Last week, the news came as expected. Patrik Elias announced his retirement from hockey. A classy and elegant star who played his entire career with the New Jersey Devils, he holds several franchise records including most goals (408), assists (617) and points (1025).
One of the best two-way players of this era, Elias finished his brilliant 19-year career a plus-172 in 1240 games played. His best season coming in 2000-01 when he set the Devils’ single season mark for one season with 96 points reaching 40 goals and tallying 56 assists with a remarkable plus-45 rating. That year, the Czech standout finished sixth for the Hart and led the Devils with 23 points (9-14-23) in the postseason while playing on the famed A Line. A line flanked by Petr Sykora and center Jason Arnott. They came up one game short of repeating as Stanley Cup champions. The biggest highlight of Elias’ career remains this brilliant backhand saucer feed to Arnott in Game 6 of the 2000 Stanley Cup Final defeating the Dallas Stars in sudden death:
That clinched the Devils’ second Cup. Without Elias’ pair in the seventh game of an emotional 3-1 comeback against the Flyers in the Conference Final, they don’t make it. He was sensational. It was the first of two Cups Elias would win with the other coming in 2003 when they defeated the Mighty Ducks in seven for their third championship in less than a decade. In that one, he played more of a checking role finishing with five goals and eight assists for 13 points while playing with Scott Gomez and Jeff Friesen, who was acquired for Sykora.
Ironically, he wound up burning his former team. It was the cohesive checking line of John Madden, Jay Pandolfo and Jamie Langenbrunner that was instrumental during that run. Along with the brilliance of Scott Niedermayer, Martin Brodeur and the leadership of captain Scott Stevens with cohesive partner Brian Rafalski, they were able to send off popular all-time Devil Ken Daneyko by posting a 3-0 win in Game 7 at their former home, Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford. Then rookie Mike Rupp played the unlikely hero scoring the Cup clincher while assisting on both Friesen tallies.
Even though they never won another championship, Elias wasn’t done. In Game 1 of a first round match-up in 2006 against the bitter Hudson rival Rangers, he recorded two goals and four assists in a blowout home win- becoming the 10th player to register six points in a postseason game. The Devils went on to sweep the Rangers before falling to the Hurricanes in the second round. Elias finished with 16 points (6-10-16).
As has been detailed, he nearly signed with the Rangers in the off-season. After reaching a verbal agreement on a six-year, $42 million contract, Elias decided to go back to the Devils when Rangers GM Glen Sather didn’t include a no-trade clause. Honestly, I could never have pictured him as a Ranger. It just wouldn’t have looked right. To me from the Manhattan side of the rivalry, Elias was always a quintessential Devil. I’m glad he decided to re-sign with them agreeing to a seven-year, $42 million contract with a no-trade clause.
Maybe it’s the traditionalist in me. I had already seen Bobby Holik become a turncoat and don our colors with it backfiring. He was a very good checking center but his big mouth bit off more than he could chew. He wasn’t worth it. Holik was at his best helping the Devils win their first two Cups while driving opponents batty. Something Hasan can vouch for. Gomez did the same coming to the Rangers for a ridiculous amount. Even though he burned his former team, he declined and eventually was pawned off to Montreal in a trade for Ryan McDonagh that cost Bob Gainey his job.
The amazing thing about Elias is he remained productive into his mid-30’s. In ’11-12, he finished second in team scoring behind Ilya Kovalchuk with 78 points (26-52-78) in 81 contests. That team would go on a run surprising the Flyers in the second round behind the brilliance of ageless wonder Brodeur, who at 40 got the better of Henrik Lundqvist in a six-game revenge Conference Final 18 years in the making. Rookie Adam Henrique scored the overtime winner. He also beat the Panthers in the seventh game of Round 1. Ultimately, the Devils fell short losing to the Kings in six games for the Cup. But they beat the Rangers on Henrique’s goal appropriately called by legendary former Devils play-by-play man Doc Emrick:
In many ways, it was fitting. In 1994 as a 17-year old teenager in high school, we had our moment with Stephane Matteau beating the Devils and then rookie Brodeur in the seventh game of a memorable Conference Final. The Rangers won the Cup edging the Canucks in seven. It will always be for my Dad. I’ll never forget his reaction. Maybe the Devils had to do it with a similar script. Even if it didn’t go seven, they blew a two-goal lead in Game 6 at home. Similar to what happened in ’94. But this time, fate was on their side. They deserved to win. I’ll just leave it at that.
Elias was always the one Devil I respected. A likable player on and off the ice who carried himself well. He was a pro. I own a Czech Republic home white Elias number 62 jersey. Beautiful fabric. Number 62 because at the time when I ordered it, Martin Rucinsky wore 26. I don’t own many player jerseys. I also have a Pens alternate Alexei Kovalev sitting in the closet with an ‘A.’ My favorite player.
The whole point of this post was to look back at Elias’ career. One that should get him one day inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. He’s not only the all-time Devils franchise leader in scoring but holds playoff records in goals (45), assists (80), points (125). His 79 game-winning goals are also the most in franchise history along with 16 career overtime goals including a club record four in one season.
Elias also holds the record for most power play goals (110) and total shots (3287). Of course, number 26 for the black and red also posted the most hat tricks in franchise history with eight. Here is the final hat trick posted appropriately against I-95 rival Philadelphia Flyers:
What else can be said about Elias? He was a team oriented player who could play either left wing or shift to center in the later years for the good of the Devils. A complete forward who could be trusted in all three zones. He played power play and penalty kill finishing with 16 shorthanded goals. I always enjoyed watching him skate. He was exceptionally good in transition at reading the defense. Whether it was shot or pass, he could beat you.
At 40, Elias was allowed to still be part of the team this season. They didn’t force him out. They let him make the decision. One that everyone knew was coming. When he didn’t re-up following an injury riddled ’15-16, it was a sign that he was done. Not everyone gets to go out the way they want to. But Elias accomplished so much. He won two Cups and helped them reach four Stanley Cup Finals. He was gigantic.
One of Lou Lamoriello’s best ever draft picks. Taken 51st overall in the second round of the ’94 NHL Draft, Elias went on to a Hall of Fame career. He may not get in right away. But he will. He’ll also become the fifth Devil to have his number retired next year, joining Brodeur, Daneyko, Niedermayer and Stevens. In this interview with Daneyko on March 31, Elias discusses his retirement and what it meant to be a Devil:
The cool part about this is Elias will take his final lap in the Devils last home game against the Islanders on Saturday, April 8. #PattysLastLap will be emotional for him, his teammates, coaches and the fans. Here’s a little tease the Devils posted on their Twitter this morning:
Congrats to No. 26, Patrik Elias on a great career!