- Scott Burnside, NHL
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Used to be a time when winning was the bottom line.
Not anymore, and that's certainly not the case in Chicago, where Blackhawks GM Dale Tallon was shown the door less than two months after watching the team he helped build advance to a Western Conference final for the first time since 1996. Tallon was fired Monday, just days after landing key free agents Marian Hossa and defensive specialist John Madden, signings that make the Blackhawks legitimate Stanley Cup contenders for the first time in nearly two decades.
See you later, Dale. Thanks for coming out. And don't let the door hit you on the behind.
Tallon will stay on with the team, at least temporarily, as a senior adviser in the hockey operations department.
Never mind a relationship that dates back to the mid-1970s, when Tallon first came to Chicago as a player.
Reached Tuesday morning by ESPN.com, Tallon declined to comment about his dismissal, though he said he wants nothing but success for the team for whom he'd toiled in various front-office capacities for a decade.
His stoicism speaks volumes about the character of a general manager who was instrumental in building a team that went from laughingstock to one of the NHL's biggest success stories in less than three seasons. During that time, the Hawks' season-ticket base went from an all-time low of 3,500 to 14,000. There are now more people waiting in line for season tickets than there were owned season tickets after the end of the lockout that shuttered the 2004-05 season.
Used to be a time when such successes would excuse the odd hiccup, the odd bump in the road.
To be sure, the Blackhawks have endured a few such foibles.
Did Tallon overpay for free agents Brian Campbell and Cristobal Huet last summer? Perhaps. Although it's worth noting that Campbell turned down more money elsewhere to come to Chicago.
Tallon made those bold moves, regardless of cost, because he saw that his team was evolving more quickly than many thought with the rapid development of top prospects Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews into solid NHL players. The team also boasts a strong supporting cast of emerging young talent, including Kris Versteeg, Jack Skille, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Cam Barker and Dave Bolland.
More recently, there was the foul-up over sending qualifying offers to the team's restricted free agents by mail instead of by fax or courier. The team had followed a similar process in the past but had always got the mailings out early enough that there wasn't a problem. This year, the process went off the rails, and the NHLPA filed a grievance that the offers were delivered late. The team ended up offering contracts that were worth more than they otherwise would have had to pay to players, including rookie of the year nominee Versteeg and defenseman Barker.
The mistake may end up costing the team when key players such as Kane (the NHL's rookie of the year two seasons ago), Toews, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook need new contracts, and the Blackhawks will struggle to stay under the NHL's salary cap.
Still, that mistake shouldn't have cost Tallon his job. Who among us hasn't forgotten to send a bill on time occasionally?
Not after he deftly acquired Hossa, one of the best two-way players in the game, signing him to a 12-year deal worth $63.3 million. With an average cap hit of $5.275 million, that is entirely acceptable for a player of Hossa's skill.
Although he doesn't command the profile of a Hossa, Madden's signing gives the Hawks another proven winner and a former Frank J. Selke winner as the league's best defensive forward. Another critical piece acquired by Tallon.
In the end, it wasn't the mistakes that cost Tallon as much as the simple fact he wasn't a John McDonough guy.
One NHL executive told ESPN.com on Tuesday that he thought Tallon had done as good a job as any NHL GM over the past five years.
"He couldn't have left them in a better position," the executive said.
Sources close to the team suggest there was friction between McDonough, the team's president, and Tallon for months.
In recent weeks, assistant GM Rick Dudley, considered one of the top evaluators of hockey talent in the game and a Tallon supporter, left the Blackhawks to become associate GM with the Atlanta Thrashers. It was long anticipated that Tallon would be removed from his position, even with the team enjoying unparalleled success.
Stan Bowman, the son of legendary coach Scotty Bowman, will move into Tallon's position.
Neither Bowman nor McDonough were available for comment Tuesday morning.
During his long tenure as president of the Chicago Cubs, McDonough helped mold the team into a national presence, before joining the Blackhawks in 2007. An articulate man with a forceful personality, McDonough was behind the bold move last summer to lure the elder Bowman to the Hawks, where the hockey icon served as a senior adviser last season.
McDonough was also instrumental in the firing of head coach Denis Savard just four games into the 2008-09 season. The much-loved Blackhawks figure was replaced by veteran coach Joel Quenneville, who was credited with helping the Hawks not just make the playoffs, but also win postseason series over Calgary and Vancouver before they dropped a five-game set to Detroit in the Western Conference final.
At the time of Savard's firing, we suggested the Blackhawks were still showing signs of the instability that had plagued them for years and contributed in no small way to a Stanley Cup drought stretching back to 1961, the longest of any NHL team.
The move, instead, turned out to be astute.
The decision to fire Tallon may yet prove to be a boon to the club.
Still, it does not diminish for one moment the heartlessness of the act.
Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
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