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The Chicago Plan

Yesterday Chicago GM Dale Tallon participated in a NHL conference call with the media…

Q. Dale, you’ve done a lot of work to strengthen your team both with your off-season signings and last year’s draft choices. Looking at the Central Division, Detroit is still strong, St. Louis geared up, Columbus, almost like you can’t tell but they have the potential. How do you see this division going? Do you see Chicago in the playoff hunt this year?
DALE TALLON: Well, we’re anticipating we’ll be in the playoff hunt. We like the mixture of young players we have. We’ve bridged the gap with some of our veteran signings in the off-season, a couple of our trades.
You know, it’s a very difficult division. I think St. Louis has improved. Nashville’s got a good team. Detroit is obviously the favorite. But, you know, we feel we can compete with anybody. Obviously it will take a little time for everything to gel. We have enough offense now. That’s one thing we lacked in the last couple years. We were one of the lowest scoring team in the league, and we’ve tried to improve on the power play, get more depth on the offensive side as well as the experience that some of our young guys achieved and gained the last two seasons. It should bode well for them as far as their future. We’re pretty happy with our team. We’re never satisfied. But the direction we’re headed in, it looks a lot better.

Q. A lot of attention has been focused upen Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. We’re also waiting on Skille, Blunden and Bolland. Do you see them possibly coming out of camp with the team this year?
DALE TALLON: We’re going to give every young guy an opportunity to be successful. We look at it as a marathon. We’re going to give them every opportunity to make our team. I think the key to success of the organization is to have depth at all positions and competition for spots. The more competition you have, the better it will be for your team. We’re quite happy and thrilled with our depth chart right now. We have a young Swedish defenseman, Niklas Hjalmarsson, that we’re very high on. We’re going to give him a good shot, too. Blunden, Bolland, Barker, and all these kids that we drafted over the last few years are going to get an equal opportunity to be successful and play on our team this year.

Q. Can you give us an early scouting report on Jonathan Toews? Is he going to be a first-line center right away? Will it take some time?
DALE TALLON: Got him slotted probably in the second- or third-line spot, probably with Havlat. Then it will either be Kane and Ruutu or Kane and Samsonov. They were good in prospects camp. We’re going to ease him in and see where he fits. But, you know, down the road, that’s where we expect him to be, is the number one center. You know, he has the potential and the makeup to be that. But we’re not going to put that kind of pressure on the kid. We have Perreault now, Lang, Sharp. Williams can play center. Adams can play center. We’ve got some depth in that position and that will help take some of the burden off Jonathan.

Q. What about Patrick Kane? It’s always an onerous responsibility when you’re the first player picked in the draft or the second. You would know all about that.
DALE TALLON: Yeah. Scouting has improved since then (laughter).

Q. In Kane’s case, when you’re the first player picked in the draft, I guess the expectation is that the guy is going to step right in, he’s a scorer, but not everybody is Sidney Crosby.
DALE TALLON: Well, no, but I think he’s got the ability to do it. I think we’ll get 10 games and see how it goes. We’re not going to ruin him. Obviously we want to take special care and make sure that he is ready and not put him in over his head so he can lose his confidence or get hurt.
I think this kid’s going to surprise a lot of people. He’s had a great off-season. He was great in Lake Placid. Had a very good game for London on the weekend, scoring five goals. You know, put him with the right players, surround him with the right people, I think he can be successful right away.
He does utilize other players, make other players around him better. But we’ll keep a close eye on him in training camp and give him an opportunity during the season to play with some good players and see if he can play. We’re hopeful he can stay with us. Like I said, I think it’s a marathon and we’re going to make sure we don’t ruin him either, so…

Q. When you miss the playoffs, you always get the good draft choices. I know as a general manager you take the cautious route. Fans and stuff are probably saying, We’ve got all these young players, when are they going to go from potential to actual showing? Is that what you see, too? Eventually the young players got to step up and do it.
DALE TALLON: I think most of the crowd, this is going to be their second year. Bolland, Blunden, Brouwer, it’s only their second year. Barker, as well. We did acquire some people in the off-season that could help bridge the gap and give us a competitive team while these guys still have a chance to develop and be ready. The problem with last year is we used 16 first-year pros with all the injuries and replacements we had to have, and we weren’t quite ready. We want to make sure when they do come out and play, they’re more ready. I think a good year, another good year in the minors, half a year for some of them, really helped. Kane and Toews and Skille, Hjalmarsson, I think they have the potential. New rules, younger guys can be successful a lot quicker than they were able to with the old rules with clutching, grabbing, having to fight through and battle for ice position. They don’t have to do it as much now. You saw what Pittsburgh did with their young guys. Some of the young guys have excelled quite quickly. We’re hopeful that can happen with our guys.

