Patrik Elias: The Most Underappreciated New Jersey Devil

levinakl@levinaklCorrespondent IIINovember 21, 2008

Other then the people who take the great Martin Brodeur for granted, is there a player out there who is more under-appreciated by Devils and hockey fans in general than Patrik Elias? 

For me, the answer is a resounding NO! 

It seems Elias can never do enough to please too many members of the media, and Devils fans as a whole.  I keep hearing talk about how Elias should be traded, how he's overpaid, etc. 

Are you kidding me?

Elias is still by far the most-talented offensive player on the Devils, and the margin isn't even that close.  Before you come to the comments section and scream about how Zach Parise scores more goals then Elias, keep this in mind—goals and talent are mutually exclusive.  Just because you score goals, it doesn't necessarily make you the most talented player, as there are other factors that contribute to goal scoring. 

Now, I am not taking anything away from Zach Parise.  He has a very good amount of talent, but his work ethic is what sets him apart from the pack.  He outworks opponents (and sometimes even teammates) to get to loose pucks and rebounds, and scores a lot of garbage goals. 

There is nothing wrong with that at all, and the skill he possesses is the combination that makes him the All-Star-caliber player that he is. (Don't forget to vote for Zach in your online voting!)

But back to my point about Elias.  He deserved every penny of the contract he got, and even gave the Devils a hometown discount, passing on higher contracts from the Rangers and Blackhawks.  Elias has been a top threat on the Devils for pretty much his entire career since joining the Devils full-time in the 1997-98 season. 

As Doc Emerick and Chico Resch pointed out during last night's broadcast on MSG Plus, his skill level warrants a situation where his linemates directly affect his productivity.  You can't play him with guys like David Clarkson and Mike Rupp, because his talent will be squandered.  It's no secret his most productive days were when he was paired with other highly-skilled players like Petr Sykora and Jason Arnott. 

They've tried to rebuild that formula with Dainus Zubrus and Brian Gionta, and thus far that combination has paid dividends—at least in the last three games.

Look at the give and go Elias had with Brian Gionta last night—it was a very high-skill play.  And the goal he had was a thing of beauty.  Not that many players could've pulled off that move to his backhand, which completely fooled Florida goaltender Tomas Vokoun.  This is the kind of talent Elias has shown—and continues to show all the time.

You also could debate Patrik Elias is the most clutch forward in the history of the Devils.  Do I need to point out who scored in Game Seven of the 2000 Stanley Cup Eastern Conference Finals against Philadelphia?  That's right, it was Elias who netted the game winner to silence the First Union Center crowd, and give the Devils a 2-1 victory. 

In 126 playoff games, Elias has 110 points.  That's pretty darn clutch, no matter how you want to slice it.  In his last 24 playoff games, he has a staggering 32 points.  Remember when he single-handedly dominated the Rangers in the 2006 playoff sweep?  He completely took over that series and is still capable of doing the same thing.  He was one of the few players who came to play in last year's debacle against the Rangers, scoring four goals in the five games, and adding two assists as well.

Even this year, his 15 points (seven goals and eight assists) have been somewhat underappreciated in 18 games.  Well, take those stats and prorate them over an 82-game season, and you have a very solid 36 goals and 32 assists, good for 68 points.  The 36 goals would be the third-highest of his career, and the 68 points would rank fourth.

All this data also leaves out one major item—Patrik Elias is usually better in the second half of a season.  The Devils have a lot of things to potentially worry about, especially while Martin Brodeur is out.  However, Patrik Elias is not one of those things.  You can bet the team realizes how important he is.  Let's hope all the fans and local sportswriters—especially you, Larry Brooks—begin to realize this in the very near future.

Sometimes, Elias is treated like hockey's version of Alex Rodriguez, where his production is sort of taken for granted.  Unlike Rodriguez, however, Elias has a reputation of being Mr. Clutch when he's needed most.