From 2010-2020 I had the pleasure of working alongside Dale Tallon. He is a mentor of mine and a proven winner at the rink and on the golf course.
In 1970, when the Vancouver Canucks stepped to the podium to make their first ever draft pick, they selected Tallon as a defenceman from the Toronto Marlboros of the OHA. In his first season with the young franchise, Tallon produced 14 goals and 42 assists, for 56 points in 78 games. Fantastic results for a blueliner playing for an expansion team in the ’70s.
After his career was cut short by numerous injuries, Tallon took his gregarious personality to the media side of the industry. He spent several years as a colour commentator with the Chicago Blackhawks.
The next phase of his NHL journey started to take shape in the summer of 1998 when he joined the Hawks front office as their Director of Player Personnel. In 2005, he was promoted to GM of the team, a position he held until 2009. But he contributed greatly to the growth of that team, drafting an exceptional core of players that won Stanley Cups in 2010, 2013 and 2015.
In 2010 Tallon became GM of the Florida Panthers and similarly had a big impact in building that roster until 2020. The Panthers have been constructing their core for several years and broke through in 2021-22 by winning the Presidents’ Trophy as the best regular-season team.
In both his stops as GM, Tallon has overseen marked improvement in two organizations. Consider how the Hawks franchise turned around under his watch, with a look at the team’s results from 2005-2010:
2005-2006: 65 points
2006-2007: 71 points
2007-2008: 88 points
2008-2009: 104 points
2009-2010: 112 points (Stanley Cup Championship)
His time in Florida reveals the same kind of growth, going from a 72-point team and eventually icing the Panthers’ first 100-point result. The challenge was different in Florida for a variety of reasons, but Tallon remained true to his vision of drafting a core and building around those players. The Panthers franchise has a historical winning percentage of just over .500. Under Tallon the franchise enjoyed a winning percentage of .533.
He added much of the Panthers core you see today: Aleksander Barkov, Aaron Ekblad, Jonathan Huberdeau, Mackenzie Weegar, Sergei Bobrovsky, Spencer Knight and Mason Marchment.
I recently sat down with Dale to discuss how he wanted to build the Panthers, and to get more insight into his over 50 years in the NHL:
Jason Bukala: During our time working together in Florida you provided a vision to the staff in terms of how you wanted to draft, trade, and sign players to our roster. How do you build a championship core?
Dale Tallon: My philosophy has always been the same. I wanted to build our teams through the middle of the lineup. It’s imperative to find an elite centreman, scoring winger, top pairing defenders, and an elite goaltender through the draft. When the team starts to take shape and matures is when you start adding veterans to the core to hopefully push the group to another level.
JB: As the core started to take shape in Florida you added Jaromir Jagr to the group. What kind of impact did you see Jagr have on the team?
DT: First of all, one of the things I try to look for when adding veterans to a young team is winning pedigree. Veteran players who have won and can show the young players the way. Adding Jagr had a significant impact, especially with Barkov. Jaromir trained harder than anyone on our team and showed the kids what was required to be a good pro. He never had an off switch. He spent time with players before and after practice working on the subtleties of the game. Everything you hear about Jaromir is true. When we brought Jagr in it was not only for what he could do for our franchise on the ice, but also behind the scenes. He was a great mentor.
JB: How significant a role does the player development department play in building the team?
DT: It’s the most important department in the organization. Players are drafted, or signed in free agency, and require guidance. Right from the time they become part of the organization it’s imperative that they have a consistent, trustworthy relationship with player development. The process includes having the right coaches at the minor league level. Coaches who hold the group accountable, but also teach the right way.
JB: How long does it take for a defenceman to become completely comfortable at the NHL level?
DT: It’s very difficult for young defencemen in the NHL. It’s the best league in the world. Players are bigger, faster, and more skilled than they have ever faced. In my opinion it takes defencemen 300 games to become totally comfortable.
JB: What are you most proud of when you reflect on your time in and around the NHL?
DT: Without question the relationships I have developed over the years. Some of my best friends and longest lasting relationships have come out of the game. Another thing I’m really proud of is I have seen players and staff members become outstanding leaders over the years. I try to surround myself with quality people. To see them have success is something that I take a lot of pride in.
JB: Do you foresee a return to the NHL on the horizon?
DT: I’m fresh and feeling great. I’m ready to listen and would be open to something that makes sense for a team and myself.
JB: How would you sum up your legacy as an NHL GM?
DT: Being an NHL GM has a lot of moving parts and scenarios. Having said that I’m comfortable saying I left both Chicago and Florida in much better shape than I found them when I first arrived.