Former Flyer Recchi retires a champion, but legacy here is mixed

Mark Recchi, a 22-year NHL veteran, announced his retirement from the game early this morning after the Bruins beat the Vancouver Canucks in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

Recchi made his pro debut with the Pittsburgh Penguins late in the 1988-89 season, and completed his career with 577 goals and 1,533 points in 1,652 games. He added 61 goals and 146 points in 188 playoff contests, winning a trio of Cups with Pittsburgh (1991), Carolina (2006) and Boston (2011).

The 43-year-old British Columbia native spent two separate and memorable stints with the Philadelphia Flyers — the first coming from February, 1992 until February, 1995 and the second from March, 1999 through the end of the 2003-04 season.

Acquired in a desperate move for scoring punch in a three-team deal with the Penguins and Kings, Recchi was an immediate force on a mediocre Flyers club in the midst of five years away from the postseason.

In his first full season with Philadelphia, Recchi simply broke Bobby Clarke’s long-standing single-season points record, racking up 123 in a full 84-game slate of 1992-93. Clarke’s mark of 119 stood since 1975-76.

Another 100-point season followed in 1993-94, complete with 40 goals, and the British Columbia native was doing as well as his teammates early in the lockout-shortened 1995 campaign before he was dealt to Montreal for John LeClair, Eric Desjardins and Gilbert Dionne.

But Recchi’s value in terms of offense and leadership was never actually devalued despite the trade, and Clarke reacquired Recchi from the Canadiens in March of 1999. One hitch in the plan that season, was that Recchi played through a concussion so as not to upset his then-NHL-best consecutive-games streak. It cost him once he returned here, and he only played in 10 regular-season games in the last 5 weeks of the year.

Recchi went on to lead the Flyers in scoring with 91 points during the turbulent 1999-2000 season, adding 18 points in three rounds before that infamous home Game 7 loss to the Devils. Four more solid years passed where he was near the top of the scoring list, until the Flyers decided to sweep him, along with other veterans, off the roster after losing the ’04 East Finals to Tampa Bay.

He had the last laugh, playing seven more years and winning two more Stanley Cups.

All told, Recchi struck for 232 goals and 627 points over 602 regular-season appearances in the Orange and Black, also tallying a respectable 39 points in 65 playoff tilts. He remains eighth on the franchise list in points, fourth in assists and tied for  11th in goals. 

One overlooked factor in people’s rush to praise the diminutive center (and something which may be totally ignored by those who aren’t close to team sources or who don’t have a yen for history), is that Recchi did have a hand in getting rid of not one, but two Flyers head coaches.

Clubhouse lawyering isn’t really reported much in National Hockey League dressing rooms, but in two cases, a coach’s firing can be traced directly back to Recchi.

The first instance, which was not heavily publicized, came at the end of the 1994 season, when Terry Simpson got the heave-ho after only one year at the helm. As former GM Russ Farwell detailed in Full Spectrum…

“Eric wasn’t part of the group. I don’t know if he was 100 percent on board, but Lindros wasn’t one of the problems. Recchi was one of the guys. (Garry) Galley, too.”

Galley paid the price for his part later in the next season when he was shipped to Buffalo, but Recchi’s role in the dirt done to the former Islanders coach never seemed to see the light of day.

That is, until Bill Barber got the axe after the disastrous 2002 first-round loss to Ottawa — the one which saw the Flyers score all of two goals in five games.

Led by veterans Keith Primeau, John LeClair and Recchi, who all had a willing ear in the front office in Clarke, Barber was unceremoniously dumped after less than two years at the helm for what they and other players felt was a loss of cool, lack of preparedness and ability to work a successful game plan.

At least we got Ken Hitchcock and a conference finals appearance for their trouble.

None of that should overshadow Recchi’s accomplishments in Philadelphia. He was part of a solid core of skilled players who basically kept the Flyers afloat and entertaining to watch before their mid-to-late 90s resurgence, and later returned to be a steadying veteran presence during another period of transition that proved to be successful but ultimately frustrating.

Recchi is pretty much the last of a dying breed — a player who broke into the league before its downturn into a defensive-oriented, stunted mess. With his retirement, there is only one current NHLer who participated in the decade of the 1980s — Mike Modano — and he is presumably close to calling it a career.

  • Shauna

    You forgot to mention how he blamed teammates, coaches and…even the ice girls for his problems.

  • Shauna

    You forgot to mention how he blamed teammates, coaches and…even the ice girls for his problems.