Dale Tallon wasn’t fired by the Florida Panthers because of the allegation that he used “racially charged language” during the team’s time in the Toronto playoff bubble. Tallon was fired because he spent a decade running a team without winning a single playoff round. The racism stuff only surfaced after he got canned — sorry, mutually agreed to part ways.
Well, now the NHL has cleared Tallon of any wrongdoing after hiring an external firm to conduct an investigation into the incident. That, naturally, clears the way for Tallon to return to gainful employment in a front office, namely with the Penguins, who just fired assistant general manager Jason Karmanos, the son of the former Carolina Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos.
It makes sense, because the only thing the hockey business loves more than nepotism is cronyism. At least Tony La Russa won a World Series the last time he was in a major league dugout. What Tallon has going for him is that Chicago was nice enough to put his name on the Stanley Cup it won a year after demoting him from GM to senior advisor. His main accomplishment as general manager was getting Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane in the draft as Top 3 picks, while also badly botching restricted free agency in 2009 and costing the team millions of dollars.
Maybe having Tallon as an advisor is good, because anytime he says, “if I was running the team…” you could do the exact opposite of whatever comes out of his mouth next. Not that it matters all that much for the Penguins, whose general strategy is to plop a couple of randos next to Sidney Crosby, let them have career years, because Crosby is awesome, and then either flame out badly in the playoffs or have their goalie go on an absolute heater to win the Cup.
Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford clearly has a warm relationship with Tallon, having made three trades with his Panthers in 2019 alone. So maybe there is something to that Costanzian ideal of doing the opposite, given that Rutherford previously was a heavy speculator on the “Players Dale Tallon Doesn’t Want” market.
That’s traditional stupid NHL stuff. In a way, racism also could be described as “traditional stupid NHL stuff,” which is why the allegation that Tallon said something was plausible, and why such a sweeping clearance of the 70-year-old appears dubious.
How were investigators able to conclude that it wasn’t true that Tallon “had in the past made openly racial, religious, and ethnic comments?” We’re talking about a guy who played in the NHL from 1970-80, so while it might be hard to prove that Tallon ever made such remarks, it’s a certainty that he was in some environments that would be considered completely unacceptable by today’s standards.
It would be okay to admit that! The world has changed a lot since Tallon’s pro hockey career started half a century ago. If Justin Trudeau can get through the revelation that he wore blackface on multiple occasions and remain prime minister of Canada, would it really be that scandalous to admit? Yes, at some point earlier in his hockey life, Tallon had to have the same learning experience that a lot of other people have had over the last 50 years?
The NHL’s release says the allegations are “inconsistent with Tallon’s past actions and his affirmative efforts in support of diversity and inclusion initiatives.” No, they’re not! Again, look at Trudeau, who put together a cabinet in Ottawa that was historic for its diversity. You can do good things and still have racist crap in your past, and it’s actually a good thing to progress as a human being.
Instead, the NHL stops just short of telling the world that Tallon doesn’t have a racist bone in his body. It makes it very hard to believe that this was anything but a show investigation, right alongside every other theatrical performance the league puts on when it comes to race, up to and including this week’s Arizona Coyotes mess.
Until the NHL is able to appropriately grapple with its past and present, it doesn’t have a lot of hope for an inclusive future. The way that the league has handled this year, you have to wonder if it even wants that anyway.