The struggling Columbus Blue Jackets have named Craig Patrick, Hockey Hall of Fame member, a two-time Stanley Cup Champion as a General Manager (GM) of the Pittsburgh Penguins and the co-architect of the ‘Miracle on Ice’ U.S. Men’s Olympic Ice Hockey Gold Medal team as its new Senior Advisor of Hockey Operations.
Hiring a new Senior Advisor of Hockey Operations was a move that was considered long overdue and much needed by many followers of the Blue Jackets, a team with only one Stanley Cup playoff appearance to its credit, only to be followed by two disappointing seasons and mounting attendance and financial losses.
Adding to that was a sequence of questionable Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA) acquisitions during the 2009 off-season, one nondescript UFA acquisition during the 2010 off-season, trade deadline trades that were nothing more than apparent salary dumps, often categorized as being trade deadline ‘sellers’, a head coaching selection that has been the subject of much scrutiny and criticism, a glaring failure to draft and develop players within the Blue Jackets’ system and a series of UFA acquisitions over this past summer which has produced the NHL’s worst record with its 5th highest payroll.
All of these decisions were made by Blue Jackets’ GM Scott Howson who was left to make on-ice decisions alone and present them to team President Mike Priest, someone who admittedly does not possess a background or core knowledge in hockey operations, specifically to recognize what constituted a successful NHL on-ice product. In short, there was no knowledge base or oversight capability to allow Priest to know whether Howson’s decisions were correct or not.
So, in lieu of the cries for an advisor to provide insight to Mike Priest as well as to facilitate Scott Howson’s seemingly overwhelming responsibilities, the Blue Jackets decided to hire Patrick to serve in an advisory capacity.
But this move also raises a lot of questions:
- Who made the decision to hire Patrick? Did it come from Mike Priest to provide that direct, ‘honest-broker’ feedback that someone with a dearth of hockey expertise lacks? Did it come with the blessing and input of Scott Howson, selecting someone who he both felt comfortable with and whose input he felt he could override due to a sustained comfort from ownership and Priest – i.e. a selection in appearance, only? Or, did it come from ownership – John P. McConnell – the result of absolute frustration over ‘opening the checkbook’ only to be met with the NHL’s worst record?
- Who will Patrick report to? Will it be directly to Mike Priest? Will it be to Scott Howson, a peer or bi-lateral reporting relationship? Or will Patrick report and interact directly and independently with McConnell – i.e. unfiltered access?
- What power or influence will Patrick wield with the organization? Could this hire be a precursor or ‘fail safe’ move to allow Patrick to step in as the Blue Jackets’ General Manager, a position he held with the Penguins from 1989 through 2006?
- Which Craig Patrick will serve the interests of the Blue Jackets organization? The Craig Patrick of his early years in the Penguins’ organization when he drafted arguably the NHL’s premier player in Jaromir Jagr and who acquired (via trade) Ron Francis, Ulf Samuelsson and Grant Jennings who helped lead the Penguins to consecutive Stanley Cup titles? Or is it the Craig Patrick of his later years with the Penguins, which was noted for perhaps one of the NHL’s worst trades in Marcus Naslund for Alek Stojanov as well as being responsible for a team who finished last in the Atlantic Division during his last four seasons as Penguins GM? Were the later year struggles in personnel decisions directly due to the Penguins’ financial woes/bankruptcy? Were the struggles due to Patrick being burned out?
- Relative to which Craig Patrick the Blue Jackets are getting, has the game passed him by – the pre vs. post-lockout model for success? Or has Patrick returned fresh and with a chip on his shoulder to prove that he has a whole lot of relevance and stellar decision-making left in him?
- What decisions will Patrick make in the upcoming weeks and months, trades specifically to improve the sad-sack fortunes of the Blue Jackets? Will these trades and moves be made to get the Blue Jackets into playoff contention, albeit with dwindling hope? Or will Patrick be asked to assess the current construct of the team and orchestrate efforts to blow it up or to position it for the following season and seasons? Or will Patrick be tasked with building the team through the draft by positioning itself via trades for draft picks, prospects and possibly being in a position to draft the no. 1 overall pick in next June’s NHL Entry Draft, an approach which yielded the likes of drafting Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury?
No matter the answer, this hire will be one that will be quite intriguing to observe over the months that follow.