Dale Tallon conspiracy theory and other hot mailbag topics
Dale Tallon's dismissal smacks of a front-office power struggle and set-up
The Flyers' Chris Pronger contract is a high stakes gamble on the next CBA
The Devils did the right thing in bringing Jacques Lemaire back as coach
It didn't take long for the letters to start rolling in about the dismissal of Chicago Blackhawks GM Dale Tallon. Let's take a look at that hot topic, and a few more that showed up repeatedly in the mailbag.
Do you think that Dale Tallon was set up so that Scotty Bowman's son could take over as GM in Chicago? It seems to me that Tallon is being made a scapegoat for someone else's mistake with those RFA offers.
I remember wondering what led Rick Dudley to leave a position as Chicago's assistant GM for an associate GM job in Atlanta late last month. Men with his experience rarely make lateral moves. I guess all those beer-league concussions finally caught up to me. Seems pretty obvious now in hindsight, doesn't it? Dudley could hear the whispers, and he was gettin' while the gettin' was good.
Dudley's departure was just one bit of evidence pointing to a classic internal power struggle in a crowded front office. And barring a surprise Stanley Cup, it was a struggle that Tallon was destined to lose. It was reported on Monday night that he'd been dismissed and replaced by long-time assistant GM Stan Bowman.
A lot of the speculation about this firing will center on the improperly-filed qualifying offers that failed to reach eight of the team's restricted free agents in time. Tallon fell on his sword for that screw-up, and rightfully so. He's always been a buck-stops-here kind of guy, even if he wasn't personally responsible for that particularly embarrassing, and ultimately costly, episode.
But no one should think that a GM is actually licking stamps and dropping off contracts in the mail . . . and that's why this imbroglio has led to speculation that maybe whoever was responsible for moving those offers along might have applied the brakes on purpose. Not usually a fan of conspiracy theories myself, but this incident was so inexcusable that it is hard to imagine an experienced executive making that mistake.
But even the botching of a simple exercise isn't as telling as is the fact that aspects of the story were leaked to the press on at least two occasions from what had to be internal sources. Sure seems as though someone in the Hawks organization had an ax to grind. Whether that was for personal gain, the perceived betterment of the franchise or managerial homogeneity is wide open for speculation, but I think it might have been the latter.
Tallon, like Stan Bowman, was a rare holdover from the Bill Wirtz era. But Bowman the younger had his connections to the new group thanks to the hiring of his father, Scotty, as a senior adviser last summer. Tallon? He had no ties to the new regime. And you know how those scenes usually play out.
It could certainly be argued that there was basis for staging a coup. Tallon made his share of questionable decisions, including a pair of failed coaches (Trent Yawney and Denis Savard) and some brutal free agent signings, from Theo Fleury and Adrian Aucoin to the recent extravagances of Brian Campbell and Cristobal Huet, and the crippling Marian Hossa deal at the opening of this year's free agency bonanza.
Sure, Tallon had his share of wins along the way (hiring Joel Quenneville, trading rolls of hockey tape for Kris Versteeg and Patrick Sharp), but it's impossible to overlook the potential impact of those last three free agent deals.
Although there's been speculation that the Campbell and Huet signings were the brainchild of club president John McDonough, they still came on Tallon's watch and contributed to an onerous financial load on the books that may prevent the team from re-signing young cornerstones Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith after this season. And if you make those decisions, or don't have the power to fend them off, you're wide open to internal attack.
So the RFA scandal may have led to Tallon being pushed out the window, but he clearly put himself on the sill. It'll be interesting to see how Bowman goes about addressing the team's issues. He's generally well thought-of, but hasn't been in this position before. Having dad Scotty's experience to call on will help, but the Hawks' precarious financial position calls for some particularly bold strokes.
Hopefully, Stan already has a few ideas in place. No doubt the thousands gathering for the annual Blackhawks fan convention this weekend will be all ears.
You were a big supporter of the Chris Pronger trade at the draft. Do you still feel the same after he signed that seven-year extension? Seems like a lot of money to tie up in a player who could still be counting against the cap after he retires, right? Hasn't Paul Holmgren outdone Dale Tallon in screwing up a team's finances by tying up so much money for the duration of the deal?
I wasn't sure about this myself, but after a call to one of the league's more effective capologists, your assumption is confirmed. Even though Pronger signed the deal at age 34, he turns 35 this season, and that means the Flyers are on the hook for the cap hit for the duration of the deal even if the surly defender retires at the end of next season. And if not, he's still on the books for $4.921 million until he's 42. The history books aren't exactly filled with tales of useful forty-somethings on the blueline. Chris Chelios is still working on his chapter, of course, but give Pronger a chance. He struggled during the early going last fall, but was a monster down the stretch and in the postseason.
Although the Flyers are taking a lot of heat for assuming this risk, I'm not one of those who think they were caught off-guard by this loophole closure. Because here's another angle to ponder: The current CBA expires at the end of the 2011-12 season -- that's coming up fast, isn't it? -- and the truth of it is, we have no idea what the bargaining landscape will look like when the next deal is negotiated.
Given the impact that the economic slowdown is expected to have on the league's finances for the 2010-11 season, it wouldn't be surprising to see another round of rollbacks (remember that 24 percent haircut the players took after the last lockout?), buyout and renegotiation windows, and other cap-softening concessions as part of a new agreement. That whole 35-and-over clause might not be around when the next deal is ratified. So, in essence, worry about that bridge when it's time to drive off it.
Now, if the Flyers signed off on this deal assuming that the new CBA would include a Get Out of Salary Jail Free card just for them, well, that's about as risky as going into the season with a goaltending tandem of Ray Emery and Brian Boucher. Shame on them if that's the case. Still, there's a chance this contract won't impact them as negatively as some fear, which is entirely different from the Marian Hossa deal that is set to impact the Hawks' lineup next summer.
At least Holmgren has a chance to see this deal to its conclusion. That won't be the case with Tallon.
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