This summer was the first time I was given the opportunity to write a best man's speech, and the most common piece of unwanted advice that I kept being given despite my best efforts to avoid it was to keep it short and sweet. Needless to say, I didn't and I have no regrets about it, because the length of a public address doesn't really matter as long as both the addresser and the addressees are fully engaged.
I say that to say this, I'm glad that Patrik Elias threw that same type of caution over the clock when he stepped to the microphone during his jersey retirement. While he ran a bit long, his words spoke of a bond between himself, New Jersey, and the Devils that was too deep to be considered anything other than familial. That level of mutual loyalty has become such a foreign concept in the business of professional sports that he could still be up there discussing how it all came to fruition and the only reason I wouldn't be on the edge of my seat is because I would still be standing.
At the risk of comparing legends, there were even moments when it felt as though Elias' indoctrination into the rafters was a bit more special than that of the company he'll now eternally keep. Part of the reason for that is obviously recency bias and part of it is the fact that the most decorated scorer in Devils' history has a personality that's as timeless as his place in franchise lore, but it's not just his ability to get a laugh that makes him a bit more relatable to fans.
You see, in a lot of ways, Patrik Elias' never-ending struggle to be properly rated and recognized for his greatness parallels his team's struggle to shed themselves of baseless and largely undeserved labels. I don't even want to get into numbers that are Hall Of Fame worthy. A resume full of all sorts of franchise records that currently seem as unbreakable as the media-fueled inferiority complex of Devils' fans speaks for itself. Plus, it takes seeing beyond the statistics to realize just what the player who became fondly referred to as 'Patty' meant to a franchise that never truly got the reverence they deserved throughout his 20+ year tenure.
It's not just the unforgettable memories of clutch performances gone by or the undeniable chemistry he created as the lone constant in the two most successful lineup solutions in the history of the organization. It's that the entirety of Patrik Elias' career spits directly in the face of every lazy and nauseatingly repetitive narrative that's been used to discredit the Devils' prolonged success. "They play slow, suffocating hockey"...except for the guy that flirted with a 100 point season for the highest scoring team in the league during the peak of their supposedly dismal defensiveness. "No one wants to play in New Jersey"...except the two-time Stanley Cup champion that literally picked up the phone and placed the call to a GM who I imagine to be a less than cordial conversationalist when it came time to make an official decision about his future.
Every hockey fan knows that Marty Brodeur revolutionized the goaltending position. Every hockey fan knows that Scott Stevens was the preeminent leader and the most intimidating presence of a generation. Every hockey fan knows that Scott Niedermayer was a transcendent talent that long predated others of his ilk, and that Ken Daneyko was the heart and soul of the team he grew up with from the beginning. The legacy of Patrik Elias, on the other hand, somehow isn't as clear to those that didn't witness it first hand. In a weird way, I think the idea that having a full appreciation for the sacrifices he made to remain in New Jersey is something that's as exclusive to New Jersey as his NHL career made celebrating that career feel like a more exclusive experience for Devils' fans.
The immediate success of the first overall pick and a Hart Trophy-caliber campaign from a former first overall pick have finally opened the minds of outsiders to the possibility of Devils' players producing offensively. So the recently elapsed time frame that's stitched across the bottom of that #26 banner doesn't just represent the playing career of someone who defeated a life-threatening illness without losing a single step as he went on to add another illustrious decade to said playing career. It also represents the era in which the person it canonizes was thee two-way, all-purpose player with endless creativity that Devils' fans could point to when dismissing the notion that Lou Lamoriello was keeping Jacques Lemaire locked in a basement to draw up offensively offenseless blueprints for success since the mid-90's. On behalf of a proud fanbase that's long been forced to rally around a lack of respect, I can't thank Patrik Elias enough for staying in New Jersey and consistently performing in a way that absolutely demanded it from anyone who was actually paying attention.