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Patrik Elias is a Hall of Famer regardless of your definition
The former Devils superstar continues to be under-appreciated for his remarkable contributions at both ends of the rink.
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By CJ Turtoro (@CJTDevil)
The code for this piece can be found here, if you want to calculate JAWS on your own.
As has become an annual tradition for me, I became irate in the days leading up to the Hockey Hall of Fame’s inductions, which were announced Tuesday. There were four players (Daniel Alfredsson, the Sedins, and Robert Luongo) inducted; and several were upset Alex Mogilny continued not to garner enough votes.
But there’s another player that was passed over again that has received far less love, and that is the most productive player in New Jersey Devils franchise history: Patrik Elias.
The Hall of Fame is a very high honor and some very good players don’t make it in on their first try. What I’m fed up with is the disrespect of journalists consistently listing him as an also-ran rather than what he rightfully deserves, which is to be a top contender.
In the past week, the nicest thing I saw him called was “other candidate” while being listed as the last player in the article – still high praise when compared to “not yet but maybe someday” a member of “the rest”, or just ignored completely.
This is certainly not the first time a Devils blogger has written about this. It’s not even the first time this Devils blogger has written about this. But, the way people discussed him this class, it sounds like he’s slipping further away from induction rather than closer to it.
I wanted to just lay out the case in as clear terms as possible because I believe he’s got a slam dunk case.
To make this case, I’ll make use od the most common metric for Hall of Fame worthiness: JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score, named for creator, Jay Jaffe). It’s been used in a few different ways. In its simplest version, it is just an average of a player’s career WAR and their 7-year peak.
Now, hockey’s WAR history generall only goes back to 2007 – the beginning of the “Corsi era” – so we’re going to have to downgrade to a less descriptive catch-all metric that is available for more time like, say, Hockey-Reference’s Point Shares.
So, because I’m an insane person, I scraped the entire history of Hockey-Reference skater season stat pages (like this one) and calculated JAWS for every player ever. We will use this to make our case.
Elias has the best case of any HOF-eligible forward not yet been inducted
After removing all players who have already been inducted (including this year’s class), and all those whose last NHL season was 2019 or later (must be retired a minimum of three years), this is the top-10 forwards that have not yet been inducted according to JAWS:
Jaromir Jagr is still playing hockey in Europe and Pavel Datsyuk was until last year. So that means that, on this metric, Patrik Elias is currently the 3rd best forward in NHL history that has not been inducted into the Hall of Fame yet, behind Pierre Turgeon and Keith Tkachuk in terms of regular season results.
The caveat at the end of the sentence is key because those two players have a glaring absence in their resume – an empty shelf where a Stanley Cup ring should go.
Tkachuk had 56 points in 89 career playoff games and Pierre Turgeon had 97 points in 109, and neither of them ever even made it to the Stanley Cup.
Elias had 125 points in 162 games and won two Stanley Cups. In his prime, there was a 7-year period over which no human on the planet had accumulated more points in the Stanley Cup playoffs than Patrik Elias.
When considering regular season and post-season value combined, there is a strong argument to be made that Patrik Elias is the most valuable forward in NHL history among the eligible guys waiting for the call.
He’s better than many who have already been inducted
Were Elias to be inducted, he wouldn’t be remotely out of place. Below is a graph of the JAWS of every Hall of Fame player. I’ve grayed out the ones that were Pre-Expansion (1967 and earlier) because the bar for entry was much lower then.
Even after giving voters that benefit of the doubt, there is still simply no way of looking at this data and arriving at the conclusion that Elias would be out of place.
He outranks almost everyone from the pre-Expansion era (grey), he is a median HOFer in the Post-Expansion era (black), and he’s even better than one of the forwards that was inducted just this year (cyan, Henrik Sedin).
If you think, as some of the articles linked in the opening paragraph said, that Patrik Elias is just a “Hall of Very Good” player, then I have a news flash for you: so are over half of the guys in the actual Hall of Fame.
What they mean when they say “Hall of Very Good” is “Hall of Guys that Should be in the Hall of Fame, but I Didn’t Pay Close Enough Attention Because They Played in New Jersey.”
I mean we just inducted Guy Carbonneau a couple years ago for christ sake. Which brings me to the last point…
He has a strong narrative case
Let’s not kid ourselves. Stats are nice and all but, ultimately, you need to convince people that there is a compelling case for a player as an integral part of the story of hockey. Let’s start with just how good he was at his peak.
For a half-decade, Elias was as valuable a player as existed in the NHL offensively and defensively. From 1999-2004, he was 4th in the NHL in scoring (regular season + playoffs), 3rd in the NHL in +/-, received Hart votes three times, Byng votes three times, and Selke votes twice. Oh, yeah, and the Devils made the Cup Finals three times and won twice.
That brings us to the second half of the narrative. Individual dominance is one thing, but the ring-counting nature of legacy evaluation in American sports means you have to not only be good, but also be considered a “winner”.
During his tenure, the Devils were a decorated team. They made three Cups in four seasons and were a force both offensively and defensively. In that five-year span we were talking about before, the Devils were the 6th best offense in the NHL and Elias was their leading scorer by over 60 points. And, for a 3-year stretch, the Devils were the No. 1 offense.
The Devils had an identity as a suffocating defensive team but you also have to score goals to win games. That means they needed a forward that had both the creativity and skill to carry an offense against the best teams in the league, but also the IQ and tenacity to play the lock down style the Devils came to expect from their big-minute skaters. There’s not even a handful of players that could fit the role he filled for this Devils franchise.
The defensive system of the Devils had each other to fall back on. Stevens and Niedermeyer are both in the Hall of Fame – deservedly so – but they had each other to fall back on, as well as the most decorated goaltender of all time to bail them out.
On offense, the buck stopped with Patty and no one else. He scored 60 more goals than anyone in franchise history, and 250 more assists.
When the Devils needed a goal, Elias was either the guy scoring it, or the guy setting it up. And that was never more true than in crunch time.
In NHL history, only Sidney Crosby has more career overtime points than Patrik Elias. It’s no wonder that he was the 5th-winningest player in the NHL during his 20-year career. He was an all-world defensive winger, who was also the primary playmaker and clutch-time scorer for one of the best teams in the NHL.
Patrik Elias is the best forward to not already be inducted. He is better than half of the guys that have already been inducted. And if none of that matters, then he’s still a glaring omission. Because you can’t write the story of the NHL without the Devils team that made 13 consecutive post-seasons. And you can’t tell that story without Patrik Elias.
Give the man his phone call. He’s earned it.