July 14, 2009
After one of the most impactful binges in the free-agent frenzy, Chicago Blackhawks GM Dale Tallon oversaw one of the most titanic blunders in recent NHL history as the Hawks were late in sending qualifying offers to eight restricted free agents.
The NHLPA filed a grievance, and Tallon scrambled to sign all eight players to contracts; some of which seemed a bit higher than what they would have earned otherwise.
Tallon was a standup guy about it, telling the Chicago Tribune: "The buck stops here; I can take the heat."
Well, it appears Tallon's taking the heat. Comcast SportsNet Chicago's Josh Mora reported Monday night (via TFP) that the Blackhawks have canned Tallon and will promote assistant GM Stan Bowman to the role on Tuesday. Bowman is the son of the legendary Scotty Bowman, who is a mastermind behind the scenes in the Chicago front offices.
(UPDATE 12:10 p.m. EST: The Blackhawks have made it official, with an important bit of new information -- they have promoted Stan Bowman to general manager but have reassigned Dale Tallon to the position of senior advisor, hockey operations. So "fired" isn't entirely correct anymore. We've edited this post to reflect the confirmation.)
This move will fuel speculation that Tallon's firing has long been in the works, with team president John McDonough having to dispel rumors that he intended to fire the GM back in December. The qualifying offer mess provides more than enough cover for such a decision.
Of course, that theory just gets wacky when you read this Kevin Paul Dupont nugget in the Boston Globe from July 12:
Chicago insiders say it wasn't GM Dale Tallon's fault that qualifying offers to the club's restricted free agents got bungled, leaving the likes of Kris Versteeg(notes) (a former Bruins draft pick) and Cam Barker(notes) potential unrestricted free agents (pending a grievance filed by the Players Association). The offers, though mailed on time, didn't reach all recipients by the June 30 deadline. Why? According to one source who has regular dealings with the Chicago front office, club president John McDonough had a hand in delaying the mailing of the offers. Meanwhile, Tallon offered himself up for the blame.
Huh. So did Tallon deserve to take the fall?
In the short-term, this RFA mess was likely a chain reaction of FAIL inside the Blackhawks' power structure. As Tallon said, the buck stops with him; but it's really just the cherry on the sundae for his foibles.
Tallon's demise can be traced back to two numbers: 7.140 and 5.625. Those are the cap hits in millions for Brian Campbell(notes) (through 2016!) and Cristobal Huet(notes) (through 2012), and those are among the inflated salaries that are the real cause of the headaches next summer, when players like Patrick Kane(notes) and Jonathan Toews(notes) are up for new contracts.
As we've said before, the signing of Marian Hossa(notes) from the Detroit Red Wings to a 12-year deal with a cap hit of $5.233 million was a manageable problem; it became untenable when Tallon had to sign Kris Versteeg (three years, $3.083 million cap hit) and Cam Barker (three years, $3.083 cap hit) after the RFA snafu, following his overpayment for scrappy center Dave Bolland(notes) (five years, $3.375 million).
How complicit was Bowman in all of this? Apparently not to the point where his promotion is seen as extending Tallon's mistakes as his successor. In fact, Steve Rosenbloom of the Chicago Tribune predicted this scenario way back in October 2008, when Denis Savard was fired:
I signed off the last post with the idea that Dale Tallon will be the next Blackhawks suit to get fired, and the more I think about the ham-handed way in which this or-gan-I-za-tion fired coach Denis Savard on Thursday after a win -- and just four games into the season -- the more I think the Hawks are wasting our time with the news conference this afternoon.
They should just finish the job. They should do what it seems hockey guru Scotty Bowman has in mind, which I believe is to get rid of Tallon, promote his son, Stan, the Hawks assistant GM, and then everybody will take orders from Scotty. This is what seems to be happening anyway, so why not admit it and get on with it?
So was it McDonough or "Svengali Bowman" (as Rosenbloom calls him) that ended Tallon's four-year reign as GM? Just as important: What's Tallon's legacy? Does he deserve credit for helping to rebuild this proud franchise, or criticism for helping to put it in salary cap hell?
Please allow us to end this Tallon post on a bittersweet note, with the greatest holiday story in recent hockey history. If nothing else, it shows Dale Tallon really meant something to his Chicago Blackhawks ...
UPDATE: Second City Hockey has a really in-depth look at Stan Bowman and Dale Tallon that's worth a look.