Devils

Hartnett: Are The Devils And Alternate Captain Patrik Elias At A Crossroads?

Elias Would Be A Hot Commodity Should He Hit Free Agency
Patrik Elias of the New Jersey Devils (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)

Patrik Elias of the New Jersey Devils (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)

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‘Devils in the Details’
By Sean Hartnett
» More Columns

The idea of lifetime New Jersey Devil Patrik Elias pulling on another NHL sweater is an image that Devils fans might have to prepare themselves for in early July.

Elias is set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 5 should he and the Devils not come to an agreement before that date. The clock is ticking. With less than a month until free agency opens, GM Lou Lamoriello will need to act swiftly to ensure that Elias doesn’t hit the open market.

Lamoriello told The Record’s Tom Gulitti in late May that he must complete deals to re-sign Elias and key UFA’s David Clarkson, Marek Zidlicky, Dainius Zubrus and Peter Harold before July 5. Otherwise, the Devils might not stand a chance of retaining them once rival GMs go beyond figures that the Devils are willing to pay.

“In my opinion, they have to be done before that,” Lamoriello explained to The Record on May 29.

ELIAS WOULD BE A HOT COMMODITY ON THE OPEN MARKET

Should Elias become a UFA, he will undoubtedly be a hot commodity. The 2013 free-agent class is thin and there will be no shortage of GMs lining up to make their pitches to Elias — whose combination of experience, consistency and continued high level of play is a rare package.

If Elias hits the open market, it’s entirely possible that he receives an offer that he can’t refuse from another NHL club that is desperately seeking to add the versatile 37-year-old’s aforementioned traits.

He is believed to be seeking a salary in the range of $5 to $6 million after completing a seven-year, $42 million contract that he signed in the summer of 2006.

IT’S HARD TO PICTURE ELIAS IN ANY OTHER UNIFORM

Since making his NHL debut on December 7, 1995, Elias has given the Devils’ organization nothing but pure, unwavering commitment to the cause. That kind of loyalty deserves to be rewarded.

Given what Elias has accomplished for the Devils, he’s earned the right to depart the only franchise that he’s ever known on his own terms.

If it were up to Elias, it wouldn’t even be a question. He’d be a Devil for life and finish his career wearing the red, black and white jersey with the horned NJ crest on the front. 25 Lafayette Street in Newark would be his final workplace address and his No. 26 would one day be raised to the rafters inside Prudential Center.

After closing out a playoff-less season away at Madison Square Garden on April 27, Elias made his desire clear.

“I hope so, I’ve been here my whole career,” he explained to Rich Chere of The Star-Ledger. “I’m ready for anything. Sometimes the negotiations are not as easy as it seems.”

During one of the rare low points of Elias’ glittering career, when the Devils suffered through one of the worst valleys in a miserable 2010-11 season, I waited to speak with Elias while one reporter badgered him with ceaseless questions about his future.

The reporter continued to pressure Elias, asking him bizarre speculative questions about whether he’d be willing to waive his no-movement clause, and specifically asked him if he’d like to join the Washington Capitals.

Elias sat there calmly in his locker stall and kept repeating to the reporter his desire to remain with the Devils.

“This is where I want to be,” Elias kept responding patiently.

HOW WILL THINGS PLAY OUT?

I would imagine that Clarkson is more willing to test the open market than Elias. At 29, Clarkson has reached an ideal time to test free agency given that he’s in his prime years, and the genuine lack of star free agents will create a bidding war for his services.

Should Clarkson and his representatives indicate to Lamoriello a preference to test the market in the coming weeks, this could open up an opportunity for Elias and the Devils to strike a deal before July 5.

If Lamoriello decides to go into a more youth-focused rebuild and pushes through more AHL talent onto the Devils’ roster, he will need Elias to stay on and be a calming presence who can help teach younger players the ropes.

A long time ago, Elias was one of those rookies learning his trade. It’s easy to forget that Elias briefly wore No. 24 and later was assigned Claude Lemieux’s No. 22 in 1997 before making the switch to No. 26, which he made famous.

I expect the Devils and Elias to reach an agreement before July 5 to ensure that he continues wearing the trademark No. 26 uniform with the alternate captain’s badge sewn above the horned Devils logo.

You can follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.

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