Today’s piece is designed to help us decide if Patrik Elias will be worthy of induction into the Hall of Fame at the end of his career. I can tell you right now that this is going to end with “I don’t know” because honestly, I don’t know.
I realize I’m not raising a new question, but I think it’s a really interesting case.
To me, based on the standards of previous Hall entrants, Elias is sitting right on the bubble.
The 37-year-old, who signed a three-year contract with the Devils this summer, has 375 goals and 930 points in 1,090 career regular-season games, all with New Jersey. He has been just as good in the postseason, posting 45 goals and 125 points in 162 career games. Breaking it down to points per game, that’s 0.85 in the regular season and 0.77 in the playoffs.
Where do those numbers rank Elias as of today? Glad you asked. It’s a good question. The 0.85 number ranks him 138th all-time, while the 0.77 figure ranks him 120th all-time. In terms of totals, Elias’ 930 points rank him 92nd all-time, while his 125 playoff points rank him 45th all-time.
If Elias averages 70 games per season over the next three seasons and dips to 0.75 points per game over that time, he will (likely) finish his career at the age of 40 with 1,087 points. That will get him to the mid-70s on the all-time points list. Anything can happen with the Devils, but they don’t look very much like a playoff threat. Still, Elias should settle around the low-40s/high-30s in playoff points if the Devils can crack the postseason twice in the next three years.
That, of course, assumes a lot, including Elias not pulling a Teemu Selanne and sparking an #EliasForever movement that sees him play into his early-40s. If he plays beyond his current contract, he will amass even more goals and assists.
But let’s say that’s where the road comes to an end for Elias. What does 400-plus goals, nearly 1,100 points and two Stanley Cup rings – including 43 points in 48 playoff games when the Devils reached the Cup Final in 2000 and 2001 — mean to the Hall of Fame voters?
Numbers in a bubble don’t mean much, so let’s delve into Elias’ career a little deeper in the search for context.
Elias was taken in the second round of the 1994 Entry Draft, made his debut in the 1995-96 season (one game) and became an NHL regular during the 1997-98 season. Right away, we can see Elias played a vast majority of his career during the dead puck era, and yes, I understand a case can be made that Devils triggered the start of that era during the 1994-95 season, but hey, you can’t hold that against Elias.
Or maybe you’re crazy and you can. I can’t tell you what to do with your feelings.
So it’s safe and easy to say Elias played during an era in which scoring was at an all-time low, making his numbers that much more impressive. But the real test is looking at Elias’ numbers compared to his contemporaries.
Only one player in the 1994 Draft had more points than Elias – Daniel Alfredsson has 1,108 with at least one more season left before he hangs up the skates. Looking back through the previous five drafts and five drafts that followed, here are the players with more career points than Elias:
Mats Sundin (1989)
Nicklas Lidstrom (1989)
Sergei Fedorov (1989)
Jaromir Jagr (1990)
Keith Tkachuk (1990)*
Doug Weight (1990)*
Alexei Kovalev (1991)*
Ray Whitney (1991)*
Paul Kariya (1993)*
Jason Arnott (1993)*
Daniel Alfredsson (1994)
Jarome Iginla (1995)
Joe Thornton (1997)
Marian Hossa (1997)
Throw in players drafted in 2000 and 2001, and only Marian Gaborik and Jason Spezza are trending toward having more career points than Elias, but there’s still a long way to go there. Ilya Kovalchuk would’ve blown away Elias, but Russia and money and whatnot.
The *s indicate players Elias would eventually pass if he maintains the points-per-game pace mentioned earlier. That means of the players drafted between 1989 and 1999, only Sundin, Lidstrom, Fedorov, Jagr, Alfredsson, Iginla, Thornton and Hossa will (likely) have more points than Elias when it’s all said and done.
I say (likely) because it’s possible the Sedins will play long enough to pass Elias, and the same can be said for Pavel Datsyuk and Vinny Lecavalier. Maybe even Brad Richards. That list also doesn’t include Pavel Bure and Eric Lindros, who have fewer points than Elias but that’s only because of career-destroying injuries. And to be fair, Elias vs. Whitney will be close if Whitney retires after this season.
