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"Sometimes the right decision is not always the popular one," Chicago Blackhawks president John McDonough said.
|John McDonough said the recent free-agent fiasco contributed to Dale Tallon's ouster.|
Hawks fans are going to have to trust him on this one.
On Tuesday, McDonough introduced 36-year-old Stan Bowman as the ninth general manager in the history of the Blackhawks organization, replacing 58-year-old Dale Tallon, who was named senior adviser of hockey operations and given a two-year contract extension.
If Tallon's new title sounds familiar, it's because it is also the title of Stan's father, Scotty Bowman, also known unofficially as hockey legend Scotty Bowman, he of the nine Stanley Cups as a head coach who was brought to Chicago almost exactly one year ago.
Is he also the reason his son is the Hawks' new GM?
When the "reassignment" of then-head coach Denis Savard was announced four games into the 2008-09 season, the palest, most somber expression behind a microphone that afternoon belonged to Tallon, who no doubt was upset about Savard but also had to see his own reassignment coming.
"There was never a conversation, nor have I ever engaged in a conversation with Scotty Bowman about his son becoming general manager of the Chicago Blackhawks," McDonough volunteered without being asked Tuesday.
It was an important statement. So was this one:
That was McDonough's answer to the question: "Would this decision [to change GMs] have been made if the restricted free agent thing hadn't happened?
The restricted free agent thing was a biggie.
A missed deadline due to a paperwork problem cost the Hawks considerably more money to re-sign such free agents as Kris Versteeg and Cam Barker. Hawks chairman Rocky Wirtz downplayed it.
"It cost us some money on the front end but we'd be paying this money eventually," said Wirtz. "I think in the long run, it's actually going to help us, not hurt us."
But it was still costly, still a sign of disorganization and, according to McDonough himself, important enough to cost Tallon his job.
McDonough made it a point several times to say it was an organizational error and that the buck stops with him. Stan Bowman, asked directly if he took responsibility for the error given that his former job as assistant GM included "all CBA-related matters such as contract negotiations, free agency, salary arbitration, player movement and player assignment," dodged it like a pro.
"I just think as an organization, we have to move beyond that," he said.
Several times, McDonough half-jokingly urged his new GM to jump in on some of the tougher questions. But they were better off with McDonough doing most of the talking.
Asked what Stan Bowman brought to the job, Wirtz was his usual genial, candid self when he replied: "He's 36, Dale's 58. We always want younger people. So what he brings is a system in place to get better. That's something Dale was doing but also, Dale is at the tail end of his business career. I'm at the tail end also. I'm 56. So I want my son and cousins to do better than I am. I hope they're always pushing me and we constantly want to have younger people in the organization. Stan will be a world-class general manager. Time will tell and we'll show you that."
Keeping your former coaches and GMs on the payroll isn't a bad idea. Keeps those discrimination attorneys at bay.
McDonough and the younger Bowman said they still need the wisdom of Tallon, whose four-year reign as GM will be remembered as much for helping take the Hawks to that next step with an infusion of youth, as it will for perhaps overpaying for defenseman Brian Campbell and goalie Cristobal Huet.
But to use the examples of Campbell and Huet really is picking on Tallon prematurely. And firing a GM after the team reaches the Western Conference finals for the first time in 13 years, and just days after signing big-name free agents Marian Hossa and John Madden, is perplexing as well.
In his zeal to keep improving, you wonder if McDonough is moving a little too fast for the Hawks' own good, though he alluded to the "communication process" not being ideal between him and Tallon.
"Any time you make a change, there's really not a right time to make any of these decisions," McDonough said. "We're now about six weeks out from the end of the season. We take a look at every single aspect of our business operation. Some of the areas we need to improve on are the decision-making areas -- how decisions are made, who is involved, timetables that are involved."
McDonough said another factor in the decision was this weekend's fan convention, a matter of utmost importance when he created the same concept with the Cubs.
"I didn't want to be disingenuous," he said. "I didn't want to be deceitful to our fans. I would rather discuss this in advance and tell them what our plans are than going into the weekend and give them half-answers or things withheld from them. That's not how we're going to do business. So when we talk about timing and the right day, today was the best day for us."
The Savard decision, hard as it was to stomach for many fans at the time, did not seem to hurt the team. And any disapproval over this latest move isn't likely to linger.
Wirtz and McDonough have earned themselves the benefit of the doubt.
For now, we're going to have to trust them on this one.Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.