By now, everyone knows the story (or at least the basic plot): Dale Tallon is hired by the Chicago Blackhawks as the team's general manager at the tail-end of the lockout in 2005 after the team missed the playoffs and finished second-to-last in the regular season in 2003-2004. It was the second-straight year that the Hawks missed the playoffs, falling from 96 points in 2001-2002 to 79 in 2002-2003 and 58 in 2003-2004.
From the day that he was hired, the Hawks began to steadily climb in the standings, earning 65 points in 2005-2006, 71 in 2006-2007, 88 in 2007-2008, and 104 in 2008-2009, all culminating in his firing (or demotion) at the end of that season for a clerical error that resulted in several restricted free agents potentially becoming unrestricted free agents unless deciding to re-sign with Chicago for inflated dollars (but no sense).
Chicago was able to re-sign those free agents, including forward Kris Versteeg and defenseman Cam Barker (now with the Minnesota Wild), but at a cost greater than the total sum of the contracts handed out: less salary-cap breathing room. As it stands now, Chicago is $4,721,583 above the cap ceiling, meaning tough times ahead. That being said, it is hard to deny Tallon's contributions to the Blackhawks, which have turned the perennial joke of the league into a legitimate contender. However hard, I will still try.
The secret to Tallon's success is generally considered to be the draft. After all, in 2006, he selected current captain Jonathan Toews (the same Jonathan Toews who is leading the league in scoring right now in the playoffs). In 2007, he selected Patrick Kane, who was the team's leading scorer during the regular season. As great as those picks have turned out to be, it is pretty hard to screw up a top-three pick, which both players were. Tallon's success rate when it comes to middle-of-the-pack picks is much less impressive.
In 2005, for example, he drafted forward Jack Skille, who hasn't lived up to expectations. In picking Skille, he passed on other first rounders such as current Los Angeles Kings superstar Anze Kopitar (along with like 10 other gms, so I'll give him a mulligan on that one), Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask (a mistake remedied by the signing of current goalie Antti Niemi), and future St. Louis Blues star T.J. Oshie. In 2008, he drafted Kyle Beach, missing out on revelation-of-a-defenseman Tyler Myers of the Buffalo Sabres by a mere draft pick. Admittedly, though, Beach may still turn out to be the next Stan Mikita, so some time should be granted before a verdict is reached in that trial.
Still, some of the team's better players that were drafted by the Blackhawks weren't drafted at all by Tallon, players like Norris Trophy-nominated defenseman Duncan Keith and his defense partner Brent Seabrook and forwards David Bolland and Dustin Byfuglien.
All things taken into account, as much as the draft is responsible for the success of this current incarnation of the Blackhawks, Tallon did just okay in that facet of his job. It remains to be seen what he can do with the Florida Panthers, who have been graced with the third pick in this year's draft.
Meanwhile, through trades, he was able to acquire Versteeg, who was nominated for the Calder Memorial Trophy last year, and fellow versatile forward Patrick Sharp, for next to nothing in both cases, so consider that a plus for him.
However, in terms of free-agent signings, he did ink goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, who was hit or miss during his four years with the team, as well as mainly miss goalie Cristobal Huet a year later to try and erase that initial mistake. The result: prior to Niemi taking the reins in the Chicago net, the team had two aging goaltenders taking up over $12,000,000 of valuable cap space (now just the $5,625,000 given to Huet until he becomes an unrestricted free agent two years from now).
Add to that the $6,000,000 paid to forward Martin Havlat, which he only began to be worth in the final year of his contract last year, and the $7,100,000 paid to defenseman Brian Campbell, who many might argue will never be worth that much, and it's very plain to see why the Blackhawks are in such dire straits salary-cap wise.
The aforementioned clerical error that led to Stan Bowman being named the team's new gm didn't help the team's situation in that regard all that much either. Signing forward Marian Hossa to an insane 12-year contract certainly didn't help at all. While Hossa has been a relatively valuable component of the team's offense, his signing can best be described as a move of excess, one that didn't necessarily need to be made.
Perhaps excess is a word that best describes Tallon's tenure with the Blackhawks. The team most certainly exceeded all expectations made at the time of his hiring five years ago. They seem poised to at least seriously contend for the Stanley Cup this spring (which is the ultimate goal of any gm) and who knows how many years into the future.
If anything, Tallon knows how to build a winner, which bodes well for Florida, seeing as the Panthers haven't won a game in the playoffs since the 1996-1997 season (when they only won the one). One thing that Tallon may find useful is that Florida has $4,665,833 left of cap space (for this year). It should be interesting to see how long it takes for him to turn the Panthers into the Blackhawks for better and for worse.