I wonder how they crafted this episode. Did they start with the idea of the Maquis stealing the Defiant and added Tom Riker in later, did they start with the idea of doing a story with Tom Riker, did they start with the idea of doing an episode with Will Riker and it slowly evolved to be about Tom?
I always thought that in the wake of TNG ending and "Generations" that it was just a ploy to lure TNG fans over to DS9.
I just looked it up... this episode was released for syndication on 11/21/94 and Generations hit theaters 11/18/94. So to me Tom Riker = Find a way to put a TNG star on DS9.
Oh, and I totally agree about the weird hero worship vibe. It's as if everyone on DS9 had just gone to the movies and is startruck or something.