There’s a pretty good chance Patrik Elias will go down as the best forward in the history of the New Jersey Devils. And with that, an equally good chance his jersey will one day be ceremoniously hung from the rafters at the Rock.
But at 39, on the last year of a 4-year deal, with declining numbers, amidst what resembles a “rebuild” (at least by Devils standards), where does he fit in exactly? Would he want to be part of a rebuild? Would he be amenable to waiving his no trade clause to play out his last season(s) elsewhere in pursuit of a 4th Stanley Cup ring? Finding these answers would be one of the first orders of business for new GM Ray Shero as he begins to assess his active roster.
After what was an off year even by his own lofty standards, Elias recently told northjersey.com that he feels like “he can still play at a very high level.” He’s inarguably a strong veteran leader on a team that undergoing a youth movement. And despite the inconsistency in finding the back of the net, he still shows good vision and is very responsible defensively.
So what went wrong last season? Is age catching up to Elias, or were other variables at work?
Statistics seems to indicate that both factors played a role in his dip in play, thus leaving some optimism that he can turn it around in 2015-16. While his stats were unimpressive, he still finished fourth on the team in goals, third in assists and third in points. This earned him the dubious distinction of being the Devils lone All-Star selection last year—which speaks as much to his ability and league-wide respect as it does the anemic sate of the Devils offensive abilities (third-fewest goals in the NHL in 2014-15).
For starters, Elias didn’t exactly have the best line mates to help his cause. He was often trotted out on the 2nd (occasionally 3rd) lines with the likes of Zubrus and Havlat (yikes), killed penalties regularly and shifted from center to wing as needed. The Devils also reverted to a low-scoring defensive style of play and that surely didn’t help. Suffice to say, consistency wasn’t a par of his routine last season. The result? Elias had only 114 shots on goal, his lowest total since 1996-97, and a minus-20 rating. Ouch.
But Elias is capable of both creating as well as finishing, as his track record proves. And he’s one of the most cerebral players in the NHL. While he’s been used at both center and left wing, he’s statistically more productive on the left side. Given their depth, if not talent, at C, it would make sense for the Devils to start him on the wing. He and Adam Henrique have proven in the past they have chemistry, so it’s not far fetched to assume he could pot 15-20 goals playing competitive minutes especially if paired with a more talented flank on his right. Michael Frolik (WIN) or Loui Eriksson (BOS) sure would fit nicely there—but that of course, is also on Shero.
While Elias probably won’t be contending for the Art Ross Trophy anytime soon, he’s well conditioned and highly motivated. He still has the skills, leadership and enough gas left in the tank to be a top-six productive player if John Hynes and Ray Shero can figure out the proper way to use him (or teammates to use him with). Worst case, both he and the team can reassess in March and be moved at the deadline should both parties see fit.
According to the latest reports, Elias seems to be very willing to returning to the only team he’s ever played for and Shero seems intent to oblige him. I think it’s wise that he does.