The 2015-16 campaign for the Devils will be one that revolves heavily around the remaking of a franchise that has fallen into disrepair over the past several seasons. The roster is in the midst of an overhaul and a bunch of newer, younger faces will be expected to start taking the reins in New Jersey this season. After some major house-cleaning by new general manager Ray Shero over the summer, the Devils are left with exactly one player older than 35 on their roster. That player comes in the form of Patrik Elias, a man whose number will almost certainly become the fifth one raised to the Prudential Center rafters in a few years.
Elias is a bit of an outlier on the 2015-16 Devils now, with so much of the focus being shifted to the future and bringing in youth. While the team has turned their eye toward the future, Elias is staring down the final year(s) of his long and illustrious career. He will still likely play a top-6 role on this team, as he remains one of the teams better forwards, but with the team probably a few years from realistically contending again, the role of a 39-year-old in that rebuild is understandably murky.
Even with training camp just opening, Elias is already dealing with some injury issues and he's started to miss chunks of time more frequently the couple seasons prior to this one. And for the first time, his stats really started to slip last season as well. In 2014-15, he put up his lowest points per game since the 1997-98 season when he was only called up for 17 games as a rookie. In his defense, the Devils were top-to-bottom awful last season, but it was still his worst production in a long time. So with injuries starting to nag at him and his production starting to slip, plus the Devils being poised for another bottom-10 finish, it seems plausible that both could be looking to move on sometime not too far down the road. If Elias wants one last shot at contending for one more Cup, perhaps it's via a trade or free agency next summer, or if he feels he's ready to hang 'em up, maybe he heads into retirement (although he has said he would like to keep playing in a recent interview with Tom Gulitti). Either way, there is certainly a distinct possibility that this season is the last we see with Elias in a Devils uniform.
So with that in mind, I'm going to encourage everyone to enjoy every moment of Patrik Elias this season while you still can. He is a Devils legend and the team's last link to their glorious Cup years of the early-2000's. Cherish every brilliant pass, defensive play, or goal he has left in him for New Jersey, because these may be some of the last ones for one of the greatest Devils in history. The Devils may stink this year (or maybe not, who knows?), but it might be worth the price of admission just to go out and see a legend, because even if it's not his last season as an NHL player, it could be his last as a Devil.
When he does retire, he will do so as the franchise leader in goals, assists, points, power play goals (second in shorthanded), game-winning goals, overtime goals, and, if he gets into 59 games, games played for the team. Those are just the regular season records, but don't worry, he owns most of the offensive playoff ones, too. It will be decades, at a minimum, before we see anyone touch most of his franchise marks. He's been part of some of the franchise's best moments, most importantly the 2000 Cup run, where he scored the series-clinching goal in the Eastern Conference Finals and, of course, assisted on the series-clinching goal to win the Stanley Cup. He has been the total package for the Devils for a long time and it is strange to think about a Devils team without him on the ice. But within the next year or so, that could be exactly the reality we're dealing with.