Last week, Phoenix Coyotes’ general manager Don Maloney had the newly minted GM-of-the-Year Award bestowed on him by the NHL. Giving a GM an award for his team’s performance during one single regular season is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. It’s like profusely thanking your mechanic for the job he’s/she’s done before you even drive the car. It’s like giving out a Gardener-of-the-Year Award before any plants have broken through the soil. So the Coyotes had one reasonably good regular season – that does not merit an award for anyone, especially the general manager.
As you’ve likely discerned, a general manager’s job cannot be assessed based on one year’s work. Any GM in any league will tell you that. Yet, that’s what this new NHL award does. OK, I get that Don Maloney made some key acquisitions to help his team succeed in the short term. Maloney is in his third year as the Coyotes’ GM. Bringing in underachieving Maple Leafs’ forward Lee Stempniak paid off. But Shane Doan is the heart-and-soul of the Phoenix club – and he was there 14 years ago when they moved from Winnipeg! Again, to be fair, Wojtek Wolski lit it up after arriving from Colorado with 18 games remaining in the season. He also hired head coach Dave Tippett. But, please, do not tell me a small handful of reasonably successful, in-season acquisitions ranks one as the “GM-of-the-Year.” It does not. You know what does? Ask Dale Tallon.
You know Dale. He’s the guy who built today’s Chicago Blackhawks as their general manager from 2005-09 – then got absolutely screwed out of his job when he messed up the deadlines on a few qualifying offers (Kris Versteeg, Cam Barker, others) last June. Two weeks later he was piped.
Tallon and his scouting staff drafted Nik Hjalmarsson (’05), Jonathan Toews (’06) and Patrick Kane (’07). He also signed Antti Niemi. Think he didn’t build the Hawks? Of course he did. And how about his predecessor, the personality-free Bob Pulford. In 2004, Pully’s staff drafted Dave Bolland and Troy Brouwer. In 2003, Hawks’ GM Mike Smith chose Brent Seabrook and Dustin Byfuglien (245th overall!) Those guys built these Hawks.
Clearly, the GM-of-the-Year in 2010 is Dale Tallon, who has now moved on to try to re-build the hapless Florida Panthers. The point remains that being a general manager is exactly like planting seeds. You try to choose the right ones. Try to give them the right ingredients to grow and mature. And pray that it all comes together.
Years ago, NHL teams realized that a general manager’s job was a long-term love affair with trying to build a champion. Between 1955 and 1975, the New York Rangers had just two general managers – Muzz Patrick and Emile “The Cat” Francis. And those Rangers stunk. I got tired of counting how many times they missed the playoffs, so I don’t have an exact number. In fact, they only reached the Stanley Cup Finals once. That was in 1972, when Bobby, Phil, Cheesie and the Boston Bruins blew them out of the water. The point is, Patrick and Francis got a chance to see what they could do. Those days are gone, folks. It’s win now, or die!
So while current Hawks’ GM Stan Bowman will get fitted for his ring very soon, all Dale Tallon and Mike Smith are gonna get is pooched. GM-of-the-Year…gimme a break.