Craig Patrick has plenty of experience building up a franchise as the GM of an NHL team. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
With all due respect to the Detroit Red Wings and their model organization, this post-season has been the coming-out party for the Pittsburgh Penguins. And while there’s been a lot of credit already assigned to the team’s current management and players, the lack of mention of one particular name also deserving of kudos began to bother me.
That name: Craig Patrick.
You remember him, don’t you? Former Penguins GM Craig Patrick? Architect of Pittsburgh’s only two Stanley Cups Craig Patrick? Developer of half the current Pens lineup Craig Patrick?
Yep. That Craig Patrick.
He’s the guy who served as Penguins’ GM for 17 years before the team dismissed him at the end of the 2005-06 campaign. To be sure, there is no doubt he was hamstrung by severe and well-documented payroll problems during his last half-decade with the organization.
However, out of that maelstrom was born the Sidney Crosby/Evgeni Malkin/Marc-Andre Fleury era that looks like it will last as long as those young stars wish to stay together.
Patrick was at the top of Pittsburgh’s organization when all three of those budding superstars were brought aboard. He also ran things when Ryan Malone, Ryan Whitney, Brooks Orpik and Maxime Talbot were drafted and when Sergei Gonchar was signed away from Boston.
And now, two years removed from the game he was raised around, Patrick wants to be a GM again.
Actually, that’s not quite accurate.
“I’ve been trying to get back in since I left,” Patrick told THN.com Wednesday, a day after his 62nd birthday. “But with only 30 teams, it’s tough to get the job you want. But there’s always opportunities, and I’m sure something will come up.”
The Penguins’ success this season has pleased Patrick, although he doesn’t see the team as “his” any longer.
“It doesn’t feel like my team, because I’m not there,” he said. “I’ve been away from it for two years.
“My wife said to me, ‘Once a general manager, always a general manager,’ and I’ve been the general manager for 30 teams the last two years. So the Penguins don’t seem like my team anymore, but we did bring a lot of those guys in and we’re very proud of the job we did – especially under the circumstances.
“We had no money to work with and we had to get rid of everybody, but that probably led into some of the (draft) picks we were able to make, too.”
Patrick’s prowess at building a winning organization makes more than a few people wonder why the Toronto Maple Leafs haven’t already hired him to rebuild their franchise. After all, the Leafs’ requirements for John Ferguson’s permanent replacement – a proven winner; a prospect developer; someone who can deal with the voracious Toronto media – reads like a quick scan of Patrick’s resume.
Patrick was coy in regards to whether he had already been contacted by the Leafs’ GM search committee, but left no question as to his interest in the position.
“I don’t want to comment on (being contacted), but I will say I’m the perfect guy for the job,” he said. “The way they’ve described the person they’re looking for, I’d be the perfect person. I had great success drafting when I was in New York and had similar success with Pittsburgh at the end.
“I know how to build a team and an organization, so I know I’m the perfect person for the job. We’ll see what the next step is.”
And how about those pesky Toronto reporters, Craig?
“I worked in New York, and I know Toronto is a special place (in regards to media coverage),” said Patrick, who served as the Rangers’ GM from 1980-86. “But that being said, Toronto is a special place, and it would be a great place to be successful.”
In his absence from the league, Patrick discovered a sense of perspective he feels has helped him recharge his batteries.
“I have to admit, I did take some time to think since I was let go by the Penguins,” Patrick said. “When I was let go, I was pretty bitter and I didn’t realize I needed a break. Five years of losing doesn’t sit well with anybody and it’s not part of my nature to be in (a losing) situation.
“It hurt to be let go, but I realized I needed a break, I needed time to get away and re-energize. Now I’m ready for a new challenge.”
Whether that challenge comes in Toronto or elsewhere, Patrick is confident he’ll be steering a hockey squad toward glory sometime soon. And thanks to the league’s salary cap, he’s reassured to know the money problems that haunted and handicapped him with the Penguins won’t be an issue in the future.
“If I have equal footing with everyone else in the league, I know I can do a great job with a winning organization,” he said. “We had to sell a bunch of players (in Pittsburgh), but that was just the nature of the (business) then.
“And in the process of doing that, we built a great, young organization.
“I know I can do that again.”
Adam Proteau is The Hockey News' online columnist and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and Wednesdays, his Ask Adam feature appears Tuesdays and Fridays, and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.
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