Jumping in the Wayback Machine: The case for re-signing Mark Recchi (May 2009)

My good friend and colleague Joe McDonald of ESPN wrote an excellent piece arguing for Mark Recchi’s enshrinement in the Hall of Fame and it is absolutely worth reading because Joe is one of the best in the business and like me- he appreciates what ‘Rex’ did during his two full seasons and parts of a third as a member of the Boston Bruins.

http://espn.go.com/blog/nhl/post/_/id/38961/hall-of-fame-debate-mark-recchi

That column today got me thinking about the time I spent covering the Bruins when Recchi was on the roster, and how enjoyable it was to have him in the dressing room. He was always willing to talk and took accountability when things weren’t going well. If you wanted some unforgettable stories of 22+ years in pro hockey, Recchi had ’em- both the kind I could recount here and a lot more I can’t. Through it all- Recchi had been one of those players I always admired from afar because he worked so hard to get to the NHL, and when he got there, he developed into a top offensive threat- something rare for a player of his smallish stature and lack of pure speed.

I wrote this opinion piece for the New England Hockey Journal a few days after the second-best regular season record in the NHL Bruins were eliminated by the upstart Carolina Hurricanes in the second round of the 2009 NHL playoffs.

At the time, it had just come out that Recchi had gutted out an excruciating rib injury and kidney stone surgery on the night before the decisive seventh game. It wasn’t enough for him to pull of a Cinderella story and will the team to victory with an overtime goal (that one instead went to Scott Walker), but it cemented his status as a respected Bruin and key leader.

As it turned out, Rex would sign two more extensions to win that last Stanley Cup I argued he could earn in Boston, so I was close. But when you realize that a young 24-year-old Patrice Bergeron, still not fully right after a near career-ending hit from behind the season before, witnessed the grizzled vet go through enormous agony just for the privilege to suit up for his team, you start to understand the importance of veterans on any team. It’s therefore not a bit surprising that five years later, Bergeron engaged in a similar jaw-dropping threshold in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final series loss to Chicago- playing with a cracked rib, punctured lung and separated shoulder in Game 6.

So you see- two years after retiring from hockey and the Bruins and going out on top with his third Stanley Cup ring, Mark Recchi’s impact was still being felt in that Boston dressing room. And, though the B’s came up short to the Blackhawks in 2013, Bergeron’s legend was forever engraved in stone, with a few more chapters he has left to write. Some Bruins fans had no idea what they had in Recchi, but to the rest of us, the team has been trying to fill the void he left ever since.

This one was written from the heart. In retrospect it seems silly that there was even a doubt they would bring Recchi back after that. It’s an oldie but a goodie and so was Rex. Enjoy.

***

                               Re-up Recchi- the Old Man’s still got it NEHJ, May 20, 2009

His face shows the scars accrued after more than 20 years of fighting in the trenches of the pro hockey wars, but even at 41, Boston winger Mark Recchi’s body and mind are sound enough to give one more NHL season a try.

                The unrestricted free agent was acquired by GM Peter Chiarelli from the Tampa Bay Lightning at the March 4 trade deadline in a deal that saw the Bruins dispatch two young prospects for an aging veteran and future draft pick. The transaction received little fanfare at first, as many hailed the move as one to provide some solid depth and experience, little more.

However, as Recchi, who has tallied 545 career goals while playing for seven different NHL teams (including three and two different tours of duty with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers respectively) fearlessly went to the front of the opposition net, Boston fans soon came to see the value in the ageless forward whose dedication and consistency will one day be his ticket to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

“You look at a guy like Mark Recchi sitting across the room and then it hits you that as long as you’ve followed NHL hockey, he’s been playing and he’s still around,” Bruins forward Milan Lucic told hockeyjournal.com shortly after his new teammate arrived in Boston.  “It’s great to have someone you always looked up to on your team and a big part of what we’re doing here.”

Recchi, who will turn 42 next February, won over a large number of B’s fans with his production (10 goals, 16 points in 18 games) to close out the regular season, but few doubters remained after news of what he endured broke after the B’s had been eliminated by the Carolina Hurricanes in a hard-fought seven-game series that went to sudden death before Scott Walker ended Boston’s Stanley Cup dreams.

