With the quarter mark quickly approaching for the Chicago Blackhawks during this 2008-2009 NHL season, it’s time for the Fifth Feather to take a quick glance at Dale Tallon’s GM Report Card. What follows is a grade for each player on the roster. Each grade – or “class” – summarizes Tallon’s efforts to include that particular player on this season’s roster. As Tallon did not acquire a handful of players on this roster – namely, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Dustin Byfuglien and others – the report card analyzes (to the best extent possible) his decision to keep or extend that particular player. Those players “Excused” were not Tallon acquisitions, and Tallon didn’t play – at least publicly – any significant role in their development.
Important Note: This Report Card absolutely does not attempt to rank the players, but assigns a grade to Dale Tallons’ handling and/or acquisition of that player. For example, Patrick Sharp is not the best player on the Blackhawks – at least not according to this list – and Andrew Ladd is not the worst.
NHL First Quarter Report Card
Name of General Manager: Dale Tallon, Chicago Blackhawks
Patrick Sharp (A++) Think former Flyers’ GM Bobby Clarke would like a “mulligan” on this one? The Flyers received Matt Ellison in return for future goal scorer, Sharp, who signed a four-year extension last season for under $4 million per. Tallon receives an A+ for the deal to acquire Sharp, who after a couple seasons as a ‘Hawk still appeared to be a fringe NHLer, and the extra + for the favorable 2008 extension. Sharp is currently on-pace to exceed his 36-goal performance of 2007-08, and word has it he is now on Team Canada’s radar screen as a possible depth addition for the 2010 Olympic team. Patrick is a pleasure to have in class, though he’s apparently quite the prankster away from the rink.
Jonathon Toews (A+) People don’t remember that this wasn’t exactly an easy pick for Tallon with the third overall selection in the 2006 NHL Draft – not to mention rumors swirled following the draft of Toews’ intentions to re-enter the draft the following summer. In order to nab Toews, Tallon passed on much-hyped Phil Kessel and others, including Niklas Backstrom, Derick Brassard, Kyle Okposo and Peter Mueller, and ignored fans’ cries for a trade involving the Pittsburgh Penguins and the second pick, used to grab Jordan Staal. While the players Tallon passed on will likely enjoy productive NHL careers, Toews was selected with the captaincy in mind, and, according to plan, the ‘Hawks made Toews the third youngest team captain in NHL history this past summer. Though his offensive numbers continue to disappoint at the quarter mark, Toews is consistently one of the best players on the ice, and his play in all three zones continues to draw favorable comments from NHL coaches and scouts. Pencil him in on your 2010 Canadian Olympic team; ‘nuff said.
Duncan Keith (A+) Originally acquired in the second round of the 2002 NHL Draft (before Tallon), Keith has flourished since being plugged into the ‘Hawks defensive corps following the lockout. Though Tallon did not draft Keith, he didn’t trade him either. In the past year, Keith has thrown his cap into the ring of elite NHL defenders while being named to the Western Conference All Star team, as well as the Canadian World Championship entry, in 2008. Last year Keith also placed fifth lead-wide in plus-minus, ending at plus-30, and he was the only player on a non-playoff team to end in the top-20. (Ironically, Jassen Cullimore was 22nd overall with Florida.) In addition to leading the ‘Hawks in ice time (currently 3rd in NHL ice time), Keith has recently drawn praise from Oilers coach Craig MacTavish, who said that Keith is perfectly suited for the “new” NHL, and that he may also be on a shortlist of possible 2010 Team Canada defensemen. I believe Keith will be there. The important question, though: will Keith be here following his restricted free agency after the ’09-’10 season? The Fifth Feather eight ball believes all indications are “yes.” (They better be “yes.”)
Patrick Kane (A) Again, this wasn’t an easy pick, either. Tallon’s selection of a 5’10”, 170 lb. kid from Buffalo drew quick questions from many ‘Hawks followers – especially considering the ‘Hawks needed “Kaner” to play and produce with the “big boys” immediately. Patrick needed no grace period, as he won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s best rookie, scoring 21 goals and 72 points as a freshman. His offensive impact has been stronger this year, as he’s averaging more than a point-per-game in the early going while continuing to prove himself as one of the game’s best power play threats. Pencil him in on the first line of your 2010 U.S. Olympic team.
Kris Versteeg (A) While it may be far too early to categorize the Brandon Bochenski-for-Kris Versteeg deal as an “A+, Versteeg has, in 19 games, already brought much more to the table than Bochenski has at subsequent stops in Boston, Anaheim, Nashville and Tampa Bay. Versteeg boasts a nice combination of skill and motor, and he figures to continue complimenting Toews and Kane on the ‘Hawks top scoring line. Heading into tonight’s game with the San Jose Sharks, Versteeg is tied for second on the ‘Hawks with twenty points; Bochenski has five goals with Norfolk of the AHL.
