PHILADELPHIA – Brian Campbell still remembers the look on general manager Dale Tallon’s surprised face.
The star defenceman and the rest of the Chicago Blackhawks were often in the same place with their boss—just never in this place.
The location was a funeral home in rural Ontario, and the timing was off, too. The Blackhawks were supposed to be on a plane after a November 2008 road game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, not paying their respects at the wake of Tallon’s aptly named father, Stanley.
“When we walked into the funeral home, to see his face light up it was something we knew that we did the right thing,” Campbell said Friday, hours before Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals. “Everybody has gone through those things, and our dads mean a lot when you’re growing up as a hockey player.
“He’s done enough for us that we owe it to him.”
Tallon lost his job as Blackhawks GM last summer shortly after Chicago made the first of back-to-back trips to the Western Conference finals. He held the position from June 2005 until he was demoted after missing a deadline for sending qualifying offers to restricted free agents. That led to the NHL Players’ Association’s filing of a grievance against the Blackhawks that prompted Tallon’s dismissal.
It didn’t end the Blackhawks tenure for Tallon, largely credited with Chicago’s NHL resurgence from the bottom of the league to championship contender. Tallon signed a two-year deal to stay on as an adviser, but less than a year later he left for the opportunity to rebuild the Florida Panthers as their GM.
“The thing I am most proud of is how they act off the ice and how they get along,” Tallon said of the Blackhawks. “It’s a great character group, and that’s what I want to build in Florida. They really support each other. They’re still a young team and they’ve got a bright future.”
If the Blackhawks win the Cup within the next week, they will do it without Tallon, who didn’t stay with the club long enough to see how this roll through the playoffs turns out.
“I don’t live in the past. I am moving forward,” Tallon said. “The glass is half full. That’s the way I am. You take a bad swing on the tee, you’ve got to forget about it. It’s the next shot that is most important. I take that philosophy in everything I do.”
Tallon’s track record as a talent evaluator and architect is impressive. He took now-captain Jonathan Toews with the third pick in the 2006 draft and nabbed Patrick Kane with the No. 1 overall choice a year later.
That pair combined for 55 goals and 156 points in the just-completed regular season when the Blackhawks won the Central Division and claimed the No. 2 seed in the West. Toews has been the NHL’s top playoff performer with 27 points, heading into Friday. Kane ranked third with 22.
“He brought a lot of guys into this room,” forward Kris Versteeg said. “That’s why you see a young and exciting team today.”
Throw in a shrewd deal with Philadelphia for breakout forward Patrick Sharp, the signing of top free agents Campbell and Marian Hossa, and the discovery of goalie Antti Niemi, who was originally brought on board to be a depth player in the organization, and suddenly Chicago became a real threat to win it all.
“When I was drafted by Chicago, I remember he was the guy doing all the interviewing,” defenceman Duncan Keith said. “I’m not exactly sure what his title was at the time, but I got the feeling that he really pushed for them to draft me.
“I’m thankful for him for that. A lot of guys have stories like that where he’s behind the players and he really cares for his players and believes in them. That’s the type of guy he is. It’s great to see him being able to get that opportunity with Florida.”
Now that the Blackhawks are less than a handful of wins away from their first Stanley Cup title since 1961, the players Tallon left behind still keep him close to their hearts and minds.
“Sometimes it’s the reality of the business,” the 22-year-old Toews said. “You realize as a young player that not everything stays the same over time. But especially when somebody puts a lot of faith in you and they give you the opportunities that Daledid, it’s tough.
“You feel kind of personally responsible sometimes, too. It’s tough to see a person like that go. Great to see him get a second chance.”
Tallon was very close to the Blackhawks this week when the series shifted from Chicago to Philadelphia. He was in town to attend his first NHL GM meeting since taking over the Panthers in late May.
Even though the Blackhawks were getting into the meat of their playoff run, they took time to reach out to Tallon just as they did two years ago when they made that long bus ride from Toronto to Gravenhurst, Ont., for the funeral of Tallon’s father after they beat the Maple Leafs in overtime.
“There was probably 75 per cent of the guys that texted him after he got the job,” said Campbell, who signed an eight-year deal with Chicago in 2008. “We’re all happy for him. He’s a friend, a guy that you look at and have respect for. You go to him for advice if you ever need anything.
“He is just honest. That’s the best thing about him. He is honest, straightforward. He doesn’t tell you any lies. You believe a guy like that because he wears his heart on his sleeve. That’s the thing we all love about him.”
Tallon was part of the Blackhawks family for four decades as a player, broadcaster and front office staple.
After being selected by the Vancouver Canucks with the No. 2 overall pick in the 1970 NHL draft, the two-time all-star was traded to the Blackhawks in 1973. Following a 10-season career marked by injuries, Tallon retired in 1980.
He then broadcast Blackhawks games for 16 seasons before joining the team’s executive level. It’s no surprise he still has his eyes on Chicago’s title run as he embarks on his new job.
“I’ve been 33 wonderful years with that organization and I’ve got nothing but great things to say about them,” the humble Tallon said. “I’m happy they’re doing well. It’s great. It’s helped me. It raised my stock and I was able to get another position.
“It would’ve been tougher probably if they hadn’t have done well, as far as my future is concerned, but the fact that they’re winning has been a plus for me.”