It’s been nothing short of an uphill battle for Patrik Elias to stay healthy over the past few years. His last full season was technically the lockout-shortened 2012-2013 campaign, in which he tallied 14 goals and 36 points in all 48 contests. Since then, Elias has missed 96 games over three seasons due to injury, a trend that only limited him to playing 16 contests in 2015-2016. His output was miniscule, scoring a meager two goals and eight points, while going plus five. Elias’ productivity has declined sharply over the past four seasons. His last big year was in 2011-2012 when he registered 26 goals and 78 points in 81 contests, and hasn’t come close to putting up any equivalent figures. In what some believe could be his last season with the Devils, Elias didn’t give the fans much to cheer about, with the exception of the remarkable speech he gave at Martin Brodeur’s jersey retirement ceremony, and his return for the final three games of the season. Although he went pointless in the first two, Elias saved his best performance of the season for the final game when he tallied one goal and three points.
Elias didn’t give much to base his performance off of this year, but Devils fans should be well aware of how effective No. 26 can be when healthy. While he doesn’t possess the speed he had in his younger years, Elias is still one of the league’s marquee vintage playmakers. As a tenured 20-year NHL veteran, his experience from playing in practically every conceivable game scenario will offer invaluable insight to a team that’s in the midst of a thorough rebuild and youth movement. Elias knows what it takes to win and has played for several dominant Devils teams. He’s seen the game evolve throughout the years he’s been with the Devils, managing to adapt and always play an integral part in the team’s offensive core. Elias’ deep roots to the organization’s storied past will also help aid the team through its transitionary phase of reestablishing its core identity that it appeared to have lost seasons ago. There are numerous examples of NHLers in the twilights of their careers that stayed effective on youth replenished rosters. Shane Doan (Arizona) and Jaromir Jagr (Florida) proved this with their play this season, which makes a fully healthy player like Elias an ideal candidate to continue this trend.
The biggest concern in committing to Elias for another year, and expecting him to contribute is his health. Since his belated start to the 2005-2006 NHL season, Elias has had a perpetual struggle with various injuries, having to sit out 186 contests since 2005 as a result. It’s certainly taken a toll on No. 26’s play in recent years. His last offensively worthwhile season was in 2013-2014 when he registered 18 goals and 53 points. Like the case with many of the unrestricted free agents we’ve covered, Elias is part of the Lou Lamoriello regime, whose last few years largely plunged the Devils in the rebuilding state they’re in. As committed as Ray Shero is to facilitating the organization’s rebuild, an argument can be made that he has a moral obligation to letting Elias return to New Jersey for an encore season. Contrarily, there are several left wings the team has under contract (or are restricted free agents) that are iconic of the organization’s ongoing youth movement. Mike Cammalleri is under contract for three more years, Reid Boucher fit in nicely with Travis Zajac and Kyle Palmieri, and Joe Blandisi made a nice transition to the left side from center. Giving these players a first look ought to be the priority for Shero and Coach Hynes, and will certainly make for some tough choices to be made in the future.
Just like Brodeur, it would be very weird to see Patrik Elias playing in another NHL jersey. With recent reports indicating that he’s open to playing another season, that might turn out to be the case. In terms of how Elias would contribute to the team’s current rebuilding state, an argument could be made that he would provide a valuable veteran presence in a young locker room. He would at the same time however, occupy a fulltime roster spot and playing time from one of the Devil’s aforementioned young up and comers. It would be different if the team was in a better position to contend. With a glaringly apparent lack of offense, and a defense that’s still on the track to maturing, it’s time to start thinking about the future. While Elias himself admitted that playing for another team would be a smudge onto his decorated career, he’s entitled to give himself the best chance possible to top off his storied career by capturing one last championship.