I loathe cliches - I mean, sure, I use them plenty, but I also don't like using them without thinking. Hockey broadcasters and hockey lifers often have nothing but cliches to offer, so I get exposed to them plenty. One of the classic hockey cliches to say about a player is that 'he makes other players better'. It's said about your dominant center types typically - guys who control the flow of the game when they're on the ice. Even though Patrik Elias spent most of his years as a LW, this was true of him as well. Lots of Devil forwards had their best career seasons playing alongside Patrik Elias. Elias is 9th in assists between the years 1999-2000 and 2013-14, and this despite seldom playing with a player better than him. Playing with him in his final season gave Petr Sykora a 20 goal season and has made Dainius Zubrus's numbers not look awful.
We've seen the deterioration in Patrik's game this year and now he's out with an injury and he's 38 years old. Watching this team play without him - both while he was playing, he was not 'Patrik Elias', and now with him in the press box - it's a reminder of just how great a player he was. The Devils never lacked for a first-line forward with Elias on the team between the years I mentioned above. Stick a guy with Elias and he was going to look better, usually. Now the only guy they have that fits the cliche on their team is Jaromir Jagr who is 43 years old.
These players are vital not just because they are really good, but because your team needs them for your other players to be put into a position to succeed. Without them a team is just fighting uphill all the time. Michael Ryder doesn't suck just because he is terrible, but also because he doesn't have anyone out there helping cover up his deficiencies and accentuating his strengths. Reid Boucher will have the same struggles if he comes back up. Adam Henrique and Travis Zajac can't do this alone. Free agency offers no solutions. Trading likely offers no solutions. The only answer is in the draft. We'll see what they can find.