Sweet vindication for Craig Patrick
Memo to the hockey world, especially to those members who are looking or considering looking for a new general manager:
One might argue that he's done it: Again.
If you hadn't noticed, the Pittsburgh Penguins -- the current darling of the NHL and at least an even-money favorite to win the Cup final, are pretty much Patrick's team. Not exactly a bad thing to have on your resume when you're looking for a GM job in the NHL.
Understand that Patrick is not the most media-savvy GM, which explains why rumors of his being retired -- and even that he might not even be with us anymore -- pop up from time to time. He also doesn't have an agent or a pipeline into a media that always seem to circulate the same names when GM jobs are open. Patrick seeks the spotlight about as often as
"Obviously, I'm not dead and I have no desire to be retired," said Patrick in a phone interview with SI.com on Thursday. "To be honest, I have (interviewed for other jobs). I'm not working right now, but that doesn't mean I don't want to."
Typical Patrick. When it comes to giving out information, he's old school NHL. He plays it close to the vest. Ask him if he's interviewed, yeah, he'll go that far. Ask what teams and, well, you can forget about getting an answer. Patrick, however, does give credit where it's due. He acknowledges that current GM
Patrick certainly doesn't take credit for winning the lottery that delivered
Though Patrick chose Fleury over
Drafting and development have never been a problem for Patrick, whose history dates back to a legendary hockey family and role as assistant GM and assistant coach to
Regarding his coaches, it should be noted that the Pens won their Cups in the '90s with, respectively,
Yes, he put
It should also be stated that Patrick was fired because of the team's poor record (one that produced Malkin, Fleury and the place in the Crosby lottery). He would argue that the record was poor because he was forced to sell or trade most of the good players who were on the roster when there was yet another financial crisis in Pittsburgh.
"They told me at the time that it was time to make a change and I accepted that," Patrick said of his dismissal in the spring of 2006. "I was grateful in a way. I needed a break and I needed to recharge. I didn't realize it at the time, but it was necessary and I see that now. I used the time away to do exactly that. I took care of things that needed to be taken care of and I've recharged."
Patrick also said that he never intended to go out that way and he certainly didn't expect to stay out.
"Frankly, I don't like the way it ended in Pittsburgh," he said with barely a hint of bitterness in his voice. "I did what I was told to do (regarding the selloff of players like
"I want to do that again. I want to build another franchise."
Patrick admits that he buried himself to some degree after the Pittsburgh firing. He was, after all, a Stanley Cup champion, a gold and silver Olympic medal- winner, and a member of the U.S. and hockey halls of fame. He didn't feel he deserved to be fired for carrying out orders. He stayed away from watching the Penguins and a great many other things involving hockey. He was wounded, but that seems to have passed. Recently, he accepted an invitation from
It was a decent gesture on Lemieux's part, a wordless acknowledgement that the Pens would never have won those two Cups if Patrick hadn't made the crucial moves in regards to surrounding Lemieux with the necessary talent and bringing in Johnson and Bowman to help finish the job. One might also suggest that it was Lemieux acknowledging that not everything that went wrong after those Cups was Patrick's fault.
Patrick said he is still confident in his abilities and that he has what's needed to do the job.
"It's never been about me or saving or protecting my job," he said. "In all my time in hockey, I've always been guided by the idea that it was my job to do what was best for the organization, not for Craig Patrick. It was like that when I drafted Leetch in New York. There were people who told me not to do it because starting over might cost me my job, but my feeling was that it was the best thing to do for the Rangers at that time. I've made all my decisions based on what I thought needed to be done in order for us to win."
It's impossible to say whether these Penguins will win the Cup. Detroit is the best team they have played thus far. The Red Wings also have home ice in the series, more Cup experience in their lineup and, some would argue, the better or at least more experienced defense. But the Penguins have great talent and coaching, goaltending that is morphing toward greatness, and more depth. Much of that can be traced back to Craig Patrick.
Owners with the "help wanted" sign in the management office window might be wise to consider that.
"There are openings," Patrick said without directly mentioning the looming vacancy in Toronto, the so-called center of the hockey universe. "I think I'd be perfect for one of those opportunities."
Looking at the current edition of the Penguins, one would be dead wrong to disagree.
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