With over two decades of professional hockey management experience and a decorated career with USA Hockey under his belt, Craig Patrick wondered if he would be able to find a balance between hockey and life at the age of 65.
The native of Detroit, Mich. joined the Blue Jackets organization last week as the senior advisor to hockey operations, and was eager to continue a career in the game that culminated with his induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2001. Patrick spent 17 years as the general manager and lead architect of the Pittsburgh Penguins, drafting and developing players like Jaromir Jagr, Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby and helping the Penguins to five division titles and two Stanley Cup championships.
His pedigree and hockey acumen make him an appealing candidate for virtually any position in the NHL, but Patrick said he was in search of the right job that fit with this point in his life.
“I had been interested in some general manager jobs (the past few years), but then I realized that I wanted to live in Pittsburgh where all of my family is,” Patrick told BlueJackets.com. “My children and grandchildren are here, too.
“I’ve been a general manager in the league for 23 years, so I feel that I have a lot to offer and there’s an experience factor as well,” - Sr. Advisor, Hockey Operations - Craig Patrick
“It’s worked out really well to have a situation like this where I can maintain my residence in Pittsburgh and help an organization out.”
Patrick and Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson began discussions about the advisory role a few weeks ago, Patrick said, and soon after he developed an interest that led to more conversations. The chance to work close to his home was important, but he also has the ability to contribute to the Blue Jackets hockey operations department using the skills that made him a successful general manager.
He has spent the past few days with the Springfield Falcons, getting a close-up look at the Blue Jackets top minor-league affiliate and players that are one step away from the NHL.
For a hockey lifer like Patrick, the appeal of getting back to his management roots and becoming an experienced voice in an organization was something he couldn’t pass up.
“I don’t know the exact timing of it, to be honest,” Patrick said of the timeline behind joining the Blue Jackets. “Scott (Howson) came up with the idea and he gave me a call and said he was thinking of getting a senior advisor and that he thought about me. Then we had a handful of calls back and forth, and I went in and met with him in Columbus for lunch.
“A week later, he called and said he’d be interested in having me join the organization.”
The three-time Sporting News NHL Executive of the Year plans to conduct a thorough analysis of the Falcons’ players during his stay this week, but is also eager to visit Columbus for the first time in his new role. Patrick said his plan is to attend Thursday’s game against the Los Angeles Kings at Nationwide Arena.
He hopes his experience in a multitude of situations is a benefit to both Howson and the rest of the hockey operations staff.
“I’ve been a general manager in the league for 23 years, so I feel that I have a lot to offer and there’s an experience factor as well,” Patrick said. “I’m ready and willing to help Scott with whatever he needs me to do.
“So far, I’ve had an opportunity to evaluate the team here in Springfield. I’m getting a good handle on that part of the organization right now.”
And though he has tried to keep up with his new team using the internet and watching games on television when his schedule allows, Patrick said he wants to save all evaluations of the Blue Jackets until he gets a chance to watch them in-person.
As many long-time hockey executives will say, the best (and sometimes only) way to get a firm grasp on a team is to observe with the naked eye.
“I don’t want to watch tapes and televised games to formulate an opinion,” Patrick said. “I really want to see them play, and get to learn the organization from the inside. That’s the only way to truly get the pulse of the team. I don’t want have an opinion of the team until I get a chance to watch firsthand
“They had a fair amount of new players join the team over the summer and the offseason. A lot of them couldn’t start the season with the team, either due to suspension or injuries. The team didn’t have a chance to gel before the season started, and you can tell they’re starting to now.”
Patrick said he plans to assist Howson with all aspects of the team’s hockey operations, and “whatever else he’ll have (him) do.” He has been through it all as an executive – rebuilding, championships (1991, 1992) and a historical gold-medal run by the US Olympic team in 1980. He also served as Team USA’s general manager at the 2002 Winter Games in a silver medal effort by the Americans.
“It was really just having the opportunity, and I’m grateful that Scott was thinking of me,” Patrick said. “There aren’t many positions like this in the league – some teams do this kind of thing and others don’t. It’s really a unique opportunity for me.”