Martin Havlat (A-) Tallon sold high (no pun intended) on Mark Bell to acquire Havlat (along with Brian Smolinski) from the Ottawa Senators via the Sharks three summers ago. Bell, who is no longer in the NHL and recently served a prison sentence for an off-season DUI charge while a member of the Sharks, failed to approach his 21 and 25 goal campaigns with the ‘Hawks during stops in San Jose and Toronto. He has three goals this year with the Marlies, Toronto’s AHL affiliate. Havlat, though a world-class player by all accounts, has been unable to stay healthy consistently during his three seasons as a Blackhawk, and will likely leave as an unrestricted free agent at season’s end. These factors preclude us from handing Tallon something more than an A- for the acquisition.
Aaron Johnson (B+) Like Versteeg, Aaron Johnson has already proved himself worthy of a high grade for Tallon. In exchange for $650,000 this year, Johnson has already contributed plenty at both ends of the ice (including three goals and near league-leading plus-minus of 12), and since Cam Barker’s arrival on the second pairing with Brian Campbell, Johnson has been the calming influence on the third pairing that Sopel failed to be in the early going. Though a clear summer depth signing for Tallon and someone who won’t soon be mistaken for Nicklas Lidstrom, Johnson is proving he can be relied upon in important even strength and penalty kill situations. Aaron must continue to play well in his own zone as the second quarter begins.
Dustin Byfuglien (B+) Byfuglien, the former eighth round pick in 2003, enjoyed something of a breakout season during the ’07-’08 campaign, scoring 19 goals in 59 NHL games – many of those as a defenseman. Though the three-year, $9 million extension “Buff” signed during this past offseason has been the source of much second guessing of Tallon, the Fifth Feather believes the signing – in amount and duration – reflects market value. Tallon’s apparent and recent refusal to move “Buff” also draws positive scores. Byfuglien’s lack of scoring during the first quarter was buoyed by his physical presence on the third line, but look for “Buff” to continue to struggle to appear in the scoring sheet, as his first unit power play minutes have all but disappeared under “Coach Q.” Don’t fret, however, “Buff” supporters; we believe he’ll be just fine.
Brent Seabrook (B) Seabrook is another ‘Hawk Tallon did not draft, as Seabrook was brought into the organizational fold in 2003. But, as with Keith, Tallon undoubtedly resisted the urge to trade the highly coveted d-man during his first couple years as GM. (One popular rumor had the Rangers’ Petr Prucha coming to Chicago for “Seabs.” Phew.) Seabrook signed a multi-year extension during last season, and forms half of the ‘Hawks first defensive pairing with Keith.
James Wisniewski (B) Wisniewski signed a one-year extension for just under $1 million in the off-season. His limbs started breaking, however, before the season. He has not seen action yet, but his “addition” should help the defensive group, allowing “Wiz” to anchor the third pairing with either Aaron Johnson or Brent Sopel. (Of course, it appears as though Johnson has the inside track on that one.)
Ben Eager (B) The Jim Vandermeer-for-Ben Eager trade puzzled many last season, and anticipated a “follow up” deal quickly thereafter. It never came. But, as Jim Vandermeer has already switched teams, Eager has been a solid fourth line contributor, even netting two goals in the last two games on the third line. While he hasn’t necessarily been the physical presence, i.e., enforcer, the ‘Hawks hoped for – after all, he’s had considerate concussion and injury problems – he shows decent speed and hands for a fourth line player, and, as he showed last week, he can fill a larger role, if needed – stress needed. Tallon dealt from a position of strength to acquire a contributor.
Matt Walker (B) Another depth signing, Walker has performed admirably in his limited action. He even fought in his first shift as a Blackhawk. Can’t beat that with a stick.
Collin Fraser (B-) Fraser has been a pleasant surprise this season after making the team out of training camp. Fraser’s face-off ability has made him an important part of the team, and aside from a putrid performance against San Jose at the UC, his penalty killing has been commendable. Considering he was part of the Alex Zhamnov package (with Vandermeer and a pick used on Brian Bickell), any contributions from Fraser are icing on the proverbial cake. He also rivals Burish for “Best Beating Taker,” as he recently showed he wasn’t too proud to fight Coyote Olli Jokinen.
Cam Barker (C+) Tallon’s first draft pick in 2005, Cam Barker has yet to live up to his top-3 billing, but it may be near. Barker’s arrival in Chicago has boosted the power play, as he has added nine points in 11 games. His booming shot has essentially become the centerpiece of the man advantage, but he’ll need to step up his defensive game and puck carrying in order to live up to his draft status. That will take some time. And, let’s not mention the ‘Hawks just missed out on Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin, the first two picks of the draft. But, we’ve now got the fourth overall pick, too: Andrew Ladd!