Even with those qualifiers, it certainly bodes well for Elias’ case if it’s just those eight players drafted in a 10-year span who finish with more points. However, the Hall of Fame rewards dominance more than longevity (at least it should), so was Elias ever a really dominant player?
Elias’ best season was in 2000-01, when he posted career-highs in goals (40) assists (56) and points (96). He finished third in the league in scoring that year behind Jagr (121) and Joe Sakic (118). In the heart of the dead puck era, that’s a pretty darn good season.
But that’s as good as it gets in any one season for Elias. He scored 30 goals or more three other times and broke 80 points just once more. 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.
If Elias doesn’t get enshrined, that will be his downfall. It’s not the Hall of Very Good With A Few Dominant Seasons, someone will say, but perhaps in a more clever fashion than that.
A glance at the list of male inductees since 2009 shows Elias might be out of his league. Brett Hull, Brian Leetch, Luc Robitaille, Steve Yzerman, Joe Nieuwendyk, Doug Gilmour, Sakic and Sundin were all far and away superior players to Elias. If two players stand out as somewhat comparable to Elias, it’s Dino Ciccarelli and Glenn Anderson.
It’s impossible to line up Ciccarelli’s numbers with those of Elias, as the former’s career began in 1980. Ciccarelli retired with 608 goals and 1,200 points, but just like Elias, he never was a dominant player. He finished in the top 20 in points twice with one top-10 finish. Ciccarelli made his bones by scoring goals, however, and was in the league’s top 20 in that category six times.
Anderson, meanwhile, solidified his spot in the Hall of Fame based more on his six Stanley Cups and playoff success, where he had 214 points in 225 games, which are fourth and eighth all-time, respectively. He ended his career at the age of 35 with 1,099 points in 1,129 regular-season games.
But just like Elias, his dominance was lacking. He finished ninth, 11th and 13th in scoring during his first three full NHL seasons and 12th two seasons later, but didn’t crack the top 20 in scoring over his final 10 seasons. After Wayne Gretzky ceased to be his teammate after the 1987-88 season, Anderson became a decidedly average player, but he still found his way into the Hall of Fame a decade after he retired as an almost sentimental pick based on “clutchness” and winning.
Elias will never match Anderson’s six Cups (few ever will). But Elias has that magical “clutchness” people love, as he’s second in career overtime goals with 15, had the game-winning goal (and second of the night) in Game 7 of the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals in Philadelphia, and set up Jason Arnott’s Cup-winning goal in overtime of Game 6 in Dallas with a legally blind backhand pass two weeks later.
But even with Ciccarelli and Anderson as the weak-link inductees since 2009, you wouldn’t be out of line to say both are more worthy than Elias.
One thing working in Elias’ favor – and in the favor of any borderline Hall-of-Fame player from this era – is the 2004-05 lockout came during the heart of his prime, and it probably affected him more than any other player. How the Hall of Fame committee measures that when looking at players from this era will go a long way toward deciding who gets it and who does not.
In 2003-04, Elias was nearly a point-per-game player with 81 points in 82 games. The lockout hit, leaving Elias to his own devices, and he decided to play hockey overseas, where he contracted hepatitis A. He lost 30 pounds and spent a month in a hospital fighting for his life.
No, seriously, he could’ve died.
“The doctors told me they had a patient in the same hospital a year ago with a case of hepatitis A that was not as bad as mine,” Elias said in a 2005 TSN story. “His liver gave out on him and he died.”
Elias didn’t return to the NHL until January 2006 and promptly put up 16 goals and 45 points in 38 games. In essence, Elias missed about 120 games due to the lockout/illness when he was clearly a point-per-game human being.
If you tack on another dominant season and push his estimated career points total to 1,200, he’d have to be a lock for the Hall of Fame, right? That would undoubtedly change voters’ perspectives on him and get him enshrined, wouldn’t it?
Honestly, I don’t know.
THREE LETTERS: Going to Europe, eating pizza and hockey movies
How happy are NHL players because they don’t have to go to Europe to start the season?
Incredibly happy. I don’t want to make a blanket statement, but players absolutely hate spending what amounts to be two weeks away from home, in Europe of all places. When you ask a player what it’s like to spend two weeks in Europe to start the season, the answer you get usually goes something like:
“It’s a great time to get away and bond with your teammates. It really speeds up the getting-to-know-you process with new players. You get to play in different rinks in front of fans that really appreciate you. It’s a unique experience and very special.”
