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Dick Patrick has been key to Capitals' rise

by Mike G. Morreale
NEW YORK -- Before Dick Patrick arrived in Washington, the Capitals and their fans had never experienced the excitement of playoff hockey.

Today, it's hard to fathom the Stanley Cup Playoffs without the Capitals -- and, in particular, one of the game's most ebullient stars, Alex Ovechkin.

"Alex is the cornerstone of our team because he's such an exciting player and with him here, everyone is going to have high expectations," Patrick told "We'd like to compete for the Stanley Cup, but I can look around and put my finger on about 6-to-8 other teams that expect to win as well. That's what makes it a great League."

Patrick was more than willing to discuss Capitals hockey on Wednesday during the 2009 Lester Patrick Trophy ceremony at Gotham Hall, where Mike Richter, Mark Messier and Jim Devellano were honored with the trophy named after Patrick's grandfather.

Patrick smiled when the discussion shifted to Ovechkin, who signed a 13-year contract extension with the Caps on Jan. 10, 2008.

"There was a lot of money involved in the contract and it was unprecedented for us, but after first negotiating a five-year deal we revisited and began thinking that if he is going to be the player we all expect him to be and become one the League's top players, do we really want to go through this process in another five years and then deal with free agency," Patrick said. "We had such confidence in him so we just wanted to go ahead and extend it out and wrap it up for the whole time -- just put it to bed. It's worked out so far and I hope it works out for the duration."

Capitals chairman and majority owner Ted Leonsis credits Patrick for getting the Ovechkin deal done.

"It was Dick who I give the credit to for extending the Ovechkin contract to 13 years -- he pushed us all to make that aggressive move," Leonsis said on his weekly blog to Capitals' fans. "Dick is steady, mature, honest and has very high levels of personal integrity. He may seem low-key but the passions for our team and the game boil at high levels within."

Since Patrick took the reigns as president of the Caps in 1982, Washington has qualified for the playoffs 20 times -- including a run to the Stanley Cup Final in 1998. The 2008-09 Southeast Division championship was the Caps' fifth division title under Patrick's watch and second in as many years.

A mainstay for the Capitals' franchise for more than two decades now, the owner, president and alternate governor hopes to one day have an opportunity to continue a family tradition -- engraving the Patrick name on the Stanley Cup.

"Well, it hasn't been a straight and steady line graph since I've been here -- there were some lean years in between," he said. "But you look around and there are lots of great teams and lots of great players so you have to earn it and fight for it and we haven't got there yet but that's our goal."

Dick's grandfather, Lester Patrick, was the first coach, first general manager and first of three generations of family members to serve management roles with the Rangers. Lester also was a hockey visionary who, along with his brother Frank, was responsible for a variety of innovations, including numbered jerseys in 1911, the blue lines in 1914, player changes "on the fly" in 1918 and penalty shots in 1922 -- all of which remain staples in today's game.

"Obviously I'm a little biased, but I think this is a great award ceremony," Patrick said. "Lester Patrick had a lot to do with how the League is constituted today and the people who are the recipients are as well-deserving as anyone. They've made some tremendous contributions to hockey in the United States."

Patrick's cousin, Craig Patrick, who was also present on Wednesday, played for the Capitals from 1977-79. He won two Stanley Cups as general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins and was enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame in November 2001 in the "builder" category. He was also director of operations for the New York Rangers in 1980 and, one year later, became the youngest general manager in Rangers' history.

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