MONTREAL - JUNE 26:  General Manager Dale Tallon of the Chicago Blackhawks speaks from the podium during the first round of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft at the Bell Centre on June 26, 2009 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

When a team like the Chicago Blackhawks completes the turnaround from bottom-feeder to Cup-contender, generally the team’s general manager deserves a lot of credit.  That isn’t what happened in Chicago, however; instead, Dale Tallon was demoted and replaced by Stan Bowman.

 

Fortunately for Tallon, however, the owners of the Florida Panthers give him more credit for his success in Chicago than his own team did, and thus they decided to name him general manager of their club a few days ago, replacing Randy Sexton, whose future at this point is unclear.  It’s a decision that appears to have gone over well among Panthers fans, but there are things that worry me.

 

For starters, Tallon spent a lot of dollars on free agents during his time with the Blackhawks, and there’s a trend to those moves that I’m not convinced is encouraging.

 

Summer 2005

 

Tallon made four significant free agent acquisitions after being named G.M. in the summer of 2005.  Here’s the list:

 

  • Nikolai Khabibulin – four years at $6.75 million per season
  • Adrian Aucoin – four years at $4.0 million per season
  • Martin Lapointe – three years at $2.4 miilion per season
  • Jaroslav Spacek – One year at $2.25 million per season

 

Those dollar figures may not seem like much now, but one must remember that they occurred immediately after the NHL lockout, with the salary cap set at $39.0 million.  Under today’s cap, those deals would be equivalent to the following:

 

  • Khabibulin – $9.83 million per season
  • Aucoin – $5.83 million per season
  • Lapointe – $3.5 million per season
  • Spacek – $3.28 million per season

 

Fortunately for Tallon, the cap skyrocketed over the coming years, because those deals could have completely handcuffed the Blackhawks.  Nikolai Khabibulin had won a cup with Tampa Bay prior to the lockout (and had been brilliant in the playoffs) but Tallon made him far and away the highest paid goalie in the league – paid a full 25% more than Martin Brodeur, who sat number two on the list – despite the fact that Khabibulin’s 0.910 SV% ranked him 18th among NHL starters in 2003-04.  Using either regular save percentage or even-strength save percentage, Khabibulin had over the last few years slotted into the second tier of NHL goalies: somewhere between eight and 15.  Based on the Cup win, however, Tallon chose to pay Khabibulin like an elite goaltender.

 

As for the others, Aucoin was coming off a career year with the Islanders, one in which he’d posted his highest goals, assists, and point totals, Lapointe was coming off two ugly years in Boston, while Spacek had established himself as a useful NHL defenceman with Columbus.

 

The Khabibulin and Lapointe deals were overpays from day one, but Tallon got very unlucky with Khabibulin, who crashed and burned out the gate and developed chronic injury problems that had not been evident earlier in his career.  Lapointe’s play improved from his time in Boston but not enough to justify the money he got.  Aucoin, coming off three good seasons, struggled through injury and underperformed before being dealt to Calgary a few years later.  Spacek played well before being dealt to Edmonton.

 

So Tallon made one good signing (Spacek) one decent signing which backfired because of unforeseeable injury (Aucoin), one bad signing which got worse thanks to unforeseeable injury (Khabibulin) and one bad signing that stayed bad (Lapointe).    The signings represented a huge infusion of cash, but had negligible impact on the standings.

 

2006-2007

 

Tallon was content to make minor tweaks to the Blackhawks over the next two years rather than inject more money into the team, and so he signed a series of small fish, none of which ever amounted to much in Chicago.  Denis Arkhipov, Peter Bondra, Yanic Perreault and Robert Lang were all one-and-done, with only Lang having much impact during his single season stay.  The only long-term player acquired via free agency over these years was Brent Sopel.

 

Summer 2008

After two years of mostly quiet summer shopping, Tallon returned to signing big name players, acquiring two: Brian Campbell and Cristobal Huet.  Like Khabibulin, Huet had a good if not overwhelming track record, but Tallon didn’t pay quite as much for his newest goaltender as he had for Khabibulin, perhaps in part because Khabibulin was still on the payroll.  Once again, he was rather unlucky in his choice of goaltender; the Huet signing has been an unmitigated disaster from the first time he put on a Blackhawks uniform.

 

Tallon also overpaid for Campbell, offering him an eight year deal worth just over $7.1 million annually.  His cap hit currently ranks fourth among NHL defencemen.

 

Tallon would be fired the following year after making his best free agent signing – Marian Hossa, at a lengthy term but modest dollar figure.  However, even including Hossa in this discussion, of the five long-term, big-dollar deals Tallon signed, four of them either represented overpayments or failures.  It’s a track record that would make me leery of putting him in charge of my team’s free agent recruitment.

