Many NHL general managers have interesting lines in their bios. The Kings' Dean Lombardi is an expert on the fictional television homicide detective Columbo. Blues GM Doug Armstrong's father, Neil, is not the astronaut, though he is in the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder for his prolific 21-year career as a linesman.
But maybe the most intriguing character is Dale Tallon. The Florida Panthers executive has gone from junior golf star to dependable defenceman (he played a decade in the NHL) to colourful broadcaster to successful GM — twice.
The native of Rouyn-Noranda, Que., had it made two decades ago. For 16 years, he had entertained hockey fans on the Chicago Blackhawks' airwaves, leaving plenty of time on road trips and in the summer to keep his golf game sharp.
So why would he want the headache of trying to build the Blackhawks into a Stanley Cup contender? But that's exactly what he took on in 1998, when his former Chicago teammate Bob Murray, then the Blackhawks GM and now in the same position with the Anaheim Ducks, offered him the position of director of player personnel.
"I was sick and tired of making things up," the easygoing Tallon jokes about his career shift.
Building a foundation
Truth is, Tallon likes to travel down different paths, try new ideas. Maybe it's his golfer's mentality.
All of a sudden he found himself in remote rinks in Canada and the United States and on trips to Europe to scout the best kids over there. He absolutely loved this new career.
"I liked everything about it right away," Tallon says. "I liked going back to the roots of the game, hanging out with other scouts, getting to know the families of these kids and the challenge to trying to find the right kind of player."
Tallon took his time, developed his new career and then found himself taking over as the Blackhawks GM in 2005. He built the foundation of what would become a perennial Cup contender with star players Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook.
Tallon also made the difficult move of replacing his friend Denis Savard with Joel Quenneville as head coach in October 2008. Chicago would go on to reach the Western conference final that season, setting the stage for even greater success in the coming years.
He couldn't know it at the time, but Tallon's days in Chicago were numbered. In the 2009 off-season the Blackhawks' front office missed a deadline to file qualifying offers to restricted free agents Troy Brouwer, Ben Eager and Kris Versteeg, making them unrestricted and costing the Blackhawks valuable salary cap space.
Tallon was demoted to the role of senior advisor, Stan Bowman took over his job, and a year later the Blackhawks won their first of three Stanley Cups in six years — just a few weeks after Tallon left to take the Florida job.
Tallon's work in Chicago was recognized when his name was engraved on the Cup and he received a championship ring, but he wanted another shot at running a team.
"I just felt I still had a lot in me and plenty to learn about the business," Tallon says. "I had the opportunity to come and learn from Bill Torrey [a former Panthers executive who built the Islanders dynasty of the early 1980s]. Plus, I wasn't satisfied with the way it ended [in Chicago]. I wasn't on the ice when they won the Cup, and that's the goal."
The Panthers may not be ready to attain that goal yet, but the surprising Atlantic Division leaders certainly have skated into contention under Tallon, who's now 65.
"He is an easy person to like and work for," Panthers head coach Gerard Gallant says. "I didn't know a lot about him when I was hired, but we've hit it off. He's so laid back."
Tallon's philosophy is to surround himself with good people and to allow them to do their jobs. He also encourages creative, "out of the box" thinking and likes to make sure his players "feel they're part of the solution."
Tallon is quick to credit front-office men like Marc Bergevin and Rick Dudley for their work with him in Chicago and, in Florida, hockey operations staffers like Scott Luce, Bryan McCabe and others.
But don't let that laid-back manner fool you. Tallon is competitive and wants to win. Again, he has a competitive golfer's mentality.
When he was "pushed aside" in Chicago six years ago, the 1969 Canadian junior golf champion had time to work on his game and qualified for the U.S. Senior Open.
Tallon now has his amateur status back and played in the U.S. Senior Amateur last summer.
But when it comes to his game as an NHL general manager, he's all professional.