When Atlanta picked up Mark Recchi
off waivers last month, Thrashers captain Bobby Holik
wasn’t surprised that a 19-year veteran with more than 500 goals and 1,300 points who was about to turn 40 ended up in his team’s lap at a discounted rate.
“No, because you could see the youth movement in Pittsburgh,” Holik told NHL.com. “Certain teams are going through their youth movement in midseason and certain teams wait until the offseason. I wasn’t surprised.”
Right then Holik paused. As a 17-year veteran himself it would take a minor miracle to shock Holik, but even the affable captain didn’t see this kind of resurgence coming from his newest teammate.
Recchi celebrates his 40th birthday today, but he’s yet another NHL veteran who refuses to act his age.
Thrashers General Manager and coach Don Waddell scooped up the birthday boy off of re-entry waivers on Dec. 8. Since moving south, Recchi has played in all 24 games, mostly on the same line with superstar Ilya Kovalchuk, and he’s posted seven goals and 14 assists while playing yin to Holik’s yang in the team’s dressing room.
“You would think; ‘OK I understand Pittsburgh is going through a youth movement,’ but you see him and now I don’t understand because he’s still pretty good,” Holik said of his newest 40-year-old teammate. “I guess Pittsburgh had their reasons. We had ours, too, and I think we more than addressed them.”
Recchi never lost his passion for the game in Pittsburgh. He just lost his spot in coach Michel Therrien’s rotation. At the time Recchi couldn’t figure out why or what he was doing wrong as he moved from the first line with Sidney Crosby to the fourth line to eventually the waiver wire.
Now he doesn’t care at all.
“Yeah, I was surprised, but it’s water under the bridge for me,” Recchi said. “I think it was a situation where I probably should have looked elsewhere in the summer, but it happens and I knew I still had something to give.”
Recchi made an immediate impression with two goals in his first game. Now he’s averaging roughly 18 minutes of ice time per game with the Thrashers.
“He brings a lot of patience. He knows how to win games,” Kovalchuk told NHL.com. “He’s not one of those guys who will yell and scream. He knows what he’s doing, and he’s a future Hall of Famer. It’s easy to play with those kind of guys.”
Waddell said he and Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero had discussions well before Recchi eventually joined the Thrashers. Shero even let Waddell have a conversation with Recchi just to gauge his interest and see if his passion for the game still existed.
“I could still sense that Mark had the passion to play in his voice and that was important to hear,” Waddell said. “After talking to him it became a slam dunk. We thought it would be a good fit for what he brought to the table. You always hope there is that fit, but certainly it’s been bigger than what any of us could have imagined.”
While Recchi has been a fixture on Kovalchuk’s line -- Waddell prefers to play his two All-Stars, Kovalchuk and Marian Hossa, on separate lines -- he has slowly joined Holik as a veteran voice in the locker room.
Recchi said he couldn’t just assume a leadership role because you can’t be the chin-up veteran who walks into a new room and immediately demands more from players you don’t know.
“You have to come in and feel your way, learn the guys, learn the dressing room and learn what is going on,” Recchi said.
Now that he’s 24 games deep in his Thrashers career, he has seen enough to know what to say and who to say it to. One of the most respected players in the League has earned his place in Atlanta’s room as well.
“When things are going great, I have to help the guys understand why they’re going great. When things are going bad, I’ll help them understand why they’re going bad,” Recchi said. “There is a real process you go through when you come in to a new dressing room.”
“Anytime you can skate in this league you can find a niche on a team whether it’s on the power play, playing on a third line, penalty kill or just being a veteran presence.” -- Mark Recchi
Holik is happy to have him.
“Sometimes when you want to say something as a captain or a veteran and someone is there to agree with you it’s nice because now the young guys know I’m not talking out of my backside,” Holik said. “It’s a reinforcement, and in today’s NHL it is needed because it is quite inconsistent and very young.”
“He says things when something is needed to be said and for a younger guy like myself, that’s huge,” added Thrashers rookie Colin Stuart. “You obviously grow up watching players of his magnitude, but to get the chance to play with him and see what he brings to the team is pretty cool.”
Right now, Recchi’s lone concern is helping the Thrashers get back into the playoffs for a second-straight season, but questions about his future remain. He’s signed only through the end of this season, and remember, he’s 40 now.
Recchi already has some business ventures of his own, including being a part-owner of the Western Hockey League’s Kamloops Blazers. But he’s not quite sure if he wants to wear a designer suit during games again anytime soon.
“I’d definitely like to play another year, but I’ll evaluate it at the end of the year,” Recchi said. “I know I can still play because I can skate and my conditioning is good. Anytime you can skate in this league you can find a niche on a team whether it’s on the power play, playing on a third line, penalty kill or just being a veteran presence.
“There are things you can do. If you understand and accept them you’ll be good for your team.”
No surprise there.
Contact Dan Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org.