Thursday, January 9, 2014

Part IX: The Dark Blue Jacket's Definitive History of the CBJ; Blow the Whistle Craig

Today, I learned from the DBJ that Craig Patrick had departed the Columbus Blue Jackets organization.  After some checking, and with the news now conveniently posted by the Columbus Dispatch here, I was able to confirm his move.  It is very difficult for most fans to appreciate just what he brought to this organization, but this is a very good move by the Buffalo organization, and it is a harbinger of good things to come over there in the snow belt.

The Dispatch article called him a steadying presence, which is fair.  I think Craig Patrick opened Scott Howson's eyes to a number of things that enabled Howson to lay the foundation for the current team.  With John Davidson's arrival, there was competition for what Craig Patrick can bring to the table, which is a credit to both men.  JD and Patrick go way back, so while not a point of conflict, I think it is fair to say that Craig Patrick will do his best work at this point in his life in situations where there is a dearth of hockey knowledge, and his enormous perspective is at it's most valuable.  It was certainly that way when he came to the Columbus Blue Jackets, though I think it is fair to say that there has been a dramatic turnaround in the hockey operations department in terms of pure hockey knowledge.  So this move makes sense, and I wish him only the best in his new endeavors.

I think that unless you were among the hundred or so season ticket holders who heard him speak when he first joined the organization, as I reported in this post, that it was difficult to appreciate the weight his word would have behind closed doors.  Also, based on an anecdote he told about Phil Esposito, I wrote this post about leadership.  Having just re-read that post, I realize in retrospect that Patrick found the leadership situation wanting.  And, as with Phil Esposito's team, the Columbus Blue Jackets weren't going to be able to do anything while Rick Nash was still here.  Sometimes you have to take a step back to take a step forward. Sometimes you just have to turn the page.  Patrick's perspective would be critical in the next steps.  Even as the organization was able to stabilize itself financially, by taking on a significant minority partner and with a better lease deal on Nationwide Arena, the stage was set for changing player personnel as well.

I think Patrick's contribution to the situation was the ability to think of Nash and Carter as assets for the organization, not just immovable fixtures.  And I think he helped Howson immeasurably in early 2012 as
hockey operations tried to improve player personnel.  Dangling Nash for something equivalent to the Gross Domestic Product of an emerging nation, Howson and Patrick were able to package an unhappy Jeff Carter into a deal for Jack Johnson and the first round pick that netted Marko Dano at the trade deadline.  The flow of events suggested that they dangled the high price Nash, but then offered Jeff Carter as the 'cost conscious' alternative at a much cheaper price compared to Nash.   This is a critical point, and a savvy play.

The team's previously identified, glaring issues were down the middle at center, and the defensive corps.  By the time the dust had settled, Howson and Patrick had completely reshaped the defense and the middle of the ice for the CBJ.  Howson capped that by going out in free agency after the 2011-12 season and signing a future Vezina Trophy winner as a free agent goal tender.  In a very short period of time, they had directly addressed all identified weaknesses.

The Nash trade, finally consummated at the end of the season, brought in two new centers, Dubinsky and Anisimov. These two centers coupled with Ryan Johansen's emergence, have combined to create a bit of a log jam down the middle now.  This is a good problem to have, especially since all of those centers are good two way players, and 'character' players.  The Nash trade also brought in Tim Erixon, who is still on a solid developmental pathway to be an NHL defenseman, and of course the first round pick that got us Kerby Rychal.  Thus the team was strengthened down the middle, as well as infusing the development system with talent, some of which will start showing up down in Springfield in the AHL next year.

When he first showed up in Columbus, Craig Patrick told us that if he had to choose between talent and character, he would choose character.  The current roster of the Columbus Blue Jackets strongly reflects that philosophy.  The monument to Craig Patrick's philosophy was the electric, 19-5-5 run at a playoff spot that the 2012-13 team put together in the strike shortened season.

As we sit at the half way point of the 2013-14 season, the team hovers near .500, a much better launching pad for a run at the playoffs than the 'dead last', 30th place position they started from last year.  And Craig Patrick has moved on to a new challenge.

Fare ye well, Craig Patrick!  Fare ye well!  You left a legacy of change that bodes well for the future of our team!


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