Dale Tallon: Things get worse before they get better

Dale Tallon was named general manager of the Chicago Blackhawks on June 21, 2005. His first year featured a spending spree that landed free agents Nikolai Khabibulin, Adrian Aucoin, Martin Lapointe and Jaroslav Spacek (Khabibulin’s four-year pact made him the highest-paid goalie in the NHL). Trent Yawney was hired as the team’s new head coach.

That team was supposed to take a big step forward. Instead, they finished 28th in the NHL. That summer, they drafted Jonathan Toews third overall. Four summers later, the Blackhawks celebrated their first Stanley Cup in 49 years.

It’s easy to forget now just how bad Tallon’s summer of spending in 2005 was. Leaving aside Yawney (he survived the debacle of 2005-06 but was canned midway through the following season), here’s how the four big free agent signings turned out:

Player Term Cap Hit 2011-12 Outcome
Nikolai Khabibulin 4 6.75 11.13 Recorded a 0.904 SV% over four years with the team (prompting the signing of Cristobal Huet)
Adrian Aucoin 4 4.00 6.60 Had two injury-filled years, was dealt to Calgary with a 7th rd. pick for Andrei Zyuzin and Steve Marr
Martin Lapointe 3 2.40 3.96 Recorded 31 and 24 points over 82-game seasons, had 7 points in Year 3 before being dealt (for a 6th rd. pick)
Jaroslav Spacek 1 2.25 3.71 Played 45 games before being dealt to Edmonton for Tony Salmelainen

The “2011-12” column is the equivalent cap hit in 2011-12 dollars to their cap hits against the 2005-06 salary ceiling.

Spacek was dealt in that first season (he had easily the best first year of the group) and all that Tallon managed to get for him was Tony Salmalainen, a 5’9” forward who would score six goals in 57 games for Chicago. Spacek would play a key role on the Edmonton Oilers, helping them reach the Stanley Cup Finals as a top four defenseman.

Adrian Aucoin missed a bunch of time over two years and was dealt for almost nothing to Calgary – an AHL/ECHL defender in Marr and a guy with 32 games left in his NHL career in Zyuzin. Lapointe was dealt at the deadline the same year, bringing back a sixth round pick.

Only Khabibulin played all four seasons. He was awful for two and mediocre for one, prompting the ‘Hawks to sign Cristobal Huet as a replacement. He had his first good regular season splitting time with the latter, but struggled in the playoffs (he allowed 10 goals in 2-1/2 games against Detroit in the third round before leaving with injury and finished the post-season with a 0.898 SV%).

Those four players alone took up 40% of the cap space Chicago had to sign their whole team in that first year. All four were disasters in the Windy City.

That didn’t stop the Chicago Blackhawks from going on to win the Stanley Cup, largely with the core assembled under Tallon’s watch – Tallon himself having replace in the top hockey operations job by Stan Bowman. Chicago is still a legitimate contender today, although the team has struggled with the salary cap implications of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane coming off their entry-level contracts – they’ve basically been bleeding salary ever since.

The management of a Stanley Cup team doesn’t need to be perfect. They just need to be good enough to get the team into a position where they have a good shot at winning it all. That should be a comforting thought to Oilers fans, who have seen the team wander in the wilderness since 2006. The club’s original architect, Kevin Lowe, is now the president of hockey operations; the general manager since 2008, Steve Tambellini, just received a contract extension. The team’s newest hockey operations hire, Craig MacTavish, spent years coaching the club.

Dale Tallon’s first moves as Blackhawks general manager were awful; he was undeniably part of the problem before he was part of the solution. Yet he still managed to do the bulk of the heavy lifting in transforming the Blackhawks from also-ran to powerhouse. Oilers fans just have to hope their team’s management is equally capable of turning things around.

This week by Jonathan Willis

  • DSF

    @DSF

    I never said anything about goal scoring. There’s a lot more to improving your GD than just scoring more goals.

    And you can have as many young defencemen as you want, but it doesn’t mean they’ll all grow up in a nice linear line year after year.

    I’m willing to bet serious money that Tallon can’t spend to the cap, at least not right now, so having $30 mil in cap space isn’t all that useful.

    Not only that, but if he’s bought into the fact that he’s created a legitimate team (which I don’t think he has), then he’s not going to make as many moves as he’ll need to make.

    Oilers did the same thing coming out of 07-08… they bought into their hype and all their kids. Turned out poorly, which is what happens when you run into kids.

    And dude, I don’t care if Howden and company are better than Pitlick and company. I never compared them, nor did I bring up anything about the Oilers depth (or lack thereof).