Patrik Elias, the New Jersey Devils all-time leading scorer, was on the ice yesterday for his first full practice in months. Elias hasn’t played a game since Nov 25th and has only participated in 13 contests this season, tallying 5 points. There was a lot of optimism heading into the season that Elias could still be a solid player and contribute to their woeful scoring situation, but that never came to fruition as he has been sidelined after having arthroscopic knee surgery on Jan 12th.
He’s been skating on his own for a month, and it seems he’s gearing up to finally see some action on the ice—though coach Hynes will ultimately make that decision. Unfortunately, the Devils only have 4 games left this season, as they’re unlikely to make the playoffs despite playing better than expected throughout the year. Will these games be his last in a Devils sweater? Or could they actually be his last in the NHL?
Elias turns 40 on April 13th which is both amazing and a testament to his physical shape and work ethic. He’s mentioned numerous times he’d like to continue playing, assuming he’s physically able to. He’s also in the last year of his contract ($5.5MM). Let’s examine his options.
They’re simple really—he can retire, re-up with the Devils or play for another team. The circumstances around them however, are not.
Certainly not the way Elias, a class player, borderline Hall of Famer, and franchise leader in a half dozen Devils categories, would like to end his career. Unfortunately, players don’t always control that as bodies break down and Father Time is still undefeated. The biggest issue for Elias isn’t just the fact that he’s 40, it’s the fact that he effectively didn’t play this year leaving a lot of questions about his ability (and durability) unanswered, thus increasing the risk for any team who may be interested. He almost assuredly would have management options within the Devils (or any) organization should he choose to go that route, but he seems intent on exhausting his playing options until he’s forced to consider otherwise. Time will tell, but it seems likely he won’t get to make that choice, as it will likely be determined for him.
Staying with the Devils:
This, frankly, is probably his best bet if he wants to keep playing. The Devils will be flush with cap room as well as roster space this summer. Should his body allow, he probably has another season in him where he can contribute in a top-9 role. If he does, it will no doubt be for far less than the $5.5MM he’s making this season. Which begs the question, what’s he actually worth? The fact is, he’s worth more to the Devils than any other team (and vice versa). He’s a team leader, a fan favorite, knows the system and he’s a good soldier. But I can’t imagine any team, Devils included, taking more than a 1-year flyer on him. How much do you pay a guy who’s 40 and hasn’t played more than a handful of games in over a year? To me, it’d be a nice story to give him a final year to finish out his career as a Devil on a Jagr-like contract ($1.5MM base with incentives for games played). But that doesn’t mean he’d accept that. If he’s looking for $3MM+ guaranteed, I might have to pass. I think Ray Shero would, too.
Signing with another team:
If the Devils don’t want him due to money or continuing with their youth movement, Elias could be valuable to another contending team on a 1-year deal. Again, this would come down to money, geography and opportunity. Per the above, I think he’ll have more of both with New Jersey and it would behoove both the Devils and Elias to come to an agreement as opposed to finishing out his career in a place like Detroit, Toronto or Florida.
There’s certainly more change afoot this summer for the Devils and I think it will be exciting change, as Shero continues to shape this team into an annual contender again. They’re getting close. Whether Elias has one final run remains to be seen. I expect we’ll see him one last time before the last home game, but whatever option he chooses, he will forever be a Devil and #26 will likely be the next number retired to the rafters. I hope we get to see him one last time, this season or next.