Farewell to Elias

Patrik Elias was the complete player; and the bigger the game, the better he played.” – Ken Daneyko, Mister Devil and Elias’ teammate for years.

Nobody says it better about Elias than Daneyko, the man who went to war with Patrik through Patty’s career.

As for me, I’m experiencing a blend of sadness and joy now that Elias officially has announced his retirement.

Sadness because The Game is losing a master craftsman in the art of both offensive and defensive hockey.

Joy because with Patrik’s departure from the Devils, his artistry — greatness — finally is being fully recognized.

Yes, Patty’s kudos came over the years but never to the proper extent while he graced the National Hockey League from his first game in 1995-96 through last season.

The applause is coming from everywhere — veteran hockey analysts, teammates — both past and present — fans and executives. Experts in this business believe that he belongs in the Hall of Fame and I agree.

“You could put Patty in any situation,” Daneyko told me, “whether it was five-on-five hockey or penalty-killing or working the power play. Whether we were up 3-2 or down 3-2. And was he ever smart. His knowledge of the game was tops.”

Unlike superstars such as Sidney Crosby and Patrick Kane, Elias went about his business of winning more like a stealth hockey player than a center stage kind of guy.

You didn’t notice him until he delivered the big goal as was the case during the Spring 2000 playoffs in Philadelphia when Patrik suddenly emerged from nowhere to score two goals, including the red-lighter, that eliminated the Flyers.

“He always seemed to be in the right place,” Daneyko concluded, “at the right time.”

I second that motion.

The Maven was in Dallas the night of Stanley Cup Final Game 6 when it appeared that the Stars would beat New Jersey in the first overtime, but didn’t thanks to Martin Brodeur‘s goaltending.

Ultimately, though, it was Elias — covertly camped in the enemy’s right corner — creating the double overtime special delivery pass to Jason Arnott who converted it into the Cup-winning tally.

Nor was the Czech-born ace any less effective as a catalyst for coach Pat Burns in the Spring of 2003 when the Devils defeated Anaheim in Game 7 to win their third Stanley Cup.

“The Devils could not have won two Stanley Cups without Patrik,” asserted Deb Placey, who has covered the Devils and reported on Elias for MSG Networks since his rookie year.

“He became such a terrific defensive forward; he absolutely sacrificed scoring to play responsibly — but he still scored over one thousand points.”

2002 Season: Patrik Elias and Jason Arnott celebrate. (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)

What many observers either have forgotten — or simply did not know — is that Elias nearly died during the 2004-05 work stoppage.

Like many NHL players, he signed to play in Europe; first with Znojmo in the Czech League and later with Magnitogorsk in Russia.

While with Magnitogorsk, he contracted a deadly Hepatitis A virus, leaving him in a beyond-serious condition. Treatment in Europe was not sufficient and he was flown back to New Jersey where Patrik eventually got the cure.

Shortly thereafter, I met Elias and his then agent, Todd Diamond, for a television interview at a solitary park in the Garden State.

It was clear to me, just looking at him, that Patrik’s future as a player was in doubt. His face was wan and he clearly lacked energy.

“I do want to play again,” he told me, “but I don’t know when.”

In fact, he missed a majority of the 2005-06 season trying to shake the symptoms that had so severely drained him.

Nevertheless, upon his return, he managed to play in 38 games and recorded 16 goals and 29 assists for 45 points while averaging more than a point a game in the playoffs.

Away from the ice, he was both studious and humorous. In his early Devils years, he often was side-by-side with fellow Czech Petr Sykora.

NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 06: Petr Sykora #15 and Patrik Elias #26 of the New Jersey Devils pose for a photo during a ceremony commemorating Sykora's 1000th NHL game prior to the game against the New York Rangers at the Prudential Center on March 6, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Along with Arnott, they comprised “The A Line” which was so effective in defeating Dallas for the 2000 Cup.

In the dressing room, post-games, Elias could produce very analytic answers to reporters’ questions. But if he thought the questions too trivial — as I experienced with him — Patrik would chide the newsman.

Ever observant of those around him, he once noticed that I had been using a repetitive question to his teammates: “Your thoughts on the game?” was my succinct query.

Now, I walked over to Elias, checked with my cameraman — got the thumbs-up sign — and began to open my mouth. But before I could get the words out, Patrik blurted, “YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE GAME?”

Then, we both had a good laugh and he discussed the contest that had just concluded.

It wasn’t always laughs with Patrik and his team. There were contract collisions with his boss, Lou Lamoriello, and the loss of his captaincy.

Lou named Elias the club’s seventh captain in Devils’ history on October 5, 2006, succeeding the retired Scott Stevens. Patrik thus became the first European-born captain of the franchise. Elias, as captain, played some of his best hockey under coach Claude Julien. But close to season’s end, Julien was let go and replaced by Lamoriello.

When Lou needed a new coach for 2007-08, he selected Brent Sutter. Sutter would later give the “C” to Jamie Langenbrunner.

Minus the captaincy, Elias soldiered on as the penultimate team player. His dozen club records speak for themselves:

1. Most Career Points: 1025; 2. Most career goals: 408; 3. Most career assists: 617; 4. All-Time leader in playoff goals (45), assists (80) and points (125); 5. Most points in a season: 96; 6. Most points in a playoff season: 23; 7. Most career game-winning goals: 79; 8. Most career overtime goals: 16; 9. Most overtime goals in a season: 4; 10. Most career hat tricks: 8; 11. Most career shots on goal: 3,201; 12. Most career power play goals: 110.

NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 09: Patrik Elias #26 of the New Jersey Devils and Devils co-owner Josh Harris pose for a photo commemorating Elias's milestones prior to the game against the Edmonton Oilers at the Prudential Center on February 9, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Impressive as they are, those numbers hardly tell the true story of The Elias Effect. Except for goaltending, there wasn’t an aspect of the game in which he failed to excel.

Looking backward, it’s noteworthy that Elias knew very little English when he arrived with the Devils organization. Deb Placey remembers it well.

Placey: “He was so young and impressionable. But that made it easy for him to wholeheartedly buy into the Devils way; that it was not about the name on the back but the logo on the front.

“In the end the name Elias is one that will live in NHL history forever. It became synonymous with the Devils.”

Whether it was working the power play, killing penalties, backchecking, forechecking or mentoring younger players, Elias was the Devils main man around the rink; the last link to the 2003 Cup-winning roster.

One could say that the two decades, during which he remained a one-and-only Devil who expertly did his job without fuss or fanfare, happened so fast.

This much is certain; Patrik Elias will go down as one of the most underrated players in the NHL’s 100-year history.

That said, there’s no doubt in my mind that he belongs in The Hockey Hall of Fame!