Q. You’ve been with that organization for a number of years. You’re quite familiar with the market, the perception of the team there. Would you say the young guys have created a new enthusiasm for your team in your marketplace?
DALE TALLON: It has. We’re seeing an effect. Our ticket sales are starting to increase. There’s a bit of a buzz about Kane and Toews, Skille, these young players. A little bit of a buzz about Havlat, the combination of acquiring Lang and Perreault, making a deal for Adams, getting Samsonov. We’ve added some fresh blood to our team, a lot more skill. We have more options. There’s a little bit of talk going on about our players, the combination of youth, veterans and skill. It’s getting better. Obviously we have to prove it. We have to get off to a good start, have a good solid first half of the year and see where it leads. But I think people they’re just waiting for us to be successful. Now they know we have depth in all positions. They know we have a lot of great kids. It’s just a matter of when these kids will be ready to make an impact.

Q. Do you find yourself anxious to see that happen quickly to try to capitalize?
DALE TALLON: I’m anxious, but I’m also being realistic. I’m very confident about the future and I don’t want to destroy the future just to get early success that might fool some people. I want to make sure we’re ready for a long time, we’re a contending team for many years to come. That’s a goal here.

Q. Are you worried at all that the team has fallen so far off the map, especially in Chicago, that it’s going to be a tough road to get some of your fans back?
DALE TALLON: Well, we know where we’re at in that situation. I mean, we know how far we’ve fallen. We do have a lot of work ahead of us. We’re confident that we can get it done. It’s just going to take a lot more work, a lot more time, a lot more patience. We’re committed to doing it. We’re going to have to do what we’ve been saying, one fan at a time, one game at a time, one player at a time. You know, the hard way. We have to prove our worth. Like I said, we get plenty of walk-ups for our games. They’re there. They’re wanting us to succeed. They’re waiting for an excuse to come to the United Center. We’re committed to doing it. It takes time. It doesn’t happen overnight. We have the resources now as far as our talent pool that we will be successful. I don’t know when, but I’m hopeful it’s soon. I’m confident it will happen. I just can’t tell you exactly when.

Q. Talk about your goaltending a little bit, please.
DALE TALLON: We’re quite happy with the depth in our organization. Khabi had a good year last year. He had a little bit of a slump in the middle part of the year. But the beginning and the end, he was terrific. Patrick Lalime was healthy and played well for us at the end of the year. I think the two of them together, they get along great. I think Patrick will challenge and will be able to give Khabi some needed rest. I think we’re quite good there, very solid. I think now the fact is we can score more goals. We’re going to win our faceoffs. I think our depth there is better. I think we have more offensive ability that it won’t be life or death if you give up a goal. I think the last couple years the pressure was so immense on our young defense and goaltending, knowing we’re not going to score a lot, that they couldn’t give up any goals. That’s hard to play under those circumstances.

Q. You referenced some of your young players. A lot of those guys bear the fingerprints of Mike Haviland. What are Mike’s qualities that have made him such a good player development man?
DALE TALLON: Well, knowledge, enthusiasm, his attitude. He’s very positive. Very good teacher. All those things. He’s a terrific coach. He loves what he does. He has great passion and knowledge. You know, he’s on the same page as everyone here in the organization. He’s just a tremendous asset to our organization. He’s done a great job for us the last two years. I look forward to him doing the same thing or better this year in Rockford. He gets along well with our coaching staff. He’s friends with Denis. They’re all on the same page. Everybody’s playing the same system all the way through. He’s willing to help the organization, willing to do anything to help the young kids.

Q. Besides the young guys you mentioned, is there maybe a darkhorse guy who could possibly sneak on the opening-day roster?
DALE TALLON: Yeah, there’s an opportunity there. I think Troy Brouwer had 41 goals last year, I believe. His skating has improved. He’s worked hard this summer with Dan Jansen, our skating coach. I think he can surprise. I think Parenteau played quite well when he was called up. He had a good year and is another young guy that’s got to get fitter and stronger. He’s shown that this off-season. He looks like he’s in great shape.
So, yeah, Versteeg can skate. He’s got grit. So we’re going to give them all a shot. We’ve got 54 guys coming to camp. I’m telling them it doesn’t matter on age, doesn’t matter on anything, but whoever wants to play on our team’s going to play.

Q. Thinking about your defense, if I was one of your young defensemen, thought he had a job, I’d be kind of nervous about the number of players that you’ve brought in there. Please talk a little bit about Magnus Johansson, 34-year-old possible rookie. You mentioned Hjalmarsson earlier. You also signed Prestin Ryan, Zyuzin this year. A lot of competition.
DALE TALLON: Well, that’s what we want. We want these young guys to understand it’s not going to be given to them. They’re going to have to earn the right. We have Duncan Keith, Seabrook, Vandermeer, Barker, Wisniewski, Byfuglien, Hjalmarsson, Zyuzin now. Johansson was great in the World Championships. He can really skate, can really help the power play, get the puck out of the zone quickly with great passes. I like the situation we’re in there. And the young guys know they have to compete for these jobs and it’s going to be fun to see who steps up to the plate. We like the depth and the age group that we have.

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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

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