At the beginning of this season, I wrote an article here at AAtJ encouraging everyone to appreciate what could be Patrik Elias' last season as a New Jersey Devil. Unfortunately, there hasn't been too much Elias hockey to watch as the 39-year-old's season has been marred by injury. After spending the first month and a half of the season on IR with a knee problem, Elias returned to the lineup for just 13 games before heading back to IR in late December and getting arthroscopic surgery done on his knee in January. Yesterday, Tom Gulitti reported over at Fire and Ice that Elias (along with Michael Cammalleri and Jacob Josefson) will remain home for the Devils' upcoming west coast road trip. At this point, it seems fair to wonder if Elias will return to the ice in a Devils uniform this season.
With the Devils falling from the playoff picture over the past few weeks, the incentive to return to the lineup has certainly diminished. The Devils are now sitting six points out of the playoff picture and in 12th place in the East, being as close to 15th place Buffalo as they are to 8th place Detroit. Now, the Devils head to California to take on three of the hottest teams in the league in the Sharks, Kings, and Ducks. When they return home, just 12 games will remain on the schedule and they could be all but eliminated. Would Elias try to get back to help New Jersey play out the string? It seems fair to think he may shut it down if he is hoping to continue his career beyond this season.
Does He Fit In the Devils' Plan?
If Elias does choose to play in 2016-17, one has to wonder if it will ultimately be in New Jersey. The first summer of Ray Shero's tenure as GM saw him jettison many of the roster's veterans to make room for fresh blood. With Elias' contract expiring this offseason, will he be heading out the door as well? The Devils will presumably continue to try to continue getting younger this summer and legitimate questions do exist about how much Patrik has left in the tank these days. He didn't get too much time on the ice to get acclimated this season and injuries were obviously a factor, but Elias was underwhelming in the games he did find his way into this season. He only amassed a pedestrian 5 points in 13 games and had some moments where he started to look his age out on the ice. Would Shero bring him back on a one-year deal next year to be a stop-gap for a still thin group of forwards? Or will we see the Devils head in another direction like they did with their veteran UFAs last summer?
Do the Devils Fit in Elias' Plan?
While we don't know what the Devils plan to do in free agency and beyond this summer, we also don't know what Patrik Elias wants to do next season. If he is hoping for one last ride for the Cup, the Devils will likely still be a work-in-progress next season and may not realistically offer that option. Elias could conceivably try to latch on as a depth guy for one of the league's contenders if he is set on trying for Stanley Cup #3 at the end of his career. This, of course, depends on a contender having space on their roster and wanting to bring a player like Elias aboard, which is certainly not a guarantee. It would certainly be strange to see Elias in another uniform, and I don't think anyone is really pining for another "Brodeur in St Louis" situation, but it remains a possibility in an uncertain offseason.
Alternatively, Elias could seek to retire if he's had enough after a rough 2015-16 season. Elias has already had a fantastic career and great longevity as a player; not everyone is a freak like Jaromir Jagr. He doesn't really have much left to prove and would retire as the Devils leader in pretty much every offensive category of note. If he does go this route, surely his number would be retired in short order, perhaps as soon as next season.
What's Left of This Season
It's been a bummer to see how this season has gone for Patrik Elias, especially considering that it looked like it could be his last for the Devils from the very start. If this is the end for Elias (whether for the Devils or as an NHLer altogether), I think everyone would like to see him play at least one more game before the end of this season. I want the fans to have an opportunity to give him the send off he deserves as a Devils legend, even if we don't know what the future holds for him in New Jersey. He has indicated that he wants to try to return this season before, but with the Devils now a longshot for the postseason and the team running out of games, the chances of a return seem to be diminishing. As far as next season goes, no one knows the answer to whether Elias will be back, but there does seem to be a chance that this is it for him in the red and black. Hopefully, we at least get to see him lace up the skates for the Devils at the Rock one more time before we have to find out.