Monday, June 20, 2011

Memory Monday: Looking Back at Mark Recchi

Every Monday, we will take a look back at a player, game, or event from Canadiens' history and reminisce.

To honour his recent Stanley Cup victory with the Boston Bruins and subsequent retirement, today we remember Mark Recchi's stint with the Montreal Canadiens.

Long before Recchi drew the ire of Canadiens fans this past season when he suggested that perhaps Montreal was embellishing Max Pacioretty's injury in order to draw out a suspension for Zdeno Chara, he was himself a fan favourite for the blue, blanc, et rouge.

In a blockbuster swap in February of 1995, the Habs sent John LeClair, Eric Desjardins, and Gilbert Dionne to the Philadelphia Flyers in return for Recchi, then 27 years of age. By that point, Recchi had already won a Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and was coming off seasons of 123 and 107 points with the Flyers.

While Recchi would never replicate those types of numbers in Montreal, he still shone as an offensive catalyst on a team in the midst of a crisis-level demolition from the one that won the Cup just 2 years prior. To give you an idea of what was going on, between the end of the '94 season to the end of '95, the following players were moved out of Montreal:
Kevin Haller
Guy Carbonneau
John LeClair
Eric Desjardins
Gilbert Dionne
Kirk Muller
Mathieu Schneider
Craig Darby
Paul DiPietro

And the rest of the team didn't last much longer, because if we extend till the end of calendar year 1995, you can add the following names:
Brian Bellows
J.J. Daigneault
Craig Ferguson
Yves Sarault
Patrick Roy
Mike Keane

Virtually everyone who played a part in bringing the 24th Stanley Cup in franchise history to Montreal left the city in the 2 years that followed.

So who was left to play alongside Recchi? Well, his first full season (1995-96) marked the entrance to the league of a talented young rookie by the name of Saku Koivu. Though they weren't linemates immediately, the veteran took the young Finn under his wing and the two developed a close friendship during their time together here, with Recchi being a major supporter of Saku's as he went through his battle with cancer years later.

After putting up 43 points in 39 games with the Canadiens the year he was acquired, Recchi would not surpass the 1 point per game mark again in Montreal, though he would come close, initially playing with veteran stars Vincent Damphousse and Pierre Turgeon. But just a year later, the revolving door of talent swung again, and Turgeon was shipped out along with near all-star Rory Fitzpatrick and promising youngster Craig Conroy for an aging Shayne Corson and Murray Baron. So Recchi found new mates in the likes of Martin Rucinsky and Stephane Richer.

All in all, Recchi would total 322 points in 346 games over 5 seasons in Montreal, before being sent back to Philadelphia in March of 1999 in return for Dainius Zubrus and 2nd and 6th round draft picks. The trade still has some bearing on the organization today, as Zubrus would later be sent to Washington in a multi-player deal that brought Richard Zednik to Montreal, and Zednik would eventually be traded back to Washington for a draft pick which became Olivier Fortier, who presently plays for the Hamilton Bulldogs but has potential upside as a 3rd or 4th liner.

The highlight many Canadiens fans will remember of Recchi's days in Montreal was his play as the team's representative in the 1996-97 NHL All-Star Game. Rex potted a hat trick and was named the game's MVP, earning the traditional new car prize for his efforts.

All in all, with over 1,500 points and three Stanley Cup champions with three different teams (Pittsburgh, Carolina, and Boston), Recchi's resume should someday make him a Hall of Famer. At just 5'10" and 190 lbs, he undoubtedly battled through a lot of adversity over his career, and to continue to play - and PRODUCE - until the age of 43 is truly remarkable. I'll admit to getting a little choked up as I watched Bruins coach Claude Julien keep Recchi out on the ice for the entire final minute of Game 7 of the Cup finals, and it was a fitting final shift to cap an illustrious career. What more could one ask for than to go out on your own terms, and to go out a champion.

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