John Jaeckel: Tallon Vs. Bowman, Settled Finally. Sort Of.

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While Hawk fans wait to see which version of the Hawks will emerge next on their long Western road trip, the debate has been reopened on my message board.

Who is really the architect of the Hawks and deserves credit for the two Stanley Cups, not to mention an organization and talent pool poised to be in Cup contention for at least another 3-5 years?

In one corner, former NHL defenseman, Hawk color analyst and scratch golfer, now Florida GM Dale Tallon.

In the other, Notre Dame alumnus and son of arguably the greatest coach in NHL history, Stan Bowman.

But wait, there’s this odd, professorial looking guy over here, who looks like he hasn’t combed his hair in some time, Mike Smith. And over here, there’s Rick Dudley and Marshall Johnston. Norm McIver, and even Scotty Bowman himself.

But I aim, in the blog, to ferret it all out and let you draw your own conclusions.

Fact is, through no fault of his own, Bowman Jr. basically deserves virtually zero credit for the first Cup. Sure he was assistant GM in charge of managing the salary cap for that team. Oddly enough, there was some cap mismanagement at that time that went beyond Tallon’s notorious profligacy. So it’s just hard to give him much credit.

But looking back at that team, there was some Bowman influence—that of Scotty Bowman. It was Scotty Bowman, allegedly, who recruited Joel Quenneville to be the Hawks head coach, replacing Denis Savard. An important move? Well, the results speak for themselves.

Further, rumor has it, Bowman also pushed hard to let Martin Havlat and his troublesome agent Alan Walsh “pursue other opportunities” in 2009—and go for then UFA Marian Hossa. How has that worked out?

So, for the sake of argument, I place Hossa’s important acquisition in Scotty Bowman’s column—not Tallon’s, although it happened under Tallon.

But the not-so-tonsorial (there, I used ‘tonsorial’ in a sentence) Smith deserves some credit.

It was Smith, via some great scouting by Johnston, who drafted a fat bi-racial kid who didn’t play organized hockey ‘til age 13, named Dustin Byfuglien. Smith also drafted Duncan Keith, Corey Crawford and Brent Seabrook. Where are the Hawks today without those three?

Tallon’s record (as GM) is harder to evaluate. It can be argued that with the drafting of Keith, Seabrook and Byfuglien (as well as Tuomo Ruutu—who Tallon later parlayed into Andrew Ladd) it was Smith who really laid the foundation of the Hawks’ turnaround post-2007—or at least started to. Complicating it a bit further is that Tallon always took credit for scouting Ruutu as Assistant GM under Smith.

Tallon took over the draft (and everything else) by 2004. Tallon had by then banked a lot of second and later round picks, which was good, because he hit there about as often as he did with first rounders.

In the second round in 2004, after passing on Ladd, Tallon took now journeyman Cam Barker with the third overall pick. Ugh. But he atoned by snagging Dave Bolland and Bryan Bickell in round 2, and Troy Brouwer in round 7. Bolland and Brouwer were important pieces of the 2010 Cup team.

Tallon whiffed big time in round one in 2005—passing over the likes of Anze Kopitar for another guy also now struggling to stay in the NHL, Jack Skille.

In 2006 and 2007, with the third and first overall picks respectively, Tallon hit it big. You can argue that they were no-brainers, yet a lot of people wanted the Hawks to take Phil Kessel over Toews in 2006, and there was some debate over taking Patrick Kane in 2007 versus James van Riemsdyk. Tallon also grabbed Niklas Hjalmarsson in the 4th round in 2005.

In 2008 and 2009, Tallon reverted to first round form, missing on a calculated gamble with notorious head-case Kyle Beach and later Dylan Olsen. You can argue there was some redemption in 2009, with the drafting of Marcus Kruger in round 5, however, again, Scotty Bowman rears his head—it was rumored that Bowman, then recently officially hired by the Hawks, had tipped Hawk scouts on Kruger based on the Red Wings’ Swedish scouting.

In fairness, Tallon’s draft record was mediocre, especially in light of the Hawks’ draft position up to 2009. That said, at that point, the Hawks had not invested heavily or wisely in scouting, as they have since.

Where you have to give Tallon immense credit (really for both Cup teams, but obviously especially the first) it was in two areas: his energy and audaciousness in going out and making bold moves to rebuild the franchise overall on the ice, and his trades.

Somewhere around 2007-8, the Hawks got on the radar of top free agents. You can argue the wisdom of throwing huge bucks at Bryan Campbell and Cristobal Huet, but Campbell especially contributed hugely to the rise of the Hawks over the next three seasons. And the Huet signing was mitigated somewhat by the Hawks unearthing Antti Niemi from the second tier league in Finland in 2008.

Without question, the thing that got the ball rolling were the back to back drafts of Kane and Toews, but also Tallon’s bold stroke of trading (essentially) Mark Bell for Havlat. Suddenly, in addition to the still learning Wonder Twins, the Hawks had in Havlat the kind of dynamic offensive presence that had been missing from the team for several years.

But Tallon upped the ante by selling off another Smith draftee, Matt Ellison, for Patrick Sharp.

He shipped Ruutu off for Ladd.

He went out and robbed the Bruins of Kris Versteeg.

Huge win after huge win on the trade front and key players on a great 2010 team.

And when Bowman took over in the summer of 2009, the pieces were already in place and the wheels in motion.

Now, for sure, Bowman inherited a bit of a cap mess that became reality in the summer of 2010. He was forced to sell off talent.

One footnote in that is the team, and really it’s hard to put the blame anywhere but on then GM Bowman, allegedly failed to account for Stanley Cup bonuses, that forced the Hawks to have to include Ladd and possibly Niemi in the sell-off.

