When I first heard that Dale Tallon had been reassigned (Martin Havlat's agent Allan Walsh seems to think Tallon was fired... incidentally, Walsh makes my list of folks that should consider cancelling their twitter accounts) by the Chicago Blackhawks, I wasn't surprised. In fact, given what had happened earlier in the summer (Chicago failed to send qualifying offers to theri restricted free agents on time, presumably something in Tallon's area of responsibility) it even seemed appropriate. Yet, the first report I read on the matter from TSN included this:
"The incident was an embarrassing one for the club and the NHLPA filed a grievance with the league, but it was not believed to be a major factor in the change."
I would be interested to know where that information came from. In a follow-up report by TSN they mention that team president John McDonough used the offer sheet fiasco as one of the reasons for Tallon being removed from the role of general manager. In fact, McDonough said that Tallon "probably [would] not" have been replaced if the offer sheets had been tendered on time. So what set of facts led to the first report?
When Denis Savard was fired there was some speculation that McDonough was looking for a reason to fire Tallon as well. At the time I didn't think that there was much to it. If they had wanted to fire Tallon, they could have done it the same day as Savard. Quennville had been brought in as a pro scout shortly after Scotty Bowman was brought in as "senior adviser of hockey operations" (now that Tallon has that title Bowman will probably change his title to "most senior adviser of hockey operations" just so that everyone is clear on who sits where on the totem pole). Sure it would have looked a bit bush league to fire both Savard and Tallon after four games (instead of, you know, before the season starts) but if you feel that the people running the organization aren't competent, you may as well get them out of the organization.
This is why I take issue with Tom Benjamin's description of John MacDonagh as courageous. Benjamin believes that MacDonagh had felt for a long time that Tallon was not right for the job. Given some of Martin Havlat's comments ("McDonough knew long ago he was going to fire Dale"), that situation seems quite likely. So why, then, did he wait. It seems positively stupid to let a man you think is incompetent run the organization for over a year, through another draft and another round of free agency before firing him. Why would anyone do this?
I think Martin Havlat provides a darn good answer. In an interview with Darren Dreger at TSN, Havlat says:
"My negotiation with Chicago was not between Dale and my agent, it was between Dale and McDonough. Why? Because McDonough couldn't stand that Dale was so successful and getting the credit for building the Hawks from a last place team to making the Conference Final in three short years. Remember, we were also the youngest team in the NHL last year. I was too closely identified with Dale. McDonough knew long ago he was going to fire Dale. He wanted someone he could claim as his own. He wanted to stand up at the convention and claim credit for signing this guy or that guy."
Now, a lot of what Havlat has to say here is pretty clearly BS. I doubt very much that McDonough was jealous of Tallon's success, since their success was shared. I also strongly doubt that Havlat was let go because of any connection with Dale Tallon. It probably had a lot more to do with his history of injuries, most recently the concussion he suffered in the Conference Finals. What I don't doubt is that Havlat came to an agreement with Tallon but that Tallon couldn't convince McDonough to sign off on the deal. That explains the degree to which Havlat was upset. He believed a deal was in place. It also explains why Tallon wasn't fired before free agency. The Hawks have set Tallon up as the fall guy. If the team does poorly this season or runs into cap trouble, that will be laid on Tallon. To some degree this is fair. The offer sheet fiasco, Huet's huge salary (although Huet has been a good goalie over the last several seasons), and especially Brian Campbell's ludicrous contract (third highest paid defender in the league!) all happened on Dale Tallon's watch. The thing is, the guy they hired, Stan Bowman, was the team's assistant general manager the entire time. The Hawks website describes his duties during this time as follows:
"Bowman attended to the day-to-day administration of the Blackhawks’ hockey operations department with his primary responsibilities including all CBA-related matters such as contract negotiations, free agency, salary arbitration, player movement and player assignment."
It seems to me, then, that the whole offer sheet fiasco should rest partially on Bowman as well as Tallon. The site also comments on his role in recent player acquisitions:
"Bowman played an integral part in the recent major free agent signings of Marian Hossa, Tomas Kopecky and John Madden in 2009 and Brian Campbell and Cristobal Huet in 2008."
I imagine this sentence will change drastically if Hossa doesn't perform well, if Campbell ends up being the main reason for some of Chicago's young talent changing addresses and if Huet ends up underperforming. If those things happen, I imagine the blame will rest with Dale Tallon. That's why he stayed on through free agency even though he wasn't the guy with the final say. If things go poorly, he's the guy that takes the blame. If things go well, Bowman and McDonough will be in front of the cameras to take the credit. In the end, replacing Dale Tallon probably isn't a bad choice. The offer sheet incident in particular isn't really defensible. But the way it was handled was not courageous. It was cowardly.