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Top Shelf: Why did Tallon lose his GM grip?

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

I didn’t ask Dale Tallon how his morning went when I spoke to him shortly after lunch on Monday. His afternoon, I can tell you, turned quite eventful.

Sometime not too long after I chatted with Tallon about off-season happenings surrounding the Chicago Blackhawks and the future of the club, he was relieved of his duties as Hawks GM, replaced by Stan Bowman.

Tallon will remain with the club in the role of senior advisor for hockey operations.

Details surrounding the rationale for this move will surface over the next couple days, but you can bet the default notion among many observers will be Tallon brought this on himself by failing to tender more than a handful of his restricted free agents qualifying offers before July 1, thus creating the possibility they could become unrestricted.

The story, which you’ve no doubt heard by now, is the Hawks simply didn’t mail the offers out in time. Every prominent RFA on the team subsequently signed with Chicago, but not before the NHLPA filed a grievance with the league. Tallon took responsibility for the embarrassment and said it would not happen again.

Scuttlebutt in the wake of the debacle was the Hawks ended up paying more than they otherwise would have for two players in particular, Kris Versteeg and Cam Barker.

Versteeg, a rookie-of-the-year candidate last year, signed a three-year deal worth just more than $3 million annually. Barker’s deal is also a three-year pact valued at just south of $3.1 million per year.

Yesterday, Tallon indicated to me he was satisfied with how the figures shook out.

“We were happy with the contracts,” he said. “I think they were fair on both sides.”

Check the numbers on some comparable players and your immediate instinct to scoff might be second-guessed.

Versteeg scored 22 goals and 53 points in 78 games last year, adding a sturdy four goals and 12 points in 17 post-season games. He’s signed for almost $1 million less than teammate Patrick Sharp, who inked a four-year extension worth $3.9 million annually in January of 2008.

Sharp signed his contract on the heels of a 20-goal season, while in the midst of a 36-goal campaign in 2007-08.

If Versteeg, who’s just 23, can bump his production to 30 goals this season, is a chasm of more than $900,000 between his stipend and the multi-talented Sharp’s really justified?

Barker, meanwhile, is coming off the breakout season Chicago has been hoping for since drafting him third overall in 2004.

Last summer, the Edmonton Oilers signed Tom Gilbert to a deal worth $4 million per season through 2013-14 after the mobile blueliner posted 33 points in his 82-game rookie season. Barker had 40 points in just 68 games last season. Both rearguards stand 6-foot-3, with Barker carrying more bulk. Given teams have taken to paying free agents based on what they project will come rather than past accomplishments, it’s tough to see why Barker is overpaid making $1 million less per year than a blueliner he’s bigger than and, in theory, will produce at least equivalent to.

Maybe that’s why TSN is reporting that the failure to qualify these players on time wasn’t believed to be a major factor in Tallon’s dismissal.

What will undeniably become an issue in Chicago’s happy little renaissance is how to untangle a salary structure that, in its current state, will become absolutely unworkable if the 2010-11 cap falls, as many predict it will.

Young stars Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith are all up for new deals at the end of this year, with the Hawks already into 12 players for a little more than $42 million for the 2010-11 season.

Tallon obviously had a big role in the salary escalation, signing defenseman Brian Campbell and goalie Cristobal Huet to bloated UFA deals last summer, before handing out a 12-year contract valued at about $5.2 million annually to Marian Hossa just weeks ago on July 1.

Just how much autonomy Tallon had in making these deals isn’t known, but it seems prudent to figure there had to be some rubber-stamping from above.

Assuming that is the case, should responsibility for the delirious amount of dollars spent fall solely on his shoulders?

This isn’t the first firing that’s occurred in Chicago in the wake of a feel-good season. The Hawks finished 2007-08 out of the playoffs, but filled with optimism after the young core took a forward leap under coach Denis Savard.

Four games into last season, Savard was shuffled out in favor of Joel Quenneville in a move many felt had less to do with the team’s immediate middling results and more to do with ownership’s long-term vision.

Perhaps Bowman replacing the man he worked closely with in his former role as assistant GM is a move carried out in the same vein.

Like Tallon, Savard was subsequently offered and accepted a job to stay within the organization.

That fact puts me in mind of a comment Tallon made to me on Monday, hours before his job description changed. It was in regard to the aforementioned RFAs remaining with the club, but seen through the lens of recent happenings, may well apply to him, too.

“Well, guys want to be Chicago Blackhawks, they wanted to stay and that was a good thing. They’re happy here and they like what we’re doing, so that was a plus.”

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Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to His blog will appear regularly in the off-season and his column, Top Shelf, appears Wednesday.

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