Built to last
At first a rental, Recchi still owns a spot in Bruins’ lineup
Mark Recchi liked what the Lightning were selling.
It was July 2008. NHL free agency had opened. Oren Koules and Len Barrie, under the OK Hockey banner, had acquired the Lightning from Palace Sports & Entertainment that winter.
Barry Melrose was in as coach, John Tortorella was out. With Brian Lawton hired as vice president of hockey operations, the writing was on the wall that general manager Jay Feaster would be next to go.
“It really looked like there were some positive things there,’’ Recchi recalled. “I just thought they were going in the right direction. It was something I was comfortable with.’’
On July 8, 2008, Recchi signed a one-year deal with Tampa Bay. In hindsight, he was sold a bill of goods. Contrary to the ownership group’s name, little would be OK.
The Lightning started the season 5-7-4. On Nov. 14, 2008, the day after a 4-3 loss to Detroit, Melrose was sacked and replaced by Rick Tocchet. Disagreements between Koules and Barrie escalated.
“Tock came in and did a good job in a tough situation,’’ said Recchi. “Once things got stabilized a little bit, it got better. Tock stabilized everything. But there were ownership issues. You didn’t know what was going on.’’
Two years later, the Lightning punched the reboot button. On March 3, 2010, Jeff Vinik, once at the helm of Fidelity’s flagship Magellan Fund, became the Lightning’s owner. Vinik hired Steve Yzerman to be GM. In turn, Yzerman brought on Guy Boucher as coach.
The Lightning are now one round from the Stanley Cup finals, with the Bruins standing in their way.
“Bringing in Stevie Y was something the organization obviously needed — getting a new owner, getting Stevie Y,’’ Recchi said. “The other guys tried. They tried.
“It was just an unfortunate situation. It was [Barrie’s] first time. It was a tough situation for everybody. There were a lot of firsts going on there. It just made it hard for people.
“It’s nice to see now, because that’s a great place to play. It’s nice to see they’ve got things where they should be. They’ve got a great fan base down there. It’s a great place to live. It’s nice to see.’’
Had Vinik, Yzerman, and Boucher initiated the first wave of transformation in 2008, it’s possible that Recchi could still be wearing a lightning bolt on his jersey. Recchi was 40 at the time. He became friends with the leading players, including Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier. Recchi served as one of the many mentors to Steven Stamkos, the 18-year-old who had made the jump from junior to the NHL that season.
But with the Lightning’s season crumbling, Recchi knew he would be traded at the deadline. Fortunately for him, the Bruins had a vacancy.
With Marco Sturm out for the season following knee surgery, the Bruins needed to replace the veteran left wing. They wanted another experienced left-shot forward. Ideally, they wanted a net-front man for their power play. Peter Chiarelli targeted Recchi, and on March 4, 2009, the Bruins GM pulled off a heist that rivals the Gardner Museum job.
For Matt Lashoff and Martins Karsums, the Bruins landed Recchi and Tampa’s 2010 second-round pick. One year later, Chiarelli packaged that pick with Byron Bitz and Craig Weller to Florida for Dennis Seidenberg and Matt Bartkowski.
After arriving in Boston, Recchi collected 10 goals and six assists in 18 regular-season games. In the playoffs, he added three goals and three assists. In the second round against Carolina, Recchi underwent surgery to remove a kidney stone. He didn’t miss a shift.
For that act of courage, among other things, both Recchi and the Bruins thought he could be more than a rental. In the summer of 2009, Recchi signed a one-year extension. The following summer, he did the same thing.
“When we did get him, he was more or less classified as a role player,’’ said coach Claude Julien. “He scored quite a few goals when he first showed up. He was a real good player for us in the playoffs. A good leader.
“That Carolina series, we didn’t know if he was going to play Game 6 or not. What he went through, he just showed so much battle and such a great example. We felt real comfortable asking him to come back. I think the feeling was mutual.
“He came back and gave us another real good year last year. He’s been really good for us. We understand he’s not the youngest player in the league. But his experience and what he brings to the table day in and day out is something this team really needs.
“Even this year again, he’s been extremely good in the dressing room. The one thing you’ll never question about him is his work ethic. At this time of year, those guys become extremely important.’’
If the Bruins win the Cup, there will not be a third extension. Recchi will retire and consider his next career, most likely in hockey management. Recchi already has lasted longer than he believed he would.
“I didn’t even know I was going to play after that [first] year [in Boston],’’ Recchi said. “It was a great opportunity. I didn’t expect three years later I’d still be here, having fun and being where we’re at.
“This is ultimately what I wanted and why I kept coming back. We’re halfway. We’ve got another big step against another old team.’’