Calgary Herald

GM Tallon’s spending spree looks justified


When florida panthers general manager Dale Tallon committed $79.1 million in total contracts to seven free agents last July 1, the prevailing wisdom in the hockey world was that he overpaid for most, if not all, of those players.

But Tallon wasn’t concerned about what his peers thought. He was concerned about what Panthers fans would think if he didn’t spend aggressive­ly to improve his roster.

“You overpay because that’s what the market is on July 1,” Tallon said. “And you know that if you don’t make the playoffs, people always say, ‘Why didn’t you go out and sign someone?’ ”

Tallon’s summer spending decisions were vindicated Thursday night when a loss by Buffalo meant the Panthers will make the playoffs for the first time since 2000, ending the NHL’S longest active playoff drought.

If the Panthers earn one point today in their home game against Carolina or Washington loses, they also clinch the franchise’s first division title.

The truth is that Tallon paid precisely what he needed to pay to persuade free agents to come to a struggling franchise that had known little success in the 21st century. He had to overpay, and he traded away players last season to give himself the budget room to do what needed to be done.

Every general manager has a fiveyear plan to turn around a franchise, but Tallon’s strength seems to be that he can rebuild a team on the fly. He was hired on May 17, 2010, and 23 months later the Panthers are selling playoff tickets for the first time since Bill Clinton was president.

While Tallon is adding the pieces he believes for long-term success, he seems to know how to make his team quickly competitiv­e. There are rebuilding teams making a more gradual ascent. Tallon’s team passed some on his climb in the Eastern Conference.

Undoubtedl­y, someone will argue that the Southeast Division is weaker, therefore more forgiving to a team rebuilding. But if it is easier to make the playoffs from a Southeast position, then why did six other general managers in Florida fail to accomplish that objective before Tallon arrived?

To understand how much Tallon has changed the Panthers, consider that there are 14 players on the roster who weren’t wearing a Florida jersey last season.

Among them is the team’s leading scorer, Tomas Fleischman­n, who has turned out to be Tallon’s top free-agent signing. Also new is second-leading goal scorer Kris Versteeg and top defenceman Brian Campbell, both picked up in trades.

The interestin­g aspect of the former NHL player’s managerial success is that it was never his objective to be in charge of an NHL team.

Tallon was a television/radio analyst in 2003 when then-chicago Blackhawks owner Bill Wirtz and his son Peter stopped to talk to him after a game to discuss the state of the team after GM Mike Smith had been fired. The Wirtzes wanted to know what he thought should be done.

“Do you want me to be truthful?” Tallon asked. Assured that they wanted an honest assessment, Tallon laid out a plan for turning around the team. The Wirtzes must have been impressed because Tallon was soon hired as the Hawks’ assistant general manager with assurances that he eventually would be GM.

“The night they stopped me turned out to be a fateful night,” Tallon said.

Although he didn’t aspire to be a general manager, Tallon had always told himself that if were one, he would run a organizati­on based on the idea that you always have to have a strong connection to the players and fans.

“It’s just the way I am,” he said. “As a broadcaste­r, you become a fan. I love the game and love the people in the game. I’ve always felt we should have more fun in this game. And I always felt like we needed more honest dialogue with fans and sponsors. You relate to people. That’s just how I was brought up.”

 ?? Jamie Sabau, Getty Images ?? Tomas Fleischman­n is having a career year with Florida, setting personal highs of 27 goals, 34 assists and 61 points so far.
Jamie Sabau, Getty Images Tomas Fleischman­n is having a career year with Florida, setting personal highs of 27 goals, 34 assists and 61 points so far.
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