The New Jersey Devils honored longtime netminder Martin Brodeur with a statue in his honor outside Prudential Center, and by retiring his No. 30 before Tuesday night’s game against the Edmonton Oilers, joining just three other players: Ken Daneyko, Scott Stevens, and Scott Niedermayer. However, one day soon, those fantastic four will be joined up in the rafters by another great Devil; one who is quietly trudging along in what is most likely his swan song in New Jersey.
Patrik Elias, who has been with the Devils since 1995, is the team’s longest-tenured player and last on-ice link to their Stanley Cup championships. He is the franchise’s leading scorer with 1,022 points — ranking 76th in N.H.L. history and sixth on the leagues active list. He has been the team’s single-season point’s leader eight times, including the 2000-1 season, when he had a franchise-record 96 while playing on a powerful A Line with Jason Arnott and Petr Sykora.
Elias has spent his entire NHL career with New Jersey after debuting with the team for one game in the 1995-96 season, and this season marks his 20th skating for New Jersey. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Elias is the 18th man in NHL history to play at least 20 seasons for one franchise, and he is by far the longest tenured player in the Metropolitan area. Incredibly, only five other athletes have spent more time with a single New York-area professional team.
Mel Ott, played 22 seasons for the long-departed New York baseball Giants, from 1926 to 1947. Derek Jeter spent twenty years playing in pinstripes and his core four buddy Mariano Rivera pitched for 19 seasons in the Bronx. Brodeur spent parts of 21 seasons in net for the Devils and Daneyko spent two decades patrolling the blue-line in New Jersey before retiring in 2003.
In fact, Elias, who debuted back on December 7th, 1995, is the second longest tenured player throughout North American team sports. Only Coyotes captain Shane Doan, who made his debut two months earlier than Elias when the franchise was still in Winnipeg, has been with one organization longer. That right, Elias has been a Devil longer than Kobe Bryant has been a Laker, Tim Duncan a Spur and Tom Brady a Patriot.
Elias reported to training camp with knee issues and was not able to take part in camp or any of the preseason. He missed the first 20 games of the season but thought he could stay healthy enough to play. He appeared in just 12 games before undergoing arthroscopic surgery to his right knee on Jan.12. Tom Gulitti of The Record reported that Elias actually skated lightly on his own Thursday, marking the first time the 20-year pro has been on the ice since being sidelined.
Elias, who served as the team’s captain for one season, 2006-7, and has been an alternate captain for years easily stands as the greatest forward in franchise history, but will he be a Hall of Famer? Based on the standards of previous Hall entrants, Elias is sitting right on the bubble, even if he former teammate, Bobby Holik told ESPN the Mag’s Craig Custance last year that he would not vote the lifelong Devil in.
Elias is a two-time Stanley Cup Champ and a four-time All-Star – representing the Devils in 2000, 2002, 2011 and 2015. Since being drafted during the 1994 NHL Entry Draft, Elias has amassed career totals of 407 goals, 615 assists and 1,022 points (in 1,237 games) – he is the Devils’ all-time leader in all three offensive categories. It’s important to note that he put up those numbers despite mostly playing in a notoriously stingy Devils system that was predicated on a defense-first mentality.
In the National Hockey League’s long history there have been 90 players who have scored at least 400 goals, 78 who have registered 600 assists and 80 who have reached 1,000 points. Elias is just the ninth player to reach those three milestones while wearing a single uniform, joining Steve Yzerman, Mario Lemieux, Stan Mikita, Gil Perreault, Alex Delvecchio, Jean Beliveau, Dave Taylor and Rod Gilbert.
Of the players drafted between 1989 and 1999, only Mats Sundin, Nickolas Lidstrom, Sergei Fedorov, Jarome Iginla, Joe Thornton, Marian Hossa, Daniel Alfredsson and Jaromir Jagr will have more points than Elias when it’s all said and done. It’s also possible that the Sedins or Pavel Datsyuk will play long enough to pass him. Martin St. Louis wasn’t included because he went undrafted.
It certainly bodes well for Elias’ case to have his name included among some of the games recent and former greats, however, the Hall of Fame rewards dominance more than longevity and he just never was a dominant player. He scored 30 goals or more four times and broke 80 points just twice. He finished sixth in scoring in 2003-04 with 81 points and 10th in 2011-12 with 78 points, which means he only finished in the top 10 in scoring three times in his career.
Although his return to the ice is certainly encouraging, the 39-year-old winger is likely still a long way from returning to game action. In a perfect world, Elias would return before seasons end and aide in the teams surprising pursuit of a playoff berth before riding off into the sunset. He has said he wants to play another season, but it’s fair to suggest he could be on the verge of retirement, given he’s in the last of a three-year, $16.5 million deal. Not to mention his skills and health are deteriorating.
Certainly, his number 26 will go up with 3, 4, 27 and 30 in the Devils’ rafters one day, but he isn’t done with hockey and the Devils just yet. His Hall of Fame candidacy may be as close as it gets, but his place in Devils history is not up for debate.