Comments (19)

  1. I don’t know if Florida’s budget situation will allow Tallon to Free Spend in any way, shape or fom.

    The Oiler are lucky to have Khabibulin now.
    At only $3.75 per!

    Do you think Tallon wouldlike another kick at the Khabibulin cat?
    You know, to get it right this time?

  2. So first on Tallons list will be to ship out Vokoun and Horton. to give Kovy $10 mill per year and sign Dan Ellis to a 5 year 35 mill contract right? Oh and we cant for get he’ll add Marleau too… Just saying this guy is just like Fergusson Jr was throwing money at name players.

  3. You’re focusing too much on the negative side of Tallon’s time in Chicago. What about the players that he/his system found, stars like Toews, Bolland, Keith, Seabrook, Kane, Versteeg, et al? Sure he’s a bomb at the free agency table, but he sure knows young talent when he sees it. He also had the balls to fire Denis Savard after only 4 games into the 2008 season, hiring Quinville, who has been fantastic.

  4. Taken in the proper context, none of those decisions were bad.
    From reading the article presented, Dale Tallon’s MO would seem to be; make bad decisions, waste money or get lucky. Nothing in between for this short bus rider…
    Recall how chronically bad the Blackhawks were?
    ***1 season out of 8 with a .500 or better finish.40+ years without a Cup.**

    **ESPN names the Hawks the “Worst Franchise in Sports” the year preceeding Tallon’s appointment.**

    In 4.5 seasons with Tallon as the GM, the Hawks have 3 seasons above .500 with 2 seasons in the conference finals.

    Khabibuhlin and Campbell signings are just further proof of Tallon’s winning. It’s not like other teams weren’t bidding for those guys.

    It’s not like every contender was tripping over themselves to trade for Campbell at the deadline. It’s not like teams weren’t killing themselves to sign him in free agency.

    I suppose that goalies coming off of Cup wins are generally unwanted to the point that they have to sign with the worst team in the league if they want a job.

    Lets try and forget that Adrian Aucoin was an all-star defenseman with a cannon shot the year prior to the lockout or, that Tallon avoided the full brunt of his error by trading Aucoin away after 2 years of that ‘terrible’ deal.

    Let’s ignore that Martin Lapointe was a highly regarded veteran grinder with massive playoff experience who was signed to do the dirty work and provide leadership to a young team.

    And above all, let us forget that Tallon was bringing in quality guys to a horrible franchise with a reputation for cheapness and persistent losing (for those of you who don’t understand, attracting quality talent to a bad situation is a tough task).

    Florida is getting a GM who is willing to make moves to get better, a man who understands that success on the ice equals butts in the seats. Great hire for the Panthers.

  5. Noskillgill:

    I’m looking at one facet of Tallon’s track record at this point, not the entire thing. On the trade front, he was excellent in Chicago.

    But his free agent record was brutal, and it’s indicative of something.

  6. JW-it’s indicative of the powers of hindsight and the game changing nature of ignoring context when evaluating decisions that were made within a specific context.

    Here is the context…the Blackhawks were a joke. The owner was a known cheapskate, free agents weren’t knocking on their door.
    Somehow, Tallon convinced a Stanley Cup winning goalie, a cup winning grinder, an all star defenseman and a top 4 defenseman to come on board after the lockout. He did that with money. It had to be done if the Hawks were going to improve and they did both on the ice and at the gate.

    It turns out that Aucoin wasn’t an all-star. Tallon moved him for spare parts after 2 seasons. No harm done.
    Lapointe played over 200 consecutive games for the Hawks and is now one of their pro scouts. Guess he didn’t work out either.
    Spacek was turned into Samaleinen. Not bad.
    Khabibhulin played 202 regular season games for the Hawks and won 90 of them (out of 143 total wins). He was so horrible that Edmonton thought he was worth a 4 year deal.
    Huet an unmitigated disaster? 40-26-8 over 2 seasons, GAA just a hair over 2.50.
    That’s not really an unmitigated disaster, he’s still an asset that can be moved; someone will want the guy.
    Campbell overpaid? Maybe. But someone was going to overpay him and the Blackhawks needed a qb to move the puck up the ice (Campbell himself claimed that he left richer offers on the table).
    Dave Tallon wasn’t the only person who didn’t see a global financial correction barreling down the pipe, is Campbell considered overpaid if the cap is at 65 mil instead of 56 (remember, the cap jumped over 10% a year until this year)?
    All these horrible decisions and yet the Hawks improved every single year Tallon was the GM…
    So,what’s 195 wins over 5 seasons with 2 conference finals indicative of?

