Goodness, how quickly times change. Here's John McDonough, Blackhawks president, in an April 30, 2009 interview with ESPN about then-GM Dale Tallon:
"Dale has such an easy, relaxed style that he sometimes flies under the radar, but he's the architect of this team ... As much as we talk about the resurgence and renaissance of the Chicago Blackhawks, and how the fan base has come back and the games are on television, it has to be the product on the ice.
"You've seen that with the players he's acquired, the free agents he's brought in; he was responsible for bringing Joel [Quenneville, the Hawks' head coach] on board and also for bringing [senior advisor] Scotty Bowman on board, perhaps the greatest hockey mind of all time. He also is responsible for drafting guys like Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, and also acquired Patrick Sharp for a guy who isn't even in the league any more. Dale deserves a great deal of credit for all the positive things that have happened with the Blackhawks."
For the hordes defending now-former GM Dale Tallon after his removal by the Blackhawks today in favor of assistant GM Stan Bowman -- from columnists to ex-Hawk Martin Havlat -- the hypocrisy of McDonough's words and actions has been tough to stomach.
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Lost in the misty nostalgia produced by the resurgence of the Chicago Blackhawks is the fact that John McDonough, the former Chicago Cubs executive-turned-president of the Hawks, is the kind of guy who settles for nothing less than north of excellence. The sort of sports executive whose drive either leads a franchise to glory or ruin; sometimes in the span of the same calendar year.
As Mark Spector wrote for Sportsnet last October, McDonough is the type who sees incremental progress in attendance and labels it "abysmal and unacceptable" because there weren't empty seats in Wrigley Field when he presided over it.
The quality of recent results for Tallon are hard to debate, because no one is sure where his decision-making power intersected with that of McDonough and super-special hockey advisor Scotty Bowman over the last few seasons.
Who was ultimately to blame for the RFA snafu, that didn't necessarily cost Tallon his job but provided ample cover for his removal? (As McDonough said in today's press conference, Tallon "probably" doesn't lose his job if it weren't for the qualifying offer mess.)
Tallon's not going to talk, at least for now. Because in the time-honored tradition of strong-armers, McDonough has simply changed Tallon's business cards and kept his potential enemy close; like when Denis Savard went from dumbstruck ex-coach to a guide on the Commit To the Indian tour in Chicago.
But here's the thing with McDonough: For all the flack he's taking as the marketing guy who pushed out a good hockey man this week, it's the same scenario that played out when Savard was canned last October. The end result was Joel Quenneville taking over, giving the relatively young team some structure and managing the bench to the Western Conference finals.
To say McDonough deserves the benefit of the doubt here -- as do Stan and Scotty Bowman in figuring out the caps mess they helped create -- is an understatement. You can count his missteps as Blackhawks team president on one hand, while at the same time he's led the franchise back from irrelevance with owner Rocky Wirtz. He's earned some leeway; though not much.
Tallon is an exceptional hockey man with a lot of friends in the industry; McDonough is a baseball guy with a trigger finger. Who do you think has gotten the benefit of the doubt today?
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.
From Allan Muir of Sports Illustrated, floating a conspiracy theory about the RFA snafu:
No one should think that a GM is actually licking stamps and dropping off contracts in the mail . . . and that's why this imbroglio has led to speculation that maybe whoever was responsible for moving those offers along might have applied the brakes on purpose. Not usually a fan of conspiracy theories myself, but this incident was so inexcusable that it is hard to imagine an experienced executive making that mistake.
But even the botching of a simple exercise isn't as telling as is the fact that aspects of the story were leaked to the press on at least two occasions from what had to be internal sources. Sure seems as though someone in the Hawks organization had an ax to grind. Whether that was for personal gain, the perceived betterment of the franchise or managerial homogeneity is wide open for speculation, but I think it might have been the latter.
The fact that Tallon's replacement as GM is Stan Bowman didn't get in the way of McDonough's freight train. Even though Bowman's previous responsibilities were described in Tuesday's press release as "the day-to-day administration of the Blackhawks' hockey operations department with his primary responsibilities including all CBA-related matters such as contract negotiations, free agency, etc..."
Call us crazy, but doesn't that job description sound like the guy who was supposed to tell the GM when and how to get the contracts out on time? On many teams, the GM doesn't even deal with qualifying offers. The assistant GM or cap guy qualifies the RFAs, and the GM deals with hammering out the deals afterwards. Not to say that Stan Bowman isn't a most worthy candidate. He's a smart, deserving hockey man who has crawled up the ladder while battling cancer along the way.
From Tim Sassone of the Chicago Daily Herald, on McDonough's PR tactics and the fact that it's the Bowmans' time:
[Tallon] simply wasn't McDonough's guy, or a Rocky Wirtz guy. Period. Tallon had too many ties to the ugly past, was too much his own man, talked to the media too much and was too honest with the press for the new power guys.
This new Hawks organization is many good things, but you the fans and us the media only hear what they want us to hear, from Wirtz to McDonough to Joel Quenneville. Pretty soon they'll be telling Adam Burish to shut the heck up.
Tallon told me last spring he thought he would get fired if the Hawks lost the Flames in the first round. He saw the writing on the wall. It wasn't hard to miss. Now the pressure is on Bowman to keep the ball rolling toward a Stanley Cup. It's a very good team he inherits and there can be no mistakes made going forward. Bowman never has been a GM, which is curious that McDonough would hire someone with such little experience.
"I guess everyone saw what happened to Dale....yes, the story is starting to come out but it's just the tip of the iceberg..."
"Lot's of people are telling me to stay quiet but shouldn't the fans know the truth? It's your loyalty, season ticket money and emotions here."
"Just so everyone begins to understand, Dale was like a 2nd father to me."
"Want to be clear. I loved my time in Chicago but moved on. Very excited about Minny, going to give everything I have to the Wild."
"Dale Tallon is a stand up guy and I have unqualified respect for him. He is honorable and loyal to a fault. Huge loss for Chicago."
"What happened betwwen Marty and Chicago had nothing to do with Dale Tallon. Dale is a friend and will always be a friend."
Again, Tallon appears to have been shoved out of his gig based on politics rather than performance. It's regrettable, but it's business; whether it's bad business will be up to McDonough and Bowman (either of them) to determine over the next year, and beyond.
As for McDonough, you can feel the scrutiny over his control on hockey matters growing. Stan Bowman, capologist, takes over a team with as screwed-up a salary structure as there is in the NHL? Yikes.
There's no telling how the politics in that front office have played out, but it's clear this move has ticked off more than a few people in the NHL, in the media and previously smitten fans (who were 50/50 on the move on a Comcast poll as of Tuesday night).
One season's savior can quickly become next season's meddler; but we wouldn't bet against the instincts of John McDonough. Not quite yet.