Troy Brouwer (C) Tallon didn’t draft Brouwer, who was drafted in the seventh round, but his (and Savard’s) terse treatment of the young winger the past two seasons – like demoting Brouwer after one game while publicly chiding his skating abilities – couldn’t have helped the rookie’s development. Bringing up Brouwer to replace Jack Skille this season has paid dividends, however, as Brouwer has shown himself to be a capable second line winger – not quite Marian Hossa, but capable.
Brent Sopel (C-) Tallon received high marks last season for his low risk-high reward signing of Sopel during training camp. Sopel showed himself to be a positive influence on the young defensive group, and played huge minutes, often in important situations. Tallon’s three-year extension for Sopel has been much less successful, however, as Sopel has been a healthy scratch during the first half of the “circus trip.” Unless Sopel is able to find his ’07-’08 form, Tallon’s grade here may continue to suffer.
Andrew Ladd (C-) The Andrew Ladd acquisition for Tuomo Ruutu was not one of Tallon’s best. Though the ‘Hawks saved about $800,000 this season on Ladd as compared to Ruutu, Tallon replaced a true “heart and soul”- type player for one who isn’t as effective physically or offensively this season. While Ruutu, as expected, has become a fan favorite in Carolina, he’s also produced in the first quarter, contributing seven goals and 13 points for the ‘Canes. Meanwhile, Ladd has struggled to generate scoring opportunities on the third line, and to date has only three goals and eight points. In my opinion, Ruutu would, salary aside, be a much better fit on the ‘Hawks third line. With that said, Ladd plays hard every shift, and he’s only twenty-two years old. Let’s cut him – and Tallon – a bit of slack – for now.
Craig Adams (D+) Even for a rarely used fourth-liner, Craig Adams leaves quite a bit to be desired. Adams seems to be firmly entrenched as the team’s nightly healthy scratch, and that’s exactly how it should remain. Adams fails to make a difference physically, and doesn’t possess the kind of speed Burish uses to make-up for his numerous shortcomings. On the bright side, the ‘Hawks gave up a conditional pick for him, and he’s apparently a good guy in the dressing room. As long as he keeps quiet about his nightly press box chair, he’ll be just fine.
Nik Khabibulin (Incomplete) (Provisional: B-) If Khabby is around to see these young ‘Hawks deep into the playoffs, his first three years here may be forgiven and forgotten – unless, of course, he signs elsewhere this summer and haunts us for the next half-decade. If not, his time here will be remembered as a failure. For now, though, it looks as if Tallon may be leaning towards keeping the netminder, and the Fifth Feather supports such a stance. Which would you rather have entering a best-of-seven with Detroit? A soft second line center, or Khabibulin playing like he played in ’03-’04 during his Cup run with Tampa Bay – backed up by Cristobal Huet, just in case? I thought so.
Cristobal Huet (Incomplete) Thus far, the only positive thing going for Huet is that his presence may be partly responsible for bringing out the best in Khabibulin. Other than that, his start has been average – albeit in limited time.
Brian Campbell (Incomplete) (Provisional: B++) Campbell’s presence on the power play has paid immediate and noticeable dividends, and his defensive play has been surprisingly above average. It’s just too early to tell whether such a massive investment (eight years for over $7 million per) was truly worth it. The early signs are good.
Jack Skille (Incomplete)
Dave Bolland (Excused) (B+) Many people don’t realize Dave Bolland was a top-flight junior player in the Ontario Hockey Leage (OHL), where he amassed 130 points, including 57 goals, in his fourth junior season with the London Knights. (For comparison’s sake, Kane had 145 in his only junior season – albeit as a younger player.) Bolland, though not as highly regarded a prospect as Kane or Toews as a second round pick in 2004, plays well at both ends and figures to be the second or third line ‘Hawk center for the foreseeable future. Though Tallon did not draft Bolland, he currently centers the ‘Hawks most dependable defensive line in between Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd.
Adam Burish (Excused) (B-) While many ‘Hawks fans are bothered by the fourth liner’s lack of offensive production as a Blackhawk, the Fifth Feather doesn’t fret about depth forwards’ scoring numbers. Though offensive contributions from Burish would be welcomed, his efforts on the penalty kill should certainly be noted, and his willingness to take a pounding – only in the NHL could this possibly be a good thing – can get quiet UC crowds into an otherwise tame game. However, his physical play this season seems to have dropped off a touch, and (even given the above) his offensive game lacks any real development. But, he’s a leader-type, a fan favorite and former ninth round pick, and when he’s on, he does his assigned job well. Tallon did not draft Burish.
