For a meaningless season finale, last night’s Devils 5-1 win over the Leafs sure was a lot of fun. If you were writing a list for what you would want as a Devils fan last night you pretty much got everything on that list and more besides. Adam Henrique and Kyle Palmeri both getting their thirtieth goal of the season? Check. Rookies Pavel Zacha, Miles Wood and Steven Santini playing well in their NHL debuts? Check. Cory Schneider having another strong performance and ending a six-game losing streak with a career high 27th win? Check. A strong team performance throughout and finishing with a +NHL .500 record, finally beating the Leafs in the process? Check.
Of course last but certainly not least in that equation was Patrik Elias giving us all at least one more taste of his talent and intelligence, playing what could have been his final NHL game. Till last night this certainly hasn’t been the season Patty or the team envisioned with just one goal and four assists in fifteen games played but for one night we got to see the old Patty again, as he got a deserved first star with a three point, +4 effort including a dramatic goal on his last shift at least of the season with fifteen seconds left in the game, sending the crowd into one more frenzy. Once again the Devils legend showed he had a flair for the moment, as he has so many times throughout his career.
Of course the big question is whether last night actually was Elias’s final game as a Devil and/or in the NHL. Elias himself put the ball in management’s court saying it was up to GM Ray Shero and the coaching staff, but even that’s not entirely true. Some of it is up to Elias’s own body, which clearly betrayed him this year as knee issues limited him to just three games since Christmas. Weeks ago I accurately predicted he wouldn’t be back till this final homestand where he’d give it his best and try to give the home fans an extended chance to say goodbye if this truly was it for the career Devil. However, if you watched the instant chemistry between him and fellow Czech Pavel Zacha – who might literally be able to pass for one of Patty’s kids (both in age and hockey intelligence) – you might have come away from it the way I did feeling that Zacha could extend Patty’s career a year or two. Elias himself remarked on the postgame interview with Deb Placey that he wished the Devils could have brought Zacha up earlier, that he ‘might have had more than two goals this season’.
After last night I’m not inclined to doubt him, or want to stand in the way of a possible return next season although I understand all the reasons not to bring him back – he hasn’t had a good season in two years, he couldn’t stay healthy at all this year and will be 40 years old next week. However, the purely unsentimental aspect ignores all the reasons TO bring him back – the fact he would be a good mentor for Zacha and the other kids, the fact that when healthy and with the right linemates he can still contribute more than a lot of the guys that were playing this year, and you can’t underestimate the fact that from day one this summer Patty’s embraced wanting to be part of a turnaround. It would be the easiest thing in the world for a 39-year old Elias to say ‘I’ve won my Cups, I’ve scored 1000+ points, had at least a borderline HOF career and done everything I could do in hockey, why bother with a rebuild?’, but that hasn’t been his atitude in the least. Even after the worst season of his career he clearly wants to come back and help lead this team back into prominence, but it’s entirely possible with the Devils’ depth at LW there’ll be no place for him in the starting lineup by August when both parties seem to mutually agree a decision should be made on Patty’s future.
It was once former GM Lou Lamoriello’s famous meme that ‘when you have time, you use it’, and I suspect both Shero and Elias will take that approach this offseason. Speaking of Lou, due to a scheduling quirk game #82 of the season was the Leafs’ only trip into Newark and thus Lou’s official return to the Prudential Center for the first time since leaving this offseason after nearly three decades in charge of the Devils (he had been here for the jersey retirement of Martin Brodeur so it was really his second trip back this season). After the first stoppage in play the Devils ran a minute or so long video tribute to Lou, and when the crowd stood up and cheered, a typically nonplussed Lou had no choice but to acknowledge the love with a wave. As he and the crowd both know, his real day of honor will come one of these days, assuming Lou ever decides to retire. Another of Lou’s famous quotes is that age is just a number, after all.
As much as I wish that were true with Patty, age catches up with every hockey player not named Jaromir Jagr eventually. However we can all still dream of the crowd chant towards Patty at the end of the night being true…ONE MORE YEAR!