Blackhawks: Owner fires scouting staff

By Bill Placzek

Two weeks ago, Chicago Blackhawks ownership relieved GM Mike Smith from his duties, named Bob Pulford acting GM, and ordained long time employee Dale Tallon as the soon to be GM. Bill Wirtz followed this move by dismissing assistant general manager Nick Beverley, director of player evaluation Marshall Johnston, director of amateur scouting Bill Lesuk and amateur scout Joe Yannetti. These firings save the Blackhawks money and give them three fewer people they will have to pay during the possible lockout next year.

Beverley's assistant GM post was directly tied to Smith's, but the others, all Smith hires, were not managerial, but an integral part of locating the prospects drafted over the last three drafts. The Blackhawks say there will be no replacements for Johnston, Lesuk and Yanetti except for the fact Michal Dumas has been asked to move back up to his former job as chief scout.

Dumas headed the Hawk scouting department prior to Smith's arrival. Dumas was a Hawk draftee whose career was cut short by an eye injury. His scouting department produced few potential players and was archaic in terms of size and organization. This latest axing puts back to the good old boy network (Wirtz, Pulford, Tallon, and Dumas) which in the past produced few NHL players. It is also one person is replacing three.

Acting GM Pulford was a solid all-around player for Toronto in the 1960's and early 70’s and was brought in as a Hawk coach, then GM, and put out to pasture as a vice president in the organization until being reactivated as the temporary GM two weeks ago.

Tallon has been the radio color guy since retiring as a Hawk player. A first-round draft choice of the Vancouver Canucks in 1970, Tallon was an NHL player for 10 seasons and played for the Hawks from 1973 to 1978. He became the Hawks radio and television analyst upon retiring as a player after the 1979-80 season and held that job for 16. Tallon, 51, moved to the Hawks' front office as director of player personnel at the start of the 1998-99 season and traveled the world scouting players. It was no secret that he and Smith didn't get along, however, and Smith orchestrated Tallon's return to the broadcast booth two seasons ago.


Owner William Wirtz says Dale Tallon was hired as the new General Manager, with on the job training from Acting GM Bob Pulford, not just assistant GM, with a “possibility with advancement” as Bob Pulford announced. In the Chicago Sun-Times, owner Wirtz said, "I want to clarify that right now and put an end to all speculation," Wirtz said in the statement. "As part of the restructuring that has taken place over the past two weeks, I decided that Dale Tallon was an excellent choice to be named assistant general manager of the Chicago Blackhawks. I feel that Dale has the tools and the attributes to be a good general manager in the very near future."

Smith might have had trouble cultivating friendships with the already established hierarchy, but he built a modern scouting staff where there was none previously. Marshall Johnston had worked for both the New Jersey Devils and the Ottawa Senators during the franchise’s early days, with good results. At the NHL draft, scouts from organizations like New Jersey and Anaheim praised the scouting staffs reorganized by Mike Smith since the 2000 draft.

Hockey’s Future ranks all NHL teams by their overall organizational depth of their farm systems from top to bottom every year. The Blackhawks had the number one organizational ranking in 2002, based primarily on the work of the scouts fired this last week by the Blackhawk organization.

The Smith-hired scouting staffs orchestrated the picks in the 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2003 drafts. Besides the top fifteen prospects on the Blackhawks team page, there are as many as 15 more prospects chosen in the middle rounds by the terminated scouting staff, whose chances of playing in the NHL in the next four years are very credible.

Tallon’s latest newspaper comments about the excitement he felt working for the last couple drafts is disturbing, because it sounded like he was instrumental in suggesting the selections of many of the young men in the Smith drafts. Tallon made these comments to the Chicago Sun-Times. When asked about becoming the Blackhawk GM, Tallon commented, “After seeing kids like [Steve] McCarthy, [Pavel] Vorobiev, [Michael] Leighton and [Tuomo] Ruutu, I always felt that I had some unfinished business. I was a part of those drafts, and it's great to see these kids contributing to our team.''

Mike Smith was hired from outside of the Blackhawk family and given the power to hire his own staff from outside. That was a fresh approach. These scouts were not already engrained in a hierarchy were not beholding to the insiders, and didn’t have to temper their opinions on prospects, personal, or strategies.

What is most impressive about Smith's staff quality drafts are the huge amount of middle round picks which show potential for eventually making the jump to the pros. Most still remain in Europe and college, but look to have enough skills to be NHLers, and many are scorers. This latest axing does put us back to the good old boys' network which may produced few NHL prospects after the first two rounds.

Sources close to the management situation in Chicago say the Hawks asked Marshall Johnston to take over as the club's GM after they fired Mike Smith, but Johnston, who walked away from the GM position in Ottawa to become the Hawk's director of player evaluation, decided not to accept the offer.
There is reliable informaton that when the club decided to go with Dale Tallon, Johnston was fired along with assistant GM Nick Beverley, director of amateur scouting Bill Lesuk and amateur scout Joe Yannetti.

The Blackhawks will continue to reap the benefits of the fired scouting staff members for the next five years. After that, the current downsized scouting staff will have to provide far better than they did when they were in charge before Smith took the reins and strengthen the area weakest in the Hawk structure. These young players need to make the NHL, because if they don’t, this might be the start of another drafting dry spell in Chicago.