By Eric Marin
Their chemistry produced one of the greatest goals in Devils history, and Patrik Elias hopes Jason Arnott’s second tour in New Jersey proves just as sweet.
It was Elias who set up Arnott’s winning tally in double overtime of Game 6 to clinch the Stanley Cup versus Dallas in 2000. Together, they were two-thirds of the famed “A Line” with Petr Sykora.
Arnott was re-acquired from Nashville on June 19 in exchange for prospect Matt Halischuk and a second-rounder in 2011. Elias is thrilled to have him back.
“We went for dinner and saw each other a couple of times when he was in town looking for a place,” Elias said Tuesday between off-ice workouts at AmeriHealth Pavilion. “We went down to Hoboken for dinner. It was good. He was excited to be back with this organization. He’s glad to see some of the old faces back, like Larry [Robinson]. He’s really excited for the new season.”
At 6-5, 219-lbs., Arnott brings plenty of size up the middle. He's still a dangerous scorer, having matched a career high with 33 goals just two seasons ago.
“It’s nice to see,” Elias said. “His presence – his big body, big shot – I hope it’s going to be a help to us.”
The Devils’ all-time leading scorer, Elias set the franchise single-season points record (96) in 2000-01, Arnott’s final full season in New Jersey. He’s looking forward to a reunion and a chance to rekindle some of their old magic.
“It’s been 10 years,” he said. “I wish I could say it will be the same, but it will be something special. If we play together, then we’ll obviously try to play the same way and we talked about it when we went to dinner. But I still believe we have it and we’ll just have a lot of fun enjoying playing.”
Arnott will settle the No. 2 center position behind Travis Zajac, likely shifting Elias back to left wing. As much as he enjoyed skating at center last season, Elias says success boils down to who's on the ice, not where.
“If you have the right guys together, it doesn’t matter what position you play,” he said. “If you can interchange and fill the spots and be moving all over the place, then that’s fun and you know you can count on each other, react to the game and fill the spots for each other. Whoever’s back is going to stay back and you can just trust each other. You make it easier for yourself and you make it harder for the other team. Hopefully, that will be the case.”
The deal for Arnott is just one of several changes for the Devils this offseason. They improved their defense on July 1, signing Henrik Tallinder and Anton Volchenkov, and got stronger between the pipes by inking veteran backup Johan Hedberg. Despite Paul Martin departing for Pittsburgh, Elias said Andy Greene will continue to improve on the Devils’ back end.
“I think he stepped it up big time,” Elias said of Greene, who last year posted career highs in games (78), goals (6), assists (31) and points (37). “He proved to himself that he can do that, to a certain extent. He’ll get better, no question about it, as the years go on. It was great to see because I think everybody saw that potential in him, and he’s been kind of steady for a couple of years. It was great to see that he stepped it up.”
The 2010-11 campaign will feature a new but familiar face behind the bench. John MacLean, the Devils’ all-time leading goal scorer and longtime assistant coach, was named the 19th head coach in club history on June 17.
“He’s been around, obviously, for many years now as an assistant coach with different coaches, and the good, positive thing is, he knows all of us,” Elias said. “He knows what he can get from us, what we’re all about, personalities on the ice, off the ice. We know what he’s like. Us, it’s a little bit different now that he’s a head coach. You have to adjust to that a little bit.”
He continued: “It’ll be all about communication, trusting each other, players to the coach, and the coach to the players.”
The additions of Adam Oates and Robinson as assistants also earned a thumbs up from Elias.
“He used to be an unbelievable player, just poised – a great playmaker,” he said of Oates. “Great, too, to have Larry back. Just his personality and he’s got experience with all of us, obviously. I like it.”
During the offseason, Elias usually heads back to his native Czech Republic. This year, he’s spending the summer months in New Jersey with his wife Petra, who’s expecting the couple’s first child in November.
Elias, a huge soccer fan, correctly picked Spain to take this year’s World Cup in Johannesburg. The first-time world champs topped the Netherlands in a chippy title game on Sunday.
“It was tough,” Elias said of the yellow card-filled affair. “It shows that it’s not just like a girly sport. It’s a tough sport.”