent and innovation regarding offense. It's just that offense can't come at the expense of taking care of one's one end first.
Despite all the talk of The New NHL, teams that are devoid of the talent of say the Penguins and Red Wings have been making the move back to defensive hockey the past few seasons. With no red flags from the league or the largely neutered Competition Committee, that trend is likely to continue and Lamoriello knows it.
As for MacLean stepping down to coach the Devils' AHL affiliate, well, Lamoriello's history is one of taking care of those loyal to the organization. MacLean has shown that he's willing to accept that and stay with long-range goals rather than move to another organization.
In Lamoriello's world, loyalty has its rewards and they are more than just frequent bussing points. Look for MacLean to get his chance to coach the Devils at a later date after he's polished himself in Lowell.