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

      Tallon wasn’t successful until he learned how to be a GM.

      He came straight out of the broadcast booth and had to figure things out.

      Like a couple of GM’s we are all too familiar with, he started out his career whale hunting.

      It appears Tallon learned his craft pretty quickly since the team he built won a cup only four years later.

      If we assume the year the Tweedles signed Khabibulin (2009) as their first whale hunt, when they should have learned something, they should be winning a cup any time now.

      The Tallon Timeline:

      First season – 65 points

      Second season – 71 points

      Third season – 88 points

      Fourth season – 104 points (playoffs)

      Fifth season – 112 points (Stanley Cup)

      The Tambellini Timeline:

      First season – 85 points

      Second season – 62 points

      Third season – 62 points

      Fourth season – 74 points

      Fifth season – Stanley Cup?

      It would appear that Tambellini is lagging just a few years behind if the Oilers are on the Hawks trajectory.

      I would suggest we follow the Panthers trajectory since Tallon has another chance to show Steve how it’s done.

      First season – 72 points

      Second season – 94 points (playoffs)

      Third season – ?

      • John Chambers

        To what extent would you factor in that Tallon inherited a team with Keith, Seabrook, and Bolland in Chicago, and Weiss, Gudbrandson, Huberdeau, and your man Kulikov in Fla?

        Tambi cakes inherited Penner, Gagner, and Hemsky, Visnovski, Souray, and Tom Gilbert, and a prospect pool that was essentially barren unless one considers Alex Plante and Riley Nash to be of much value. It sort of suggests to me that following a run of success like Tallon had in Chicago would’ve been harder under the same timeframe because the essential pieces weren’t in place.

        I would think the Oilers arc, depending on how much improvement occurs over the summer, follows in line with Chicago’s 3rd season (88) or Fla’s 2nd season under Monsieur Tallon … With a stretch goal of 101 points if Tambellini surprises us all and obtains a top-pair defender and an adequate replacement for our drunk Russian goaltender.

        • Good points on the prospect pool and the inherited team, I would like to mention Moreau and Staio’s, the fact Tambellini got anything for those two players has to rank right up there!

          I’m not saying Tambellini is better or worse then Tallon, but I will say he deffinetly is more cautious about the move’s he makes which can be a good thing but coincidently is also part of his problem IMO.

        • DSF

          Tambellini inherited:

          Gagner – a top 10 pick

          Hemsky – a 13th overall pick

          Visnovsky – One of the premiere puck moving defensemen in the league

          Souray – the league’s leading PP scorer at the time

          Penner – a 32 goal scoring winger

          Gilbert – a very good second pairing defenseman

          Smid – a former first round pick

          He managed to turn those assets into

          Gagner

          Hemsky

          Damaged Goods

          LA’s 6th best defensive prospect and a draft pick

          Smid

          A second pairing defenseman.

          Do you see any progress there?

          Tallon did NOT inherit Huberdeau or Gudbranson…he drafted them.

          Tambellini could have drafted Kulikov but he took Paajarvi instead. Oops.

          I’m not sure why you think Tambellini in his 5th season should get a mulligan for his first 3 since that kind of performance gets you fired everywhere but Edmonton and Columbus.

          But even so, Tambellini has to make the playoffs this season to match either the Hawks fourth season or the Panthers second season.

          And this is Tambellini’s fifth season.

          • cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan

            Also Teubert wasn’t LA’s 6th best prospect. At the time Thomas Hickey had already fallen down the rankings a bit as a prospect due to his lukewarm performance at the AHL level. Only Slava Voynov and Derek Forbort were rated higher in the LA system and Muzzin was considered a somewhat equal prospect in terms of skill set (big mean dman).

          • Wax Man Riley

            He kind of did inherit Gudbranson. He took over the team before the draft when they had the 3rd pick.

            Then took the team the next year all the way to another #3 pick.

            I’m not debating that he isn’t a good GM. He has a cup ring from the Blackhawks (even though he wasn’t technically with the team).

            He is a swing for the fences GM, with what I think is little foresight into the future. It is all about building a winning team this year, not building a consistently good team.

            We all know the other side of it too well. Bumbles in the front office of our beloved squad appears to have no idea what it takes to build a team today. As John Chambers said, he would rather put his faith in the Liam Redox’s of the world.

            In a perfect world, The Oilers would have Bumble-Tallon.

    • DSF

      Tallon wasn’t successful until he learned how to be a GM.

      He came straight out of the broadcast booth and had to figure things out.

      Like a couple of GM’s we are all too familiar with, he started out his career whale hunting.

      It appears Tallon learned his craft pretty quickly since the team he built won a cup only four years later.

      If we assume the year the Tweedles signed Khabibulin (2009) as their first whale hunt, when they should have learned something, they should be winning a cup any time now.

      The Tallon Timeline:

      First season – 65 points

      Second season – 71 points

      Third season – 88 points

      Fourth season – 104 points (playoffs)

      Fifth season – 112 points (Stanley Cup)

      The Tambellini Timeline:

      First season – 85 points

      Second season – 62 points

      Third season – 62 points

      Fourth season – 74 points

      Fifth season – Stanley Cup?

      It would appear that Tambellini is lagging just a few years behind if the Oilers are on the Hawks trajectory.

      I would suggest we follow the Panthers trajectory since Tallon has another chance to show Steve how it’s done.

      First season – 72 points

      Second season – 94 points (playoffs)

      Third season – ?

  • Craig1981

    If nothing else he was bold. Something, I do think Tambi has been with the trade of Penner, Gilbert, and the coaches. The big thing I believe is not to get into a situation you can’t fix in a couple years if its wrong (see oilers 2007 and 2008 season)

    • justDOit

      And he was responsible for those qualifying offers sent through the mail, which along with winning the cup put a lot of financial pressure on their cap.

      But he’s now guiding the Panthers to the same path, so it appears that he can do the important things right on a regular basis. IF those Floridians improve substantially again this season, it will be time to form Tallonnation.com.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Pretty bleak results for the guys Tallon brought in. If a guy is going to come in and underperform his contract, you want it to be one of those guys you give up nothing to get.

    The return is unsettling on guys of that payscale who don’t work out but sometimes the cap room is benifit enough nowadays. This is something the Oilers should do with Hemmer and Horcoff. 10.5 between the 2 for approx 75 pts in total. There’s no denying that money couldn’t be better spent.