It’s been more than eight months since Patrik Elias has suited up in an NHL game, but there’s still a chance he sees action this season. Devils coach John Hynes said the team will continue to wait on Elias’ decision.
Patrik Elias hasn’t suited up for an NHL contest since closing out the 2015-16 campaign with a one-goal, three-point performance just four days before his 40th birthday, but the New Jersey Devils are still leaving open the possibility for one of the franchise’s most iconic players to return to the team.
Though he’s not part of the Devils’ active roster, coach John Hynes said Elias, a veteran of 20 NHL campaigns who has played every single game of his career with the Devils, is still skating with the team from time to time, using the training facilities and, according to NJ.com’s Chris Ryan, still holding down a stall in the far corner of the Devils’ locker room.
While the fact no decision has been made about his future may seem odd, Hynes insisted that this is all part of the process for the longtime Devil, and Elias is “still going through the process of trying to figure out whether or not he's going to be able to play.”
The reason why Elias’ hasn’t yet made his decision and inked a one-year deal to come back to New Jersey is the fallout from off-season surgery on his right knee. Elias missed a whopping 65 games due to an injury to his right knee during the 2015-16 campaign, and he has spent the off-season, and much of the first two months of the current season, rehabbing the ailment to figure out whether or not playing again is even a viable option.
With that in mind, Hynes told Ryan that the Devils were never really expecting Elias to make a decision by this point in the season. Matter of fact, it doesn’t appear the Devils are expecting to really know about Elias’ plans for the rest of the campaign until the back half of the year.
"Patrik knew, we knew as an organization, coming into this year that it probably wasn't going to be a first half of the season type of situation," Hynes told Ryan. "He's really working to see if this is going to be something he feels and we feel that he's going to be able to play. But we're not at that point yet."
For Elias to come back wouldn’t be some great boon to the offense — which is currently ranked 22nd with 2.39 goals per game and 26th in 5-on-5 goals for per 60 minutes — but it would provide some added punch, to be sure. No one is expecting him to be the 20-goal, 60-point player he was for the bulk of his career, and while he’d need some getting up to speed, it’s worth noting that Elias managed to contribute two goals and eight points in 16 games on a bad knee as a 39-year-old. If he can produce at two-thirds that rate while taking bottom-six minutes, that could help the Devils.
It’ll be interesting, too, to see if the Devils’ ability to chase down a post-season spot will have any influence on Elias’ decision. Right now, New Jersey sits nine points out of a post-season spot in what has become the most competitive division in the league, the Metropolitan. Four of the division’s eight teams have 40 points and Washington is holding down the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card spot with 39 points.
It’s incredibly unlikely the Devils go deep in the post-season, but Elias might be enticed to come back to give it one more run. There’s no decision yet, though, and it appears he won’t be making up his mind until he’s sure his knee can make it through the rigors of what would likely be his last run in the NHL.
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