And this, to me, is where you have to ask a hard question in order to discern how much credit Bowman deserves for 2013—versus Tallon and Smith, who assembled much of that latter Cup team.

How good, really, was the accumulation of talent on the 2010 team? Because the better you feel it was, then the less you can credit Bowman for 2013.

Bowman, to his credit, made a couple of key deals that helped the 2013 club. He moved Skille for Michal Frolik (and a former fanboy flavor of the month named Alexander Salak). He got Johnny Oduya out of Winnipeg for a couple of draft picks.

Nice solid moves that helped build the 2013 team.

He also drafted a couple of contributors in 2013, Andrew Shaw and Brandon Saad, in 2011.

The Hawks accumulated a lot of picks in the 2010 talent sell-off-which is good. They also got a lot of prospects and players.

You can argue the enigmatic and inconsistent Viktor Stalberg (the return for Versteeg) made a contribution in 2013.

Ladd was dealt for some guy named Vishnevskiy. There was no compensation for Niemi.

Byfuglien was traded along with Brent Sopel, Ben Eager and 2007 2nd round pick Akim Aliu for a first round pick, a second round pick, Joey Crabb, Marty Reasoner and Jeremy Morin. The first round pick became Kevin Hayes (gone). The four second rounders picked that year were current ECHL goaltender Kent Simpson, defenseman Justin Holl (gone), winger Ludvig Rensveldt (gone), and defenseman Stephen Johns.

Bowman had, in 2011, what is shaping up as a very good to great draft. 2012 first rounder Teuvo Teravainen is now playing with the Hawks.

But this is really not a blog about overall records as GM. It is about who gets responsibility for the two Stanley Cups.

And to compare the drafts of Tallon and Bowman is almost unfair—as Hawk scouting, especially in Europe, became much more robust after Bowman took over.

But looking back at Bowman’s record from 2009 to 2013, you can see moves that helped shore up a core that was pretty much already in place. This, while also unsnarling a fairly severe cap mess in 2010 and 2011 especially.

But just in terms of player/asset acquisition, the credit for the 2 Cups has to be allocated as follows.

2010

Tallon: Toews, Kane, Sharp, Hjalmarsson, Bolland, Campbell, Niemi, Huet, Ladd, Sopel, Eager, Brouwer, Madden, Boynton, Fraser, Burish, Versteeg

Smith: Keith, Seabrook, Byfuglien

Scotty Bowman: Hossa (and probably by association Kopecky)

Stan Bowman: Kim Johnsson

2013:

Tallon: Toews, Kane, Sharp, Hjalmarsson, Bolland, Bickell

Smith: Keith, Seabrook, Crawford

Scotty Bowman: Hossa, Kruger

Stan Bowman: Saad, Shaw, Frolik, Stalberg, Rozsival, Handzus, Emery, Bollig, Brookbank, Carcillo, Leddy, Oduya

Some thoughts:

The imprint of Smith, especially, is larger than many realize—and really muddies the picture as to who gets credit for either Cup. He found the first defense pairing, including a 2-time Norris Trophy winner drafted at the end of the second round in 2002, and two players many felt should have won the Conn Smythe in 2010 and 2013 respectively.

The imprint of Bowman, Sr., especially when you factor in his personal role in bringing Quenneville into the organization as head coach, is there as well.

Let’s just call Toews and Kane gimmes for Tallon. But two other names stand out as huge pieces Tallon acquired, Hjalmarsson and Sharp. Hjalmarsson did not play a huge role in 2010, but in 2013, he was absolutely a big contributor. Bolland had his detractors, especially in the regular season. But like Byfuglien and Bickell, he was a warrior come playoff time, elevating his game and the team in the process.

Without Tallon’s 5 “core” players, it’s hard to say either Cup happens.

You can also argue that Tallon and Smith, together, deserve the Lion’s Share of credit for both Cups.

For Bowman, Jr., time and fate will determine his legacy. Though some have willingly given him full (or nearly full) credit for the 2013 Cup, the weight of evidence suggests he certainly played a key role, but maybe no more than that.

A ten foot putt is a lot easier than a 20 foot putt. And Tallon/Smith left him with a ten foot putt.

He still has a great core, most of whom are still in their primes. But he faces yet another potential cap dilemma this summer.

Bowman has shown himself to be highly cautious when it comes to trades—where Tallon was fearless to a fault. Some might say discretion is the better part of valor. But Tallon’s record in trades (at least in Chicago) was also remarkable.

On the other hand, the last cap dilemma left Bowman, Jr. with a wealth of draft picks, scouted by a terrific personnel guy in Norm McIver. There is no question that these draft picks, especially in light of the cap crunch that now looms on the horizon, need to develop—far beyond what they have.

Saad is the jewel of the Crown so far.

For all the man-love out there for Teravainen, he has accomplished next to nothing in North America. Shaw is a nice player when he’s under control.

Some larger portion of Bowman’s prized picks (Ryan Hartman, Philip Danault, Johns, Mark McNeill, Dillon Fournier, Teravainen, Nick Schmaltz, Carl Dahlstrom, Klas Dahlbeck—all taken in the first three rounds from 2010-2014) will need to progress as Saad and Shaw and before them Brouwer, Bolland and Hjalmarsson did—into significant difference makers at the NHL level—not just guys who get crazy hype for getting on the bus from Rockford to Chicago on time.

That is not a foregone conclusion either way. As this long blog, I think, details, the elements of a Stanley Cup team come from many places, and in many forms. Bowman, Jr. is still well-positioned to pull off another Cup. And as the Tallon/Smith core ages or falls off the roster, the more credit would go to him.

All for now,

JJ

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