If you want an off-the-record answer, you get something more along the lines of:
“It’s awful. Two weeks in Europe, 4-5 days of it with my body trying to adjust to the time-zone change. I have a wife and kids, you know, and a two-week roadie during the season is hard enough, but with the time difference and busy schedule, if I get 5 minutes of Face Time or Skype time with my kid, that’s a lot. I know the NHL is about growing the game and maximizing profit, but I could really do without this trip.”
So no, there isn’t a player who wishes he was doing this. If losing NHL Premiere games comes with adding a World Cup in North America every year, I think everyone wins with that trade.
I feel like I answered that question at some point on here and if I did, sorry about the redundant redundancy.
A long time ago I got to go down to the Devils locker room after a game and all the guys were eating pizza. I always thought hockey players were in great shape and ate right, so it was a little weird watching guys eat 2-3 slices of pizza in 10 minutes. Is that normal? Do all NHL teams do that?
It’s one of the weirder things when you see it at first, I agree. Something to clear up right off the bat is very few hockey players are super ripped or super muscly. Yeah, Ryan Kesler and Joffrey Lupul look pretty hot and sexy all nude and whatnot in ESPN The Magazine, but most guys are just lean and clearly in shape, not chiseled from marble.
But guys are wolfing down pizza postgame for several reasons. Mainly, they are replenishing all the calories they lost over the past few hours. When you are a high-level athlete in your 20s and you are burning massive amounts of calories on a daily basis, you can basically eat what you want and not gain weight. So while four slices of pizza after you or I get home from work while we sit on the couch will destroy us, it won’t affect your average hockey player.
That doesn’t mean you don’t have to adjust as you get older. I was in the Islanders room after a game once, and 41-year-old Dwayne Roloson was eating a postgame salad. If you want to keep playing hockey in your 40s, it’s a sacrifice you have to make.
I chose pizza over hockey in my teens, and I still think I made the right choice.
Some NFL teams do the postgame pizza thing too. It’s all about the energy you expend. I doubt too many baseball players are burning more than 50 calories during a game, so a turkey wrap should be more customary there.
Why do you hate Slap Shot? You rip it 10 times a year on Twitter and I don’t get it. I thought you liked hockey. Are you just being an ironic hipster loser who hates everything people like? Are there any hockey movies you like?
I am not an ironic hipster loser and I don’t really know what an ironic hipster loser is, so I guess I could be an ironic hipster loser and just not know it. I do know that Ironic Hipster Loser has the inside track on being my fantasy hockey team name this season.
Why don’t I like Slap Shot? I don’t know. It’s a movie. It’s a subjective experience. I think Saving Silverman is cinematic gold but only 11 people saw it in theaters and just me and that one guy in Louisiana like it and keep our fan club going. Who’s to say why I didn’t like Slap Shot. If I had to put my finger on it, I think it’s just too old of a movie for me to appreciate it. Comedies are like that for me. Comedy was just different then. I’ve never understood why people find The Blues Brothers funny. I have a theory that once Eddie Murphy started starring in movies they got better, but I was like 8 when Trading Places came out, so who knows.
I just don’t dig anything happening in Slap Shot. Everyone says THAT’S WHAT MINOR-LEAGUE HOCKEY WAS LIKE BACK THEN. Great. I’m sure it was. Just because something is accurately portrayed in a movie doesn’t mean it was funny. It’s like telling me I shouldn’t hate The Hangover because that’s what hangovers are like. Even though they’re not.
Goon is by far the best hockey comedy ever made. Miracle is a good hockey movie, although I prefer the documentary about that team. That’s how I feel about the Harvey Milk documentary compared to the movie too. The documentary was so good and I saw that first, so Milk seemed like a TV movie to me. I don’t know what to tell you. We all have different tastes.
I’m sure if I was 10 years older, I’d find Slap Shot outstanding. I’m sure if I was 10 years younger, I’d find The Hangover to be hilarious. That’s just how it goes sometimes. Simply accept we like different things and let’s drink a beer.
(E-mail dave111177 at gmail dot com if you want a question answered next week that isn’t related to Slap Shot)