|Craig Patrick served as general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins from 1989–2006, and was the architect of two Stanley Cup champions.
Pen's journey to the Cup Final
"You'd like to be part of it, but the biggest thing for all of us we are proud of the job we did," Patrick told NHL.com. "We knew we were doing the right thing. Unfortunately, we're not there to enjoy the fruits of our labor, but we're proud of the job we did."
The job Patrick and his staff did has come to light recently; of the 20 players expected to dress for the Penguins on Saturday night in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Detroit Red Wings (8 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC, RDS, NHL Radio), 12 were acquired by Patrick, Pittsburgh's GM from Dec. 5, 1989 until April 20, 2006.
"I remember when we won the Cup in 1991, everybody was all over Mario (Lemieux) and how he never won anything, and he was the one person I was so happy for because all that went away," Greg Malone, the Penguins' former head scout, told NHL.com. "Now I look at this, and I'm pleased for Craig Patrick with the way things have gone."
Despite acquiring almost all the Penguins' young talent (except Jordan Staal), Patrick was fired following the 2005-06 season, when the financially-strapped Penguins finished last in the NHL for a second straight season.
Ray Shero, a 43-year-old former player agent and assistant GM for 14 seasons, was hired to be the Penguins' ninth general manager, on May 25, 2006. The cupboard hardly was bare, but it wasn't for Patrick, either, when he took over during the 1989-90 season.
"Ray has done a great job filling the holes that we had," Patrick said. "It is very similar to when I got there in December of 1989."
When Patrick took over for Tony Esposito, the Penguins already had a core of established talent in Mario Lemieux, Paul Coffey and Tom Barrasso. There also was plenty of potential in youngsters like John Cullen, Kevin Stevens and Mark Recchi.
When Shero took over, Sidney Crosby already was a superstar, Sergei Gonchar was one year into a five-year contract, and Marc-Andre Fleury was establishing himself as the goalie of the future. Ryan Malone, Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen, Ryan Whitney, Brooks Orpik, Maxime Talbot and Rob Scuderi already had dunked their feet in the NHL pool. Evgeni Malkin was en route from Russia. Tyler Kennedy was getting himself ready at the AHL level, and Kris Letang was finishing his junior career.
"There were some good parts in place by Craig Patrick and Greg Malone," Shero said. "Their imprint is still on this team. They deserve a lot of credit for what we are."
But Shero, like Patrick 18 years ago, had to find a way to put his own stamp on the organization and mold it into a winner.
Patrick was fortunate enough to draft Jaromir Jagr fifth overall in 1990. Shero nabbed Staal second overall in 2006.
Prior to the 1990-91 season, Patrick traded for Joe Mullen and signed Bryan Trottier. At the deadline in March he orchestrated a trade with former Penguins GM Eddie Johnston, who at that time was in Hartford, and gave up Cullen, Zarley Zalapski and Jeff Parker for Ron Francis, Ulf Samuelsson and Grant Jennings.
The moves helped the Penguins win the next two Stanley Cups.
Prior to the 2006-07 season, Shero signed forward Jarkko Ruutu. At the deadline he reeled in Georges Laraque and Gary Roberts, and the Penguins made the playoffs for the first time since 2001.
Before this season, Shero signed Darryl Sydor and Petr Sykora. At the deadline he sent Armstrong, Christensen, top prospect Angelo Esposito and a first-round pick to Atlanta for Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis. He also gave Toronto a pair of picks for veteran defenseman Hal Gill.
The Penguins now are playing for their first Stanley Cup since 1992.
"It takes a lot of good fortune," Patrick said. "I know in our case Eddie Johnston was told to move Ron Francis. We just happened to be there at that time looking for a guy like Ron Francis and we turned it to a bigger deal to get Ulfie and Grant Jennings. It was a fortunate thing that happened. I think the same thing happened with Ray this year. On the day of the trade deadline he didn't have a deal for Hossa. It opened at the last moment for him. I think they're looking pretty good right now."
It's unlikely Shero will go through the same obstacles Patrick faced in his final years as GM.
Because of ownership issues, the Penguins had to trim a lot of payroll, meaning Patrick had to trade Jagr and eventually Alex Kovalev. With Lemieux in and out of the lineup and an unsettled situation in goal, the Penguins became the League's worst team, which led to them selecting Fleury, Malkin, Crosby and Staal in four straight drafts.
Eventually, the losing cost Patrick his job.
"It's the cycle of hockey," he said. "We were financially strapped. We had to sell off players. We weren't really used to losing. It took a toll on all of us to watch us not keep the players we had. When you're in that position as a GM you know the rest of the GMs will take advantage of that. Why wouldn't they? We couldn't make trades to get quality people back because we couldn't afford them and they knew our direction."
After two seasons on the sideline, Patrick said he's now ready to get back into the game. He still lives in Pittsburgh and has an open invitation to sit with Lemieux, the same person that fired him, at any Penguins home game.
Patrick said he has been to a few already in the playoffs. He may attend Game 3, but a planned vacation to Ireland will keep him away for the rest of the Final.
Once he's back, his job search will continue.
"I've interviewed for jobs and I guess they weren't the right fit at this point," Patrick said. "I keep looking, talking to a lot of people. I'd like to help an organization win again. Having lost all those years at the end leaves a bad taste in your mouth. It's not in our nature to accept that. I'd like to help another organization win."
Until then, he'll stay proud in knowing he played a major role in helping his old one win right now.
"It goes to show you that you have someone sitting on the sidelines that has done it and should be given another opportunity to do it again," Greg Malone said. "He's a proven winner, and he's done it the right way."
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com.