Curtis Brown, Matthew Barnaby (F) Both players were disappointing in Chicago, and their contracts were bought out. The ‘Hawks still take a half-million dollar cap hit for Brown during this and next seasons.
Adrian Aucoin, Jassen Cullimore (D) Giving Tallon something other than very, very low marks for his signings of Aucoin and Cullimore would be inappropriate. Tallon badly misjudged the effect new post-lockout rule changes would have on the NHL, and inked two slow footed d-men. Needless to say, both were shipped out after two disappointing seasons. But, there is a certain mitigating factor available to Tallon: namely, that he underestimated the effect of rule changes because few previous NHL rule changes had any real effect on the league. Indeed, of the large handful of rule changes in the previous decade, none managed to change the game in any significant way. Year after year, referees would adjust the way they called games to align with new rule changes, but repeatedly reverted back to old ways, calling games in ways they had during previous seasons. It seems Tallon just believed the “old game” would resurface after maybe a month; he was wrong. Tallon dug himself out of the Aucoin hole, however, by acquiring Andrei Zyuzin and his NBA-like “expiring contract.” The Cullimore signing netted the ‘Hawks Sergei Samsonov, who resulted in a significant cap write-off last season, though Cullimore had an impressive defensive season in ’07-’08 with Florida.
Along with Khabibulin, Tallon receives a “check-plus” for his signing of Aucoin during a time when the ‘Hawks forays into free agency normally resulted in names like Curtis Brown. Believe it or not, the current ‘Hawk culture change likely dates back to the signings of Khabby and Aucoin.
Martin Lapointe (C) Lapointe represents an average signing by Tallon. Though Lapointe never quite contributed offensively as hoped, he certainly brought much needed leadership during his stint. As such, it’s hard to say this was a failed signing.
Radim Vrbata, Kevyn Adams, Jeff Hamilton (B+) Vrbata was acquired for a fourth round pick, while Hamilton was signed as a free agent. Both played relatively well on bad teams. Vrbata was shipped to Phoenix for Kevyn Adams, who promptly pulled a “Michael Handzus,” and missed the entire season in ’07-’08. Even though Vrbata put up points last year as a Coyote, he’s been largely inconsistent during his career, and there’s a good chance his early output for Tampa Bay this year will be his standard fair.
Kyle Calder, Michael Handzus, Jason Williams (A-) Tallon also sold high on Kyle Calder, receiving Handzus in return from the Philadelphia Flyers. Though Handzus bolted for greener pastures following his only season with the ‘Hawks (a season in which he only played eight games), Tallon reacquired Calder in ’06-’07 momentarily, turning him into power play quarterback Jason Williams. Though Williams became expendable with the addition of Brian Campbell this past summer, he amassed 36 points in 43 games last season. If you’re scoring at home, that means Tallon somehow sold high on Calder twice within seven months – even if Handzus declined to return to the ‘Hawks and Williams walked.
Denis Arkhipov, Tony Salmelainen (No Grade) Neither player panned out, but neither player was given riches to come here. Depending on whose stories you believe about the inner-workings of the ‘Hawks front office, these players may have been the source of a power struggle between Tallon and Trent Yawney. Considering the Fifth Feather spent very little time in the ’06-’07 ‘Hawks front office, we’ll plead ignorance, and let Dale slide on this one.
Numerous outlets ranked Tallon’s 2006 and 2007 draft classes as tops in the NHL.
Drafted 2008 Calder Trophy winner and first runner-up.
Total: With an average age of 25.6 – 22.4 excluding the goaltenders, and even less excluding Adams, Sopel and Walker, the likely candidates to be scratched or moved upon James Wisniewski’s arrival – and tied for fifth in the conference with games currently in-hand over all four teams above them, it’s hard to imagine anyone calling Dale Tallon “unfit” to run a top-notch NHL organization. While some of the current Chicago “young guns” were not Tallon draft selections, he was competent enough to hold onto them (see the rumored Seabrook for Prucha deal). Add to that his seemingly uncanny ability to spot (comparative) “diamonds in the rough” (see Williams, Sharp and Versteeg) and his willingness and/or ability to bring big name free agents to Chicago, it should be said Tallon has done a nice job as Blackhawks GM.
The obvious chink in the armor: free agents Aucoin, Khabibulin and Huet. Eh, no one’s perfect. Tallon’s ability to manage the cap has been called into question, but all contending teams are currently managing their own cap issues. Though each of these signings could be described as “poor” – and each, with the exception of Aucoin, could be argued otherwise – at least after the 2008-’09 quarter pole, the good outweigh the bad.
Have a great summer season!