Let me also add this: A number of you have jumped to conclusions about who did what, who I think is to blame, who the bad guys are, etc. Don’t. You’ll be surprised, and a lot of good people are being unfairly criticized in the comment space. As soon as I can share the whole story, I will.
A number of you have criticized me for being a tease, or for doing this because I need affirmation. Hey, I get why you feel that way. And I need validation as much of the next guy! But as I wrote at the top of that blog, this is part of a much larger project that I’m working on (one that only tangientally has to deal with the Blackhawks but which I think you’ll find interesting), and I admit that I am trying to generate publisher interest in that project. I’m following the advice of someone in publishing, who says I can submit more soon. Thanks for your patience.
In reading this, a number of you have asked to see the original blog that I wrote on July 14, 2009, that many of you believed led to my not getting renewed. Well, you’ll have to wait for the rest of the story to find out if that’s the case, but in the meantime, even though it isn’t totally relevant to the outcome, here’s the original blog, unedited even from some of the things I would rewrite or tone down if I had the chance to do it again. I’m not blameless to be sure, and I understand some of the things that upset the Blackhawks and Comcast Sportsnet. But I absolutely stand by the story, my sourcing and my observations from several seasons covering the team.
Thanks again for being such passionate fans of hockey and the Blackhawks, and for taking the time to consider some of the things on my mind.
July 14, 2009
Late Monday night sources told me the Blackhawks had fired Dale Tallon as GM and replaced him with Assistant GM Stan Bowman. With Rick Dudley already gone to Atlanta this off-season, it means that the Blackhawks have turned over virtually their entire front office since John McDonough came in as president, with Bowman being the lone exception.
First, some thoughts about Bowman. Stan is a very sharp guy. Though his background is the financial side, rather than the player/scouting side, he’s been around hockey all his life. (He was named after the Stanley Cup for Pete’s sake!) He’s been involved in the decisions about on-ice personnel since I’ve been around the team. With Stan, the club is in good hands going forward.
But how Stan ascends to the general manager’s position, and how it became available in the first place, betrays big political maneuverings in the front office. Those kinds of things are never healthy — not when those conflicts are ongoing, and in the end they aren’t healthy for those who survive the conflict. These kinds of manifestations of petty jealousies are worrisome for a franchise that has had so much going in the right direction.
To the outside world, it appears that the Hawks fired Dale Tallon because he cost them money when the organization bungled the distribution of the RFA offers two weeks ago. But it likely isn’t so. First of all, the agents and players I talked to disputed the notion that the Hawks lost money in the mistake. Every one of them doubted that the players would have automatically become Unrestricted Free Agents even if the Players’ Association won their grievance, which was a questionable proposition. Second, it isn’t clear that Tallon was the one who made the mistakes, even though he took the blame for it last week. There’s even a published report from Sunday’s Boston Globe by the esteemed veteran hockey writer Kevin Paul Dupont that cites a source saying that Tallon wasn’t to blame for the RFA mistakes, but that McDonough himself had a hand in delaying the contracts.
So there are clearly two stories here. The first claims Tallon made the mistakes. That story leaked to TSN at night on July 3rd, three days after the contracts were late. The question is why then? And who released it? I raised those questions at the time, and in my last blog you’ll note that one of the possibilities I suggested was that “It could be someone within the organization who has his eyes on the GM job, or who wants someone different in the GM job. All I can say here is that I hope not. But I think it’s a plausible scenario.” With the clarity of a little time and a few more developments, it looks to me like this is the scenario that allowed the contract snafu to reach the public.
The second story is the one that reached the Boston Globe, and in retrospect it looks like the defense put out by Tallon’s supporters. Why, then, did Tallon himself accept the responsibility? In part he did it because Tallon plays by old school rules of war and hockey and other sports — the man in charge takes the bullet because ultimately all the responsibilities are his responsibilities. And in part he did it because he knew that once that RFA story hit the streets, he was a goner.
We may never know the truth of what happened in regards to the RFA story. I highly doubt John McDonough had anything to do with delaying the contracts himself. For one, it’s bad public relations, and McDonough doesn’t stand for that. For another, McDonough is about mending fences not creating rifts. For a third, I think such a move would be beneath him. Let’s not forget, it was McDonough who made sure the team went to Dale’s father’s funeral as a team after a game in Toronto. John doesn’t fight dirty in his own house.
But could someone else, have intentionally held up those contracts, knowing it would make Dale look bad and cause the kind of negative publicity that McDonough detests? Last blog I said that though I hoped not, it was plausible, and I think so again here (Though for the record, I’m not referring to Stan Bowman. This isn’t how he operates. Nor am I trying to out the person here. It really isn’t relevant to the larger point).
And so I think this points to the real reason Dale was let go. There was a deep divide in the front office about many things. Certain player signings. Certain contract agreements. Direction about styles of play and which players fit those styles of play. During the playoffs, there were even some front office people who weren’t thrilled to see the Hawks advance as far as they did because that made it tougher to move Dale out.
Dale was not a perfect GM, but I liked him. Perhaps there were some contract negotiations that could have gone better. Perhaps there are managers with more natural intellectual talents. But Tallon certainly knew hockey up and down. He made more good trades than bad trades. He signed and drafted more good players than bad ones (though by less of a margin than his trading record). And he was a great guy to deal with — courteous to the media, gracious in returning phone calls and texts, and lightning quick with a one-liner.
But I liked him most because he loved his team — the organization as well as the individual players — with every ounce of his being. He churned as much about winning and losing when the team had a 66 point season, as he did when they were three wins away from the Stanley Cup Finals. There’s something to be said about having a guy at the top of the organization who allows his passion to burn so visibly rather than keeping it close to his vest.
We’ll find out over the coming months if the Hawks actually improved on Monday night. It’s very possible they did. But the days of innocence and wonder are over. The Hawks paid a price in blood and soul. They have to win, then hope the price they paid to do so was worth it.