It's no secret that Patrik Elias is getting older; aging is simply a fact of life that we all accept and deal with everyday. However when it comes to playing professional hockey, Elias until the start of this season had been a seemingly ageless wonder. The 38 year old winger (who will turn 39 during the playoffs should the Devils make them) has been an integral offensive cog on a team that has been starved for goal scoring since the departures of Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise
Elias is currently on pace to have his lowest point total since 1997-1998; the only seasons where he had less were the two prior where he was a temporary call-up from Albany. It's an alarming pace for a player that has been so consistent and the Devils have been so heavily dependent on for over a decade now. To coach Peter DeBoer's credit, he has been trying to find different line mates for Patty this season to help spark his offensive game, but due to injuries (Marty Havlat going down for a while, and now Adam Henrique) and the inability to separate the top line due to their productiveness (at least when Mike Cammalleri is healthy), Elias has been left with his tires stuck in the mud so to speak; but is it just because of ineffective wingers?
Ineffective Line Mates?
The argument can be made that having players that aren't producing on his line is affecting Patrik's play, as well as his point totals. Two of the players that have flanked him regularly this season are Michael Ryder and Dainius Zubrus; unlike the second half of last season, Ryder has actually been pretty good so far this year. Michael's 9 points are tied for third in team scoring, and he looks noticeably more comfortable on the ice now that he has skates that are to his liking. Of note however is that more than half of Ryder's points came while he was playing with Adam Henrique; while Ryder is producing, perhaps it is Elias not helping his totals rather than the other way around.
Next is Dainius Zubrus, who was with Elias a lot until Cammalleri was injured. Zubrus' play fell off of a cliff in the second half of last season (despite playing with a productive Travis Zajac and Jaromir Jagr for large stretches), as he recorded only 7 points over the last 41 games of the season. Zubrus is right on track to pick up where he left off with a measly 2 points in 16 games so far (on pace for 10 all season), as well as the argument that he dragged down Jagr and Zajac while Cam while injured. If anyone would like to further an argument for an ineffective winger dragging down Patty, this is probably squarely the name you focus on.
Is He Playing Hurt?
The Devils have had a rough run of luck in terms of injuries early this season; while we're certainly not the Columbus Blue Jackets (side note: I actually feel bad for those guys as it seemed like half their roster was missing when we played them) we haven't had an easy go either. Cammalleri (6 games), Havlat (10 games), Henrique (4 and counting), and Jon Merrill (5 and counting) are all integral pieces of the team that have missed a significant amount of time. While Merrill has no bearing on this argument, all of the other 3 have played with Elias at some point this season, including Cam when DeBoer (NOT to his credit this time) decided it would be a great idea to put Zubrus back with Zajac and Jagr; we all saw how that worked out.
So with that many forwards already out (and now Ryane Clowe being hurt again), the concept of Elias playing hurt doesn't seem so far-fetched. A lot of fans that I have interacted with have said he seems to be not skating as aggressively as usual, and watching games myself, it seems for one reason or another, Patty just isn't skating like he used to. Speculation has run abound with everything from back spasms to a groin pull being discussed; personally, I don't believe any of the injury rumors at the moment. Unless Elias is hurt and is telling the coaches that he wants to play through it, I have to believe from everything we've seen with this team that he would have missed at least 1 game.
Time Keeps on Slippin'
Going back to what I said about Elias not skating the way he used to brings up the final (and possibly most disheartening) argument that could be made; Patty's game could just be declining due to age. I love Elias; I was one of the biggest A-Line supporters when they were together (to the point where I would use them as my 3 player unit in NHL Hitz sometimes without having a defenseman in) and they're still my favorite line to this day. However time will eventually catch up with all players (except maybe Jagr) and every active player will one day retire. Maybe once Henrique gets back, he and Elias will rediscover some of the magic they had playing with each other last season. The fact remains however that Elias is due to decline; we all knew this day would come at some point. I just hope I'm wrong and the Elias engine gets up and running soon.
Now as we usually do I'd like to hear your opinions on the subject; do you think time has finally caught up to Patrik Elias? Do you think he's playing injured? Is the quality of players surrounding him the true problem? Is it something else entirely or a combination of the factors? Leave all of your answers and comments below and as always thank you for reading!