Praising Patrik Elias: Positive Possession Machine for the New Jersey Devils

Patrik Elias: Earner of points, major contributor to team's puck possession, involver of good things happening for the Devils for at least the last four seasons. (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)

Patrik Elias had an very effective 2010-2011.  On a New Jersey Devils team that was in the tank when it came to shooting percentage, usually in between Brian Rolston and Dainius Zubrus, Elias compiled 21 goals and 41 assists last season to lead the team in scoring.   He faced tough competition in the process, played in all situations, and continued to show that he remains one of the team's most skilled players at 34 years of age.  As such, we at ILWT named him the team's most valuable player and best defensive forward.

Elias continued his good work at the IIHF World Championships.  He was arguably the best Devil in the tournament by the IIHF's stats. In 9 games with the Czech Republic, he put up 4 goals (one behind Jaromir Jagr and team leader Tomas Plekanec), racked up 5 assists (one behind Roman Cervenka, the team leader), fired 28 shots on net (tied with Jagr for the team lead), and did it all with an average of 15:05 per game.  All of this and a bronze medal for the Czechs finishing third in the tourney.   That's very good work for both club and country in this past season.

The production is all well and good on it's own.  But did you know that Elias is even more impressive when you look at what he does in terms of possession?  To find out, please continue reading after the jump.

For over a decade, Elias has been quite good for New Jersey and Devils fans certainly appreciate the work of #26.  While he's not getting any younger, he has yet to really decline in his career.  As evidence, take a quick peek at Elias' underlying numbers at evens in the last four seasons at Behind the Net.  You should come to the same basic conclusion as I did: Elias has been a positive possession machine.  It's absolutely remarkable. His unadjusted on-ice Corsi rate has been just fantastic: 19.71, 12.26, 7.50, and 14.09 in his most recent season.  When he's on the ice, good things have usually happened for New Jersey.  

To put those four values in perspective, here's the on-ice Corsi of every single Devils player at evens in the last four seasons per Behind the Net.  (Aside: Note how high Zach Parise is on that list.) Elias' 2007-08 season is the best full season in Corsi rate by far.  Last season's rate is among the best as well.  Elias' lowest rate in the last four seasons still sits further ahead of many players.

Also, note that Elias' quality of competition has not been low.  Elias has not and will not be the number one left winger or the first line center, but he was not facing and destroying only scrubs in the last four seasons.  Past coaches know that Elias isn't just an offensive player with excellent vision or just a possession player to lead and continue attacks. They know he can go up against a team's best players and not only hold his own, but come out ahead.  Hopefully, the next head coach of the Devils will understand that and utilize him accordingly.

What can we expect from Elias?  Well, in terms of production, he'll probably get something like a 55-70 point season. That has been his range in the last four seasons.  It will vary within that range; and said variation will depend on linemates, how hot he does or does not get during the season, how well the power play does or does not do, and how healthy he can remain. That may not be impressive enough for a $6 million cap hit in some people's view.  Fair enough.  In my eyes, where he earns most of that $6 million is in how he gets the puck going forward when he's active.  How the team goes on the attack more when #26 is on the ice, even against good opposing players.  It's that two-way play that still makes him an important part of this team. 

In my opinion, Elias being such a positive possessive machine has been his most impressive contribution to the team.  Elias will be 35 in this coming season and we can only hope he still has enough of the proverbial gas in the tank to keep this kind of performance up. If he can, the Devils will be an even better team in 2011-12.

Are you as impressed by Elias' possession stats in the last four seasons at even strength? Do you agree it's been his most impressive contribution to the team, or do you think it's something else?  Do you think he's earning most of that $6 million/year contract?  Most importantly, do you think Elias can keep it up for at least one more season?  Please leave your answers and other thoughts on Patrik Elias in the comments.

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