Third on the team in points and assists? No way. Fifth in goals? Not a chance. Tied for most games played? Not in a million years.
Becoming Tampa Bay’s most unlikely game changer? Tocchet may never have been more pleasantly surprised than he is right now. Such is the impact Recchi has had on the Lightning this season.
“When we signed him, I thought we’d get 60-65 games from him,” Tocchet said. “But, we’ve really relied on him. He’s logged a lot of minutes for us and has become a big part of our team.”
Throughout the first half of a season that’s had more than its share of ups and downs, Recchi has been one of the few constants. He’s played in all 47 games, producing 10 goals and 21 assists all while providing veteran leadership for a team with ample youth among its roster. Basically, he’s doing just what he has throughout his 20 National Hockey League seasons that have taken him through six teams, a pair of Stanley Cups and straight up the NHL’s statistics list - all while continually being one of the smallest players on the ice.
Recchi stands just 5-foot-10 and weighs 195 pounds, but it’s his aggressiveness with the puck - “For a small guy, he goes to the net as good as anyone on the team,” Tocchet said, and his instincts without it, that have allowed him to not only survive, but thrive in an often brutal sport against larger players. His two assists during a 5-3 victory against visiting Buffalo in the Lightning’s last game before the All-Star break moved him into 17th place on the NHL’s career points list with 1,411
“We grew up learning how to take hits and avoid them,” Recchi said, “but you’ve still got to be very quick. I feel very fortunate that I grew up in that atmosphere.”
Growing up took place in Kamloops, British Columbia, a city of approximately 93,000 residents 220 miles northeast of Vancouver, and it’s here that Recchi is both memorialized and still quite active. His No. 8 Kamloops Blazers (WHL) jersey was retired, he has a street named “Mark Recchi Way” in his honor and in 2000 he was named the “Kamloops Male Athlete of the 20th Century.” Maybe more importantly, since the fall of 2007, Recchi has been one of four co-owners – with fellow NHL players Jarome Iginla, Darryl Sydor and Shane Doan, of the same Blazers team on which all four played their junior hockey.
Though he’s playing some of the best hockey of his career this season, Recchi knows at some point it will end. It’s not surprising he’s chosen to begin that next stage of his life in the town where he was raised. What may be surprising was his choice to take a more backstage role - especially considering his teaching ability with his current Lightning teammates.
“Mark’s a natural leader, because he’s been through a lot with other teams and knows the right thing to say when things aren’t going well,” Tocchet said. “He’s an extension of the coaching staff on the ice.”
Still, although helping guide the Lightning to a run at a playoff berth is clearly at the forefront of his thoughts, Recchi remains adamant that he knows the correct path once his playing days are over.
“I love the building process of a team,” Recchi said. “I don’t know if I want to be a [general manager], but building a team intrigues me. Putting all the right pieces together to build a winner. That’s what appeals to me a lot more than being behind the bench.”