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Columnist
For Hawks, credit, blame all the same
By Barry Rozner | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 8/28/2010 7:56 PM

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The shortest off-season in Blackhawks history is almost over, winding down the summer of our discontent, following the postseason of a lifetime.

It doesn't, however, mean a sudden end to the blame game.

This summer of attrition for the Stanley Cup champs was not a surprise to those following the salary cap the last few years, but it clearly was a shock to so many who are now so angry.

And that has led to an infernal hunt to charge with a crime just about anyone in the vicinity of a Hawks insignia.

But this unfortunate result was inevitable and largely ignored, even as late as the GM meetings in Philadelphia during the Stanley Cup Finals, when you needed only one good ear to hear that Niklas Hjalmarsson was going to get an offer sheet.

This was dismissed as nonsense because hockey teams just don't do that, right?

Wrong.

The Western Conference knew the Hawks were in serious trouble, and they were ready to pounce.

If Stan Bowman didn't see it coming, then he underestimated just how many friends Dale Tallon has around the NHL, where Tallon and pal Rick Dudley have been poisoning the waters and blaming the Bowman family for all the world's ills, and then some.

So not only was Hjalmarsson attractive to a team looking for a defenseman, but stealing him would have the added benefit of hurting the Hawks and punishing Bowman.

This was something Sharks GM Doug Wilson had on his mind when he put an offer on the table, as Wilson and Tallon are close friends, a relationship dating to when Wilson was a Hawks rookie in 1977.

But you can't blame Wilson, who was only playing by the rules - if not the unwritten ones - and hoping to weaken an opponent along the way.

And this isn't on Bowman, who is merely trying to sweep up behind the proverbial horse with irritable bowel syndrome.

It's not on Antti Niemi, or his agent, Bill Zito. They aimed high and overshot, true, but they had every right to try to capitalize on a situation that was collectively bargained.

It's also not on Hawks players who have been so ridiculously overpaid, like Brian Campbell, Cristobal Huet and a half-dozen others, all of whom gladly accepted what they were offered.

How can you blame them?

But all of this, the entire exercise to avoid putting the fault where it should be, is pure fantasy, concocted in cyber versions of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.''

No, on planet Earth this is quite simply on the architect of the Stanley Cup champions.

Dale Tallon should get all the credit for finding and drafting the talent that brought a Cup to Chicago, and for that we should be grateful.

But the dismantling of the team also is on the shoulders of Tallon, who was incapable of looking into the future and seeing what he was doing to the payroll, when it was so painfully obvious to the rest of the league.

And only those slurping Kool-Aid by the tanker-full during the Tallon era didn't see the incompetence, unwilling to admit there was no plan in place.

That's right. There was no plan in place, a staggering failure to properly manage a team, and the consequence of overspending was a difficult summer of watching so many players sent away or set free.

With years of careful planning and spending, perhaps the Hawks could have won it and kept more of their players.

In any case, losing players seems a small enough price to pay for a parade the city will remember forever, a dream come true for a fan base lathered in a half-century's misery, believing generations of agony was their only fate.

And so now the Stanley Cup champs start camp in 19 days with many new faces, some fascinating challenges and interesting roster decisions.

They still have the best of their core together, and they are the defending champs.

As difficult summers go, we can think of worse.

brozner@dailyherald.com

• Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM.