After Patrik Elias announced his retirement last year, and no shortage of tributes came flooding in, including this poignant one from Mike Stromberg on this very site, everyone knew that the retirement of his #26 to the rafters of the Prudential Center was inevitable. If you need a comprehensive collection of some classic Elias moments and stats, make sure to give that article a read.
As such, it was not a question of if it would be retired, it was entirely a question of when.
Now we have a when!
February 24th, the New Jersey Devils will take on the New York Islanders and there could not be a better opponent for this event. The Devils are perfect (4-0) in number retirement games and the Islanders were one of Elias’s favored opponents. Not only did he play more games against the Islanders (91) than against any other team, he also scored his highest point total against them (86). While this is not his best points-per-game mark, they are a familiar foe and thus key contributors to his legacy in the Atlantic and subsequently the Metropolitan division.
Elias will become the first forward to have his number retired by an organization that achieved its highest moments through an emphasis on defense. As a borderline Hall-of-Famer, he managed to find a way to produce offense under the radar on a team that was known for starving opponents out on the back end. The Devils would not have won the 2000 and 2003 Stanley Cups without him and the presence he brought to the New Jersey locker room year-in and year-out.
He is also the first Devil to have his number retired who did not win the 1995 Stanley Cup, which will make some people, myself included, wonder about Sergei Brylin’s omission from the rafters. Brylin is still involved in the organization and was nowhere near the dynamic player or presence that any of the others were, but he was involved in all three cups so far, so it may not be the worst idea to eventually honor him in some way.
Regardless, Elias is as deserving a candidate as any to have his number hang above the ice for every single home game. Hopefully the Ghost of Pavel Zacha Future (we can dream) will stay involved in the Devils community and we will always look upon him fondly like we do the other four honored retirees. Not only that, but there is no truer embodiment of the Devils. In 1240 NHL games played, he racked up 666 wins. A Devil inside and out.
What are some of your favorite memories of Elias? Will you be going to the ceremony? Let us know!
Supplementary research for this article is from hockey-reference.com.