NEWARK, N.J. -- If the old New Jersey Devils rules were in place, forward Patrik Elias might have had to reintroduce himself to his new coaches and teammates before playing his first game of the season on Nov. 25.
When Lou Lamoriello was in charge in New Jersey, injured players were not around the team until they were ready to practice and, eventually, play. Lamoriello's goal was to limit any possible distractions to the players in the lineup, so he limited the access injured players had to their teammates during what would be considered work hours.
General manager Ray Shero and coach John Hynes have an open policy for injured players, so even though Elias was out of the lineup for the first 20 games of the season recovering from a knee injury, he was still allowed to be around the Devils whenever he wanted to be. He was at practices, in meetings and video sessions, and in the dressing room before and after games.
Elias said being involved allowed for a seamless transition back to the ice even though he was returning to a team that had a new coach and generally a new style of play, with more speed.
"It was easy because the way they approached it right from the get go," Elias said. "I was in. Anything I wanted to do I could have done. In that regard, it was a lot better than, 'Hey, here I am after three months. How are you guys doing? Nice to meet you.' So in that regard it was good, but you still have to do it on the ice."
Elias had a productive return with five points, including a goal, in his first eight games. He has gone four straight games without a point, which is odd because he said he's feeling better about his game now than he was when he initially returned.
"He's going through what a lot of guys went through the first 15 games of the year," Hynes said. "You come back for the first few games and it's adrenaline, it's newness, it's fresh, but then that wears off a little bit. It gets into the grind, playing everyday, practicing everyday. But now you're seeing his timing is better and he has his legs more. He's going through that maturation process."
Hynes, who spoke about Elias prior to New Jersey's 5-1 loss to the Florida Panthers on Thursday, said he's not concerned that Elias' production has dipped because his game is improving.
"He's had some quality opportunities to score," Hynes said. "You want to say, 'Well, we wish they were in the net,' but the great thing is he's finding his timing to get into those spots. The next step is finding the timing to be able to put it in the net. Patrik is going in the right direction."
Elias said he understood Lamoriello's reasons for keeping injured players away from the healthy players. But now that he's experienced it the other way, he realizes the value in being present even if you can't play.
"I don't know what's right or wrong, but I liked it this way," Elias said. "It's great because you feel like you're part of the team no matter what. You can experience the excitement after the game when you win, and also being upset after a game when you lose. You're around the guys."
Not to mention it helped get him up to speed on Hynes' system.
"I think I would learn the systems pretty quickly anyway," Elias said, "but still it's a lot easier to watch the videos, listen to the coaches and what they actually expect from the guys."