1. Tallon replaced as Blackhawks GM
It had been speculated at various points during the season, with the rumors growing more rampant in light of a recent front office snafu, yet news that the Chicago Blackhawks replaced their GM this week following a season in which the young club went to the Western Conference Final is still a little jarring.
The club announced Tuesday that Dale Tallon, who took over as general manager in June of 2005, was relieved of his duties and named a senior advisor of hockey operations. Former assistant Stan Bowman will succeed him as GM. Bowman is the son of Hall of Famer Scotty Bowman, himself a senior advisor of hockey operations with the Blackhawks. Needless to say, the timing of the reshuffling is a bit dubious. Teams that make a GM change in the offseason usually do so prior to the draft, not two weeks after the opening of free agency. It would seem as though a recent, and rather costly error by the front office ultimately led to Tallon’s
Prior to the July 1 deadline for presenting qualifying offers to restricted free agents, the Blackhawks mailed offers out to five of their RFAs. NHL rules strictly prohibit such paperwork from being mailed - the league demands it be faxed or couriered to its recipient. Because they were sent improperly, the offers were received by the players after the deadline.
As a result, the club was forced to spend more money than expected to keep the five players, lest they become unrestricted free agents. It was a rather foolish error, sure, but the ramifications could be very costly for the team down the road.
Ultimately, it would seem, the mistake was the final nail in Tallon’s managerial coffin. However, TSN’s Darren Dreger reports that team president John McDonough had been preparing for some time for the right moment in which to axe Tallon.
Some close to the organization believe McDonough was looking for an opportunity to make his move which was made very difficult by Chicago's trip to the western conference final and a season most around the league would consider a great success.
There's no question the Blackhawks' recent fumble with qualifying offers (that weren't filed on time for the team's restricted free agents) was an enormous unforced error and while it has been suggested Tallon wasn't responsible for the blunder, as GM he took responsibility.
Was this mistake - as costly as it turned out to be - really his undoing?
Dreger also reports that former Blackhawk Martin Havlat, signed this offseason by the Minnesota Wild, believes he was not re-signed by the club because McDonough wanted to make his own imprint on the team’s roster.
"My negotiation with Chicago was not between Dale and my agent, it was between Dale and McDonough," Havlat said "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.
"I was too closely identified with Dale," he continued. "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."
For a perennial losing team that had seemed to finally turn the corner, this offseason of discontent is nothing if not troubling. To many in the hockey world, the Blackhawks are gaining a reputation as a ruthless organization that doesn’t give employees a fair shake. Just ask former coach Denis Savard, who was fired a mere four games into the 2008-2009 season. It was widely reported that captain Jonathan Toews took Savard’s firing especially hard, and one has to wonder how he and the other young leaders of this club will react to Tallon’s
sacking reassignment. The players were close to the GM, as evidenced by their surprise attendance at Tallon’s father’s funeral in December.
For his part, Tallon said he is “comfortable” with his new role and claimed to feel “fortunate” that he will have an opportunity to help the ‘Hawks win a Stanley Cup some day. The ousted GM also threw his support behind Bowman, who he said was more than qualified to take over the position. It’s precisely the kind of response you would expect from a man who is loyal to his organization and his players. By all accounts, Tallon is just that. You can expect the 58-year-old to be back running an NHL team sometime soon.
As for the Blackhawks, with all the recent turmoil, the relationship between players and management in Chicago will be worth keeping an eye on this season.
2. NHL Releases 2009-2010 Schedule
All games are not created equal. An NHL season consists of 1,230 contests, and while each and every one has the potential to be a thriller, some are clearly better bets than others. For example, a rematch between Stanley Cup finalists Pittsburgh and Detroit (January 31) is much more likely to entertain than a tilt between the Lightning and Thrashers in the season’s opening month (Oct. 3).
With that in mind, here’s a look at the top 5 most intriguing games on this season’s NHL schedule.
- Philadelphia @ Boston on Jan. 1 - This year’s installment of the Winter Classic is set to take place at Boston’s Fenway Park, and if the past three classics are any indication, it won’t disappoint. There’s something so organic, so right about watching hockey outdoors, and the classic is really the one regular season game each year that garners national attention. This year’s game features two teams with eyes on the Eastern Conference’s Stanley Cup berth.
It’s just too bad the NHL didn’t deliver on the rumor that this year’s New Years Day celebration would be a doubleheader. Speculation in Calgary is that the Flames’ January 2 tilt with the Maple Leafs was originally earmarked as the second Winter Classic game.
- Detroit @ Pittsburgh on Jan. 31 – Cup rematches are always exciting, but given that these two teams have tangled in the finals twice in a row (and might again this year), this first of two matchups is must see TV.
- Detroit @ Chicago on April 11 – On the last day of the regular season, these division foes will play a game that could very well have big-time playoff implications. Marian Hossa’s defection to Chicago this month will add a little spice to each and every ‘Hawks/Wings matchup this year.
- Pittsburgh @ New York Islanders on Oct. 3 – The Next One meets the Next Next One. That’s right, John Tavares’ first NHL game comes at home to Sid the Kid and his Penguins. Don’t expect the Islanders to be good this season, but Tavares’ debut merits attention.
- Montreal @ Anaheim on March 7 – The former Habs captain will face his former team for the first time in what will likely be an emotional game for the resilient Finn. It’s just too bad it won’t take place in La Belle Province.
Due to the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, the league will take an extended break from February 15 until March 1. Also because of the Olympics, the Canucks will endure an NHL-record 14 game road trip beginning with a game in Toronto on January 30 and ending when they return home to face Ottawa on March 13.
3. Back in the New Jersey Groove
The Devils welcomed a familiar face back to the fold this week as Jacques Lemaire was introduced as the team’s new head coach.
In his first stint with the club (1993-1998), Lemaire led the Devils to a 199-122-57 regular season record, four playoff appearances and one Stanley Cup in five seasons. Lemaire has also coached the Montreal Canadiens (1983-1985) and the Minnesota Wild (2000-2009). Lemaire’s teams are renowned for their trapping, defensive style, but as Colin Stephenson of the Newark Star-Ledger reports, GM Lou Lamoriello does not expect the Devils to regress to a lesser offensive game.
Lamoriello insisted that Lemaire won't bring back boring, neutral zone trap hockey, as practiced by the Devils under Lemaire the first time around. The GM pointed out that the Devils led the NHL in scoring in 1993-94 in Lemaire's first year, and were among the top-scoring teams in the Stanley Cup year of 1995. He also said that in the era of clutch-and-grab hockey, the Devils were almost among the league's least-penalized teams.
"Jacques' system is about angles, not clutching and grabbing," Lamoriello said.
The Devils also named former player and assistant coach John MacLean, himself a candidate for the job, head coach of their farm team in Lowell, Massachusetts and promised that Scott Stevens will take a more active role in the organization as a roving instructor.
Bill Duke is an author of Puck Prospectus. You can contact Bill by clicking here or click here to see Bill's other articles.