He got off to a slow start in the postseason, failing to tally against the Montreal Canadiens in the four-game sweep, and had just broken through with his first playoff goal in Game 3 against Carolina when he suffered a rib injury in Game 4. As if that weren’t enough, he experienced agonizing pain of a kidney stone, which was removed via surgery on the eve of Game 7. You didn’t know about it, because after removing the needle and IV bag from his arm minutes before the puck drop, Recchi went out and skated as hard as he could to try and help his team pull out a win, logging 22 minutes of ice time in a valiant if unsuccessful effort to forge a Curt Schilling bloody sock-like legacy in Boston.

It’s the stuff of which Beantown blue collar heroes are made. Ask a true Bruin die-hard who bleeds black-and-gold whether he or she would rather have the ultra-skilled, but soft player who has trouble playing through the various hurts that accumulate over the course of an 82-game season plus playoffs, or a less-skilled, but indomitable skater who would run through a wall for his club if he thought it would help them win, and they’ll almost always choose the latter, even if it means sacrificing offense.

Recchi’s NHL longevity defies logic: he’s not big, nor is he particularly fast, even in his prime, which ended a decade ago. Yet, when you look back on a career that began in 1988, when the Penguins drafted him in the  fourth round, he’s scored more than 500 NHL goals and is closing in on 1,500 points.  The kid from Kamloops, BC who was once told he was too small and slow to play in the NHL has made a living out of proving his detractors wrong, mostly by going to the front of the net and then using his sublime hand-eye coordination and soft hands to deflect pucks past baffled goaltenders or selflessly set up teammates with gift-wrapped passes for goals. He began playing in the NHL when Ronald Reagan was still the sitting 40th President of the United States, and he’s been skating in the big league for four more chief executives, including two who served eight years apiece from 1993-2008.

He was brought to Boston because he had a pair of Stanley Cup rings and could provide the team with his steadying presence and experience, but also because he was a left-handed shot to help offset the loss of Marco Sturm.  Recchi quickly made a home with the Bruins, posting trio of two-goal games, and showing the kind of youthful enthusiasm and passion for hockey that two decades as a pro has not suppressed.

In short, Chiarelli could do much worse than extend a one-year contract offer to Recchi, who made $1.25 million last season and is a bargain at that price.

“I love it here,” Recchi told the Boston Globe as he packed up his things and prepared to depart for the summer. “Obviously, (the Bruins) have some decisions to make. But I really enjoyed it here. I stressed that to them. I’m at a position in my life where I can play where I want to play for a few months. I’m not going to play just to play. Boston would be a place I would want to come back to. If it doesn’t work out and they don’t have room, I might not play. We’ll see how it goes.”

It all comes down to the increasingly restrictive NHL salary cap and whether Boston can fit young guns like David Krejci and Phil Kessel under it, with both in line for big raises. And, Recchi isn’t the only veteran the B’s GM must make a decision on: longest-tenured Bruin P.J. Axelsson may not be asked back after years of loyal service amidst declining skills. Stephane Yelle, Shane Hnidy and Steve Montador are all doubtful as well, given the Providence youth movement clamoring for NHL jobs.

“I can tell you what I’ve told Mark, that we’re not sure what we’re going to do yet, and we have to see how a couple things unfold,” Chiarelli told the Boston Globe. “He’s told us that he wants to come back.”

Working against Recchi is his age and the risk of a dropoff in production next season, but when you consider his bargain price, experience and dedication to the team that includes going above and beyond the call of duty to play in the kind of crippling pain that would paralyze normal people, he deserves to be near the top of the list of candidates to come back for one more serious Stanley Cup run in 2010 maybe more.

Recchi treasured that spoked-B on his chest so much that he endured inconceivable physical hardship just for the right to be in the lineup against Carolina. Even if he and his teammates came up short, it’s the kind of work ethic that the Bruins and their fans have always prided themselves on.

Why not reward that spirit by giving Mark Louis Recchi, the pride of Kamloops, one more chance to finish out his brilliant NHL career a winner?

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