August 21, 2014
NEW YORK — Dale Tallon was holding court on the fourth floor of the Westin in Times Square, surrounded by about a dozen reporters who were, yes, interested in his Florida Panthers. Tallon freely confirmed the six candidates for the Panthers’ vacant coaching job, which include recently fired Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. He spoke openly about his plans for the No. 1 overall pick in the NHL draft later this month, dangling it for all the other GMs to see. He addressed the never-ending debate about expanding replay.
Few GMs left in the league are as open and transparent as Tallon, the former Blackhawks GM who was the architect of the 2010 Stanley Cup champions and who assembled the core that added the 2013 title to its resume. And he’s a good fit for a dormant Florida franchise, which needs a cheerleader and an attention-grabber as much as it needs to rebuild a roster that finished 29th in the league.
“I’m very open,” Tallon said regarding the top pick. “All I’m looking to do is make a move that benefits our franchise. End of story.”
Tallon already has made several such moves, many of them involving Hawks talent that he originally drafted or acquired. There are five ex-Hawks on the Panthers roster. That includes 2010 champs Brian Campbell and Tomas Kopecky, but it also includes three highly regarded Hawks prospects — center Brandon Pirri, winger Jimmy Hayes and defenseman Dylan Olsen.
Pirri, a gifted offensive player, had fallen out of favor with Hawks coach Joel Quenneville. Tallon plucked him away for two draft picks. Hayes and Olsen were stuck in the Hawks system behind a logjam of talented forwards and defensemen. Tallon got them for Kris Versteeg. Tallon drafted Pirri and Olsen in 2009, just two weeks before he was demoted to senior advisor and replaced by Stan Bowman. Hayes was acquired shortly after Tallon left for Florida in May of 2010.
It helps, of course, to have a good working relationship with Bowman. But more than anything, Tallon liked these guys to begin with, so he jumped at the chance to get them again. The goal, of course, is to build from scratch what he built in Chicago. It would certainly be a boost if he can land a Patrick Kane or a Jonathan Toews with the No. 1 pick in Philadelphia on June 27, but he’s also looking to his past to help build the Panthers’ future.
“Obviously, having some history with them makes it a little bit easier,” he told the Sun-Times before Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday. “You don’t have to go through as many processes to understand who they are, and test them, and get to know them better. [The Hawks] are deep, and we’re trying to do the same thing we did there, which is be deep in our farm. They’re all pieces to the puzzle that are important to our future.”
Pirri (23 years old) had seven goals and seven assists in 21 games with the Panthers. Hayes (24) had 11 goals and seven assists in 53 games, and Olsen (23) had three goals and nine assists in 44 games — both Hayes and Olsen bringing a strong physical game, too.
“Pirri and Hayes and Olsen are good players, but they’ve still got a long way to go,” Tallon said. “But we’ve got a lot of kids, we’re a young team. We’re rebuilding to a degree, and they fit into our future.”
And they didn’t really fit in the Hawks’ future. Pirri worked well for stretches as Kane’s center, but his defensive play wasn’t up to Quenneville’s standards, and a source said that he had attitude problems that clashed with the coaching staff, as well. Hayes, a power forward with great potential, was unable to stick with the Hawks in three stints. With Ben Smith’s emergence out of training camp, and Jeremy Morin, Joakim Nordstrom and Teuvo Teravainen knocking on the door, there simply wasn’t a spot for him. Same with Olsen, a talented blue-liner who would have been fighting with Adam Clendening, Stephen Johns and Klas Dahlbeck to be the next man up.
In Chicago, they were talented prospects with no clear path to the NHL. In Florida, they’re everyday players.
“I think sometimes there’s a right time to make a trade,” Bowman said at the trade deadline, shortly after dealing Pirri. “Just with the status of certain players, if you wait too long, you might not be able to get back what you want. We have some good young players coming. I think Brandon’s going to be a good NHL player. He was great for us the last couple seasons in Rockford. I think he needs an opportunity to play.”
Tallon gave him that opportunity, just as he did for Olsen and Hayes. And you can be sure he’ll be on the phone with Bowman again over the next couple of weeks, always looking to improve his team, always eager to go back to the future.
“You’re always looking to improve,” Tallon said. “Always.”