  7. Outstanding article. Great minds think alike and all.

    Gill, if you’re going to continue to comment, you may want to start thinking at a deeper level. It’s great that you’re about to spout and re-spout narratives, but if we wanted that we could quite easily read the paper. You do write a lot of words though. So, you’ve got that going for you.

  8. What deeper level? JW states that he thinks Tallon over-spent in FA. I think that is only true now and incorrect when taken in the context that was present at the time. What am I missing?
    Oh, right. I’m not an acolyte of the Corsi Temple (based apparently, in Edmonton) mindlessly spouting of poorly conceived statistics and mis-applying them to an analysis of a stand alone event for which there is no statistical history. So, I must not know anything and my opinions are therefor invalid.
    What narrative am I re-spouting though? Is it the age old wisdom of taking things in their proper context? Or is it the one about hindsight being 20/20?
    I will continue to comment, without the deeper level thinking that is apparently required here and; it’s noskillgill, not Gill. It’s a reference to Todd Gill, who was great; corsi be damned.Try and stop me.

  9. noskillgill – I won’t debate your entire refutal of JW’s post, but one thing is sure:

    Taken in or out of context, the Khabibulin contract was terrible, period. Saying the Oilers signed him 4 years later is pointless, at that time and in retrospect, it was a stupid move. Khabibulin was never in the top 10 goalies in the league, but Tallon paid him like the best – that’s stupid cap management and there’s no defending it. Good cap management is about signing players to contract that they will outperform. It was clear from the moment the ink dried on that contract that Khabibulin would never outperform his contract, so context doesn’t change squat in this situation.
    The Huet deal was, if that’s possible, even worse than the Khabibulin one. First, they still had the (cracked) Bulin Wall on the payroll, so signing another big-ticket goalie was another indication of bad cap management. Second, Huet was never worth that money and never will be – he never was in the top 15 goalies in the league, and is being paid like one. That again is bad cap management because, again, this player cannot outperform his contract, so the team is getting shortchanged.

    I’m not saying Tallon never did anything right, on the contrary. But going on and on about taking contracts into context doesn’t change the fact that they were bad signings.

  10. Also, quoting wins and GAA to justify Huet’s performance is pointless… these are team stats. An ECHL goalie could post these stats behind Chicago’s defense.
    Goaltender talent is evaluated with sv% (even better with even strength sv%, taking away the volatile PK stats) and here are Huet’s numbers for his 2 years with the Hawks:

    2008-2009: ES ,916% (51st in the NHL)
    2009-2010: ES ,896% (an astounding 76th in the NHL)

    These are backup numbers, with a 5,25M cap hit. JW is being kind in calling this an unmitigated disaster.

  11. Noskillgill, I think you are missing the point.

    It’s all well and good that the Hawks have 2 conference finals appearances. The question isn’t whether or not Tallon has brought in some good players, the question is whether the guys he signed are going to be good or bad for the organization over the next few years.

    Brian Campbell helps the Hawks out. He’s a good player. The question though is if he costs you Hjalmarsson because Campbell is the 4th highest paid D-man in the league, is that good? Would they have been better off signing a guy not quite as good for less money and being able to keep their core of good young defencemen together for a few more years longer?

    That ultimately is the issue. Someone in Chicago is going to have to do some pretty fancy footwork to keep the core of this team intact.

  12. James, I agree Huet is a backup. But I think that makes him less than an unmitigated disaster. He is tradeable, maybe the Hawks can save a million on the cap if they bundle him with a mid round pick.
    Dawg, I am not missing the point. I love how people say that when someone is in disagreement with them. Yes, I can understand why people say Tallon messed up the Hawks long term but, it isn’t like he traded Gretzky for cash and pucks. He made the team very good,they have a window to win it all and then they will have to make some really smart moves to stay at the top.
    I think that’s what a good GM does, he creates a winning team.
    As for the hypotheticals, other than Campbell; what were the options at the time? Who could they have signed instead of Campbell? Would that mystery player make them better? Could he make them worse? What if the guy you are talking about turns out to be a party animal with a coke habit and gets Toews and Kane strung out on peruvian snow?
    The main arguments against Tallon as a good GM is that he lucked out in the draft and dropped the ball on contract management. I can see the point but I can’t help but notice the Hawks have been on my tv in the middle of May two years running. I hope they lose, I can’t stand the thought of a Bowman parachuting in for another Cup.

  13. A lucky GM makes a team good in the short teem, a good GM makes a team good in the long term.

    Mark Streit comes to mind as a better signing than Brian Campbell was (even on a bump in pay).

