April 04, 2017

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) Patrik Elias hasn't finished saying goodbye, even though he announced his retirement last week.

The New Jersey Devils' all-time leading scorer dropped the ceremonial first puck before New Jersey's Tuesday night home game against the Philadelphia Flyers.

On Saturday, he will suit up one final time before the Devils host the New York Islanders. Elias will participate in the pregame skate, wearing the only jersey he has known in an 18-year career.

After the warmup, Elias will remove the sweater for the final time.

He considered playing in one final game before deciding it wouldn't be fair to his teammates, or the Islanders who may still be battling for a playoff spot.

After that, the future is uncertain. Elias doesn't know what comes next, or where it will happen. The 40-year-old native of the Czech Republic is torn between remaining in the U.S. or returning to Europe.

''I wish I could tell you,'' Elias said. ''There are the proper steps that have to come with retiring, and the first one is to enjoy this and still enjoy being among the players and the organization.''

A free agent after last season, he had knee surgery in May and did not play this season. In his final NHL game, Elias scored a goal, recorded two assists and was named the first star of the game in a 5-1 win.

Elias spent this season working on a comeback before realizing the passion for the game wasn't there. He got to enjoy Christmas with his family and even took a ski trip to Seattle in February.

''I had no idea how much I would love it,'' Elias said of hitting the slopes. ''That's when I said this is it.''

He concludes a career that included two Stanley Cups. He is the franchise leader in goals (408), assists (617) and points (1,025). He ranks third in games played with 1,240, behind Ken Daneyko (1,283) and Martin Brodeur (1,259). He also is the Devils' single-season leader in points, scoring 96 in 2000-01, when he was named to the NHL's First All-Star Team at left wing.

The Devils will retire his No. 26 at a home game next season.

Elias represented the Czech Republic nine times in international play, including four Winter Olympics, four World Championships and the 2004 World Cup of Hockey. In Olympic play, Elias captained the 2010 squad and was a member of the 2006 bronze medal-winning team.

He regrets the NHL's decision to skip the upcoming Olympics.

''I was a little surprised,'' Elias said. ''I understand the business side of it. I understand why the NHL has made that decision. As players, we always loved going there. It's a different mentality, different thoughts go through your mind when you play for your country. You have the best players in the world competing against each other, and you want to have that.''

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