New York Rangers, 1980-1986
Pittsburgh Penguins, 1989-2006
Patrick Division Titles, 1990-1991, 1992-1993
Northeast Division Titles, 1993-1994, 1995-1996, 1997-1998
President’s Trophy, 1992-1993
Playoff Appearances: 1981-1986, 1991-2001
Stanley Cup Finals Appearances: 1991-1992
Stanley Cup Victories: 1991-1992
Like his grandfather Lester and great uncle Frank before him; like his father Lynn and his uncle Muzz; Craig Patrick continued the Patrick Family’s tradition of playing, coaching, and managing in the NHL.
As did his grandfather and father, Craig was content not to let the Patrick name carry him but to carry the Patrick name with pride and to excel (for a time) in the sport that covered the Patrick Family name in glory.
His managerial career was been a roller coaster ride filled with bumps and bruises; peaks and valleys; triumphs and tragedies along the way. Still he persevered and helped make the Pittsburgh Penguins a Stanley Cup championship franchise after many decades of defeat and disappointment.
Craig Patrick is ranked 26th after the end of the 2011/12 NHL season but were it not for the last four seasons of his managerial reign in Pittsburgh (where he earned 37 of his 45 minus points) his ranking would have been even higher.
Based on my rating method, during the 1980s Craig Patrick was ranked 15th among all GMS who managed a minimum of three seasons in the NHL during the decade. In the 1990s he was the greatest general manager of the decade with a value of +79 (his nearest competitor was 19 points behind him). He was also the third greatest general manager during the third expansion era of the NHL (1991-2001)—you will learn the names of the top two GMs of that era in the weeks and months to come.
And yet more oddly still, according to my rating system, he was tied for being the second worst general manager of the 2000s). His value for the 2000s was an awful -31 (tied with Don Waddell who managed the Atlanta Thrashers during the decade).
Craig Patrick was born in Detroit but spent most of his youth in the greater Boston area (his father Lynn was head coach and, later, general manager of the Bruins at the time). Craig inherited the Patrick Family hockey genes. He played junior hockey in QMJHL and, later, NCAA hockey at the University of Denver before becoming a part of the Canadiens farm system; where he signed a contract to play for the ill-fated California Golden Seals.
Patrick showed moxie and maturity. Seals teammate Gary Croteau told Seals historian (and Inside Hockey colleague) Brad Kurtzberg that, “He didn’t talk much of his family history. He was quiet and respectful of the talent around him. He was a…great skater and a student of the game.”
Patrick bounced around the NHL a little bit before ending his playing career in the minors in 1979. Immediately he became assistant coach and assistant general manager of the U.S. Hockey team that won the 1980 Olympic gold medal at Lake Placid. Aiding the late Herb Brooks achieve the Miracle on Ice helped Craig’s career immeasurably. He became Director of Hockey Operations for the New York Rangers; serving under the late Fred Shero.
It didn’t take long for Patrick to assume the top spot. Fred Shero’s alcoholism had undermined his career plus he was slowly dying of cancer. In November 1980 Craig Patrick took the mantle once held by his grandfather Lester and his uncle Muzz: general manager of the New York Rangers.
Patrick did double duty as head coach and GM until Herb Brooks could get out of his European coaching contract in 1981. The Rangers made the playoffs every season Patrick managed but they never reached the Stanley Cup finals. The Miracle on Ice could not be re-enacted in the NHL.
Still, Patrick showed a keen eye for talent. He drafted John Vanbiesbrouck and James Patrick in 1981; Kelly Miller, Tony Granato, and Tomas Sandstrom in 1982; Dave Gagner in 1983; Terry Carkner and Tjell Samuelsson in 1984; Mike Richter in 1985; and Brian Leetch in 1986.
But in 1986 there were problems: Rangers ownership was impatient for success and there was a lessening in Craig Patrick’s drive. (His first marriage was going on the rocks and led to a divorce). In July 1986 the Rangers pulled the trigger on Craig Patrick.
Patrick returned to his alma mater at the University of Denver to serve as director of athletics when in 1989 he was hired to become head coach and general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Craig had not lost his Midas touch. First, he resurrected Scotty Bowman’s dormant hockey career by making him Bowman his Director of Player Personnel. Secondly, he took advantage of the hockey genius at his disposal and engineered the first golden era in Penguins franchise history. The Penguins already had Super Mario now they wanted more…and then some.
Jaromir Jagr was drafted in 1990; Markus Naslund in 1991; Martin Straka in 1992. And Craig Patrick could engineer a pretty mean trade as well. The Ron Francis, Ulf Samuelsson ranks as one of the greatest steals in NHL history. Both men were vital components in the Penguins mini-dynasty of 1991-1992.
Still Craig Patrick could get bitten as well. His trade of Markus Naslund to Vancouver in 1996 was a bone-head play. So, too, were the un-loadings of Glen Murray in 1997 and Jagr in 2001.
Once Jagr was gone the bottom fell out on the Penguins after the 2000/01 NHL season, the Penguins spent the next four seasons with in the Atlantic Division basement.
The Penguins (and Patrick suffered) but from the depths came the seeds of future hope and glory. Pittsburgh fans might not have realized it during those years but Craig Patrick was sowing the seeds for the second golden era in Penguins franchise history; an era that shines especially now.
Max Talbot was drafted in 2002; Marc-Andre Fleury in 2003; Evgeni Malkin in 2004; Kris Letang in 2004 but the piece de resistance also came in 2004 when Pittsburgh won the lock-out induced 2005 draft lottery and drafted Sidney Crosby.
When play resumed in 2005 and the Penguins finished in last place again, Craig Patrick was fired as general manager but let the record show that the Penguins team that won the 2009 Stanley Cup and dominates the Atlantic Division today was built by Craig Patrick.
In December 2011, Craig Patrick was asked to serve as Senior Advisor to Hockey Operations under John Davidson with the Columbus Blue Jackets. The fact that Columbus is presently enjoying its first winning season since 2008/09 and has a chance for a playoff berth should not be lost on hockey observers.
Craig Patrick still has an enormous amount to give to the game of hockey.
(My next column will feature former Montreal Canadiens GM Irving Grundman.)