    That really is the issue. You keep focusing on the fact that they keep playing in the middle of May the past 2 years but the fact of the matter is that was because their young players weren’t all getting paid and were outperforming their contracts. And instead of preparing for the day when they would need to get paid, he blew money unwisely.

    I don’t understand how Huet playing as a below average backup is anything but an unmitigated disaster? Who is going to take his cap hit for a mid round pick? Have many teams swapped problem contracts over the years? I haven’t seen it.

  14. Managing a hockey team isn’t like saving up for a cottage. The cottage will be there in 15 years, you have time on your side. In sports, especially for a team a near half century out of their last championship; you strike while the iron is hot and worry about tomorrow when it comes. Yes, I do keep focusing on the fact that they are a contender.
    As for Huet, he is in the top 15 all time in sv%. While he looked really bad at times this year, he still had a winning record and a handful of shutouts. Someone will be willing to take him for the right offer and if not, they’ll keep him. Niemi looks pretty good but I wouldn’t say he’s the real deal just yet.

  15. No, managing a hockey team is not like saving up for a cottage, it’s like managing a hockey team in which you focus on not just 1 year at a time but several years down the road.

    I’m not talking about taking a chance this season and adding a quality player, or trading a pick for a guy at the deadline.

    I’m talking about bad decisions you make this year that impact you for several years down the road. Decisions that strip you of the depth that makes you the team you are today.

    In terms of Huet, that’s something that was hard to see coming (his fall off). The issue though is that they once again paid a significant amount of money for something that could have been cheaper. They paid elite money for a goaltender who as good, but not elite. They massively overpaid when their were comparable options at a reduced cost.

  16. Look. Huet isn’t elite; I’m not suggesting he is but again, this is all in hindsight. He looked pretty elite when he played for Washington and Montreal (just as Khabibhulin looked elite winning a cup in TB and stonewalling all those years in the ‘peg).
    Tallon’s problem is that he seems to like stealing other peoples goalies by overpaying them. Huet was going to be paid after 08,maybe not 5 mil but he was gonna get something close to that. And while it is easy for those of us not actually making a living off the game to armchair manage,when your job is on the line and you have expectations to meet; you do what you need to do to get to tomorrow.
    You say Tallon made mistakes and no doubt he did but, he also made a team that has been in serious contention for 2 years running (not 1 year) and that will be a top 6 team regardless of who they have to move to stay cap friendly.
    Maybe his flashy tactics don’t play well in an original six city where hockey already has a foothold but I think he’s just what Florida needed. The NHL is a business and in some markets, any news is good news.

  17. Yeah, Huet looked good… as did Khabibulin. The thing is there are a lot of good goalies around that are available every year that you don’t need to throw a truck load of money at. Even if they are a slight step down the money you save on them can be added to other areas on your team.

    The problem with the whole job on the line argument is that he was doing it before his job shshould have even been in jeopardy. He was throwing money around for a couple of seasons as it was. Not only that, but the last thing you want is for your GM to be trying to save his job as opposed to building the best team for both now and in the future. Being desperate and making desperate decisions (I disagree that they were, he just liked the shiney object behind the display case and opened his wallet for it) isn’t an excuse.

    I don’t get the serious contention line. I really don’t. The Hawks were thoroughly whipped by the Red Wings last year. So much so that the series wasn’t even competetive. That’s not being in contention. This year they are a contender and if they win the cup that’s all well and good, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t have done it without bad value signings like Huet and Campbell. The issue is not that the Hawks aren’t a good team now (they are). The issue is that the Hawks could be a good team now and be in great shape for the future but they aren’t.

  18. Dawg, the issue isn’t what you think could have happened. The issue is what did happen. Tallon made moves, his team is in the conference finals two years running.
    So they lost to a powerhouse borderline dynasty in their first kick at the contending can. I bet against them and made my dough but the fact is, conference finals means you are a serious contender.
    As for the wealth of good goalies, it is simply not true not then, not ever. NHL teams simply do not take chances with goalies,they all prefer proven commodities over unknowns. This is why Manny Legace still gets a job even though he proved years ago that he is too small to cover the net. Factor in the marketing angle for Khabi and the playoff run Chicago was loading up for with Huet and there is nothing left to debate.
    In 05, Bhulin was far and away the best goalie available unless of course, you prefer Mike Dunham or Jocelyn Thibault. In 08, who was a better choice (at the time)? Emery? Joseph?
    Get real dude, stop hating.

  19. [...] is heading toward an offseason in which his team will be flush with cap space, something he’s sure to handle better than he did in Chicago, thus giving the Panthers an opportunity to retool for the 2011-12 season. The Florida [...]

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