Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Bowmans take control of the Blackhawks

I’m not sure how to describe the sacking of Dale Tallon – hostile takeover, coup d’etat? It caught some people by surprise but others have been expecting it for some time. Tallon recently messed up qualifying offers for about 6 young players that cost the team extra cap space (that the team could ill afford) in order to make a union grievance go away. That was given as the reason for his dismissal but there is some history here that can’t be ignored.

The Chicago Blackhawks were a dysfunctional hockey team for many years under the ownership of Bill Wirtz. He was a stubborn, interfering, cheap owner much like Toronto’s Harold Ballard. Not surprising, the Blackhawk’s Stanley Cup drought is even longer than the Leafs’. For years Wirtz had Bob Pulford around to carry out his dirty work. Pulford was a loyal soldier who tried to do the right thing but never was allowed to. Fan favourites were traded away (Belfour, Chelios, Roenick) because of salary demands. One thing that Pulford got right was promoting Dale Tallon as GM in 2005 after serving as his assistant. Tallon did a masterful job at rebuilding the franchise. He made some excellent trades (Kris Versteeg, Patrick Sharp) and drafted some excellent young talent (Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane). He made some bad moves (what GM doesn’t) such as overpaying for Cristobal Huet and Brian Campbell last summer but it was Tallon that built Chicago into a Cup contender.

In 2007, Bill Wirtz passed away and his son, Rocky, took over. Rocky was well aware of his father’s shortcomings and was determined not repeat his mistakes. Pulford was too closely connected with his father’s tenure and removed from the Blackhawk side of the business. John McDonough was hired away from the Chicago Cubs to run the Hawks but he had no hockey experience. Scotty Bowman, whose son, Stan, was already working in the Blackhawk organization, was approached last summer and agreed to serve as a senior advisor. However, what was most appealing for Scotty was the opportunity to help his son’s career. The takeover began almost immediately. Holdover coach, Denis Savard was fired six games into the season although you can’t criticize the job Joel Quenneville has done since he got the Blackhawks into the Western Conference finals.

It was only a matter of time for Tallon to go as well because he was not a McDonaugh “guy” and too closely tied to the previous regime. As recently as April 30, 2009 in an interview with ESPN, McDonough was raving about then-GM Dale Tallon.

"Dale has such an easy, relaxed style that he sometimes flies under the radar, but he's the architect of this team ... As much as we talk about the resurgence and renaissance of the Chicago Blackhawks and how the fan base has come back and the games are on television, it has to be the product on the ice.”

Interestingly, it appears that Stan Bowman’s role up to now has been to manage the team’s payroll under the salary cap. However, that has been one of the Blackhawks’ problem to date and should get worse next season. Although Scotty Bowman has no peers in the coaching fraternity, his record as a manager has been spotty. But this is Scotty Bowman’s show now. I’m sure he will figure it all out.