GM Craig Patrick leaving Penguins

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PITTSBURGH (AP) – Craig Patrick, the Hall of Fame general manager who built the Pittsburgh Penguins’ two Stanley Cup winning teams but had to tear the club apart because of financial problems, is being let go after nearly 17 years on the job.

Patrick’s contract expires July 1, and team President Ken Sawyer said Thursday the Penguins will look for a new general manager.

Patrick, inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001, was long seen as one of the sport’s best talent evaluators. He drafted Jaromir Jagr and Sidney Crosby, traded for Ron Francis and Ulf Samuelsson, and hired Bob Johnson and Scotty Bowman as coaches.

Patrick’s trade for Francis and Samuelsson is widely regarded as being the final piece needed to transform what had long been one of NHL’s worst teams into a Stanley Cup winner.

Led by Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux, who later bought the club and retained Patrick as general manager, the Penguins won Stanley Cups in 1991 and 92.

Even after Lemieux retired for the first time in 1997, the Penguins remained Stanley Cup contenders for the rest of the decade.

But after former ownership led by Howard Baldwin drove the team into its second bankruptcy in franchise history, Patrick was forced to dismantle, as stars such as Jagr, Alex Kovalev, Martin Straka and Robert Lang went elsewhere.

The Penguins last were contenders in 2000-01, the same season Lemieux unexpectedly ended his 44-month retirement and returned as a player.

Led by Lemieux and Jagr, the Penguins reached the Eastern Conference finals, but haven’t been back to the playoffs since.

Even after drafting Crosby, who set a team rookie record with 102 points this season, and bringing in proven veterans, such as Sergei Gonchar, John LeClair, Mark Recchi and Ziggy Palffy, the Penguins skidded to a fourth consecutive last-place finish in their division this season. Their 60 losses were the most in franchise history.

In recent years, Patrick was forced to fire four coaches he brought in – Kevin Constantine, Ivan Hlinka, Rick Kehoe and Eddie Olczyk. Hlinka, Kehoe and Olczyk had no prior NHL head-coaching experience, yet were hired without Patrick considering other candidates.

Olczyk, formerly a team broadcaster, was fired in December and replaced by Michel Therrien, who has two years left on his contract. That means the new Penguins general manager probably won’t be allowed to bring in his own coach immediately.

Despite making a long series of excellent trades and signings since the 1990s, Patrick also made some bad ones, including what is regarded as the worst trade in NHL history – dealing longtime scoring star Markus Naslund for journeyman Alex Stojanov. It was a trade so bad, it was once the subject of a Canadian TV special.

Before being hired by the Penguins, Patrick was the general manager of the New York Rangers. In 1980, he was the assistant coach of the Olympic gold medal-winning U.S. hockey team for coach Herb Brooks. Patrick later brought Brooks to the Penguins as a front office executive and interim coach.

AP-ES-04-20-06 1254EDT

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