Lester Patrick had a pretty good idea, eh? In a word, the idea was: "playoffs."
And the amazing part about the idea was that he had it 85 years ago! With the 2003 Stanley Cup playoffs in full swing, raise a toast to Lester (and his brother Frank) for conceiving the idea back in 1918.
Patrick. The name is among the most revered in hockey. It stands along side the likes of Gretzky, Richard, Howe, Orr, and Lemieux. In New York, specifically with the New York Rangers, there is no greater name. Lester Patrick was the Rangers' patron saint, their first general manager (for 20 years), and their first coach (for 13 years). Patrick is credited, in fact, with making sure that hockey succeeded in New York City.
Years and years before the term "public relations" had even been invented, Lester wisely courted the New York press corps, both collectively and individually. His "hockey information panels" (press briefings) were legendary and they assured that hockey's rules, nuances and strategies were not lost on a press corps that was basically uncomfortable with the game. Lester's strategy with the press earned him the nickname "The Silver Fox," and the moniker stuck with him his entire career.
The nickname itself was bestowed by Ed Daley, then the sports editor of the New York Herald-Tribune, following one of Lester's press briefings. "Yesterday," Daley wrote, "I spent a fascinating half hour in the lair of ‘The Silver Fox'…" The nickname probably had as much to do with Lester's shock of gray hair as it did with his sagacity in all things relating to hockey.
Lester Patrick is the patriarch of what is known as hockey's "Royal Family." The family has shaped the game of hockey worldwide, but their palace has surely been New York.
Lester's sons, Lynn and Muzz, followed closely in their Dad's footsteps. Both were star players, Lynn an All-Star left wing and Muzz a bruising defenseman. Muzz is the only man in history to play four sports (hockey, basketball, bike racing and boxing) in the Montreal Forum and the only man to play three sports (hockey, boxing and bike racing) at Madison Square Garden.
Both Lynn and Muzz went on to coach the Rangers, and Muzz served the team as general manager as well. The family chain continued when Lynn's son, Craig Patrick, became the Rangers' general manager in 1980. Craig also coached the team on two occasions and is now the general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Of course, the invention of the playoff system would hardly Lester's only claim to permanent NHL fame. Lester, who had built hockey and hockey rinks in western Canada prior to coming to New York, was directly responsible for some of the most dramatic innovations in the game between the years 1911 and 1925, including:
Lester Patrick arrived in New York in 1926, replacing another hockey legend, Connie Smythe of Toronto, who had been originally charged with putting the first Rangers team together.
It was the "Golden Age" of sports in the United States, and New York sportswriters were fascinated with the heroes of the day -- Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey, Bobby Jones, Helen Wills, Bill Tilden, Red Grange, and the king of the jockeys, Earle Sande.