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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.
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