On Tuesday, the Penguins named Mark Recchi as an assistant coach to replace Rick Tocchet, who was named head coach of the Arizona Coyotes. And when discussing what the transition behind the bench would be like for Recchi, both he and Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan used the word "seamless."
"Obviously 'Tocc' is a real good coach and a great person, and is a tough guy to replace as a coach, but I can't think of a better guy than 'Rex' to do that," Sullivan said of Recchi, who will assume the duties handled by Tocchet - which include running the team's forwards and working closely with Sullivan on the power play.
There's a number of reasons.
* First and foremost, his playing career. Recchi was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame on June 26 as one of seven members of the Class of 2017 following a career where he finished as the NHL's 12th all-time leading scorer with 1,533 points in 1,652 games. He won the Stanley Cup three times (Pittsburgh, 1991; Carolina, 2006; Boston, 2011), becoming one of just 10 players from the modern era to win a championship with three different teams. Recchi's longevity and pedigree are impressive. Players have remarked about Tocchet's ability to relate to them as players having produced such a successful career, and Sullivan knows Recchi will do the same.
"(Recchi) is a very similar type personality (to Tocchet) in the sense that he's such an accomplished player," Sullivan said. "He'll get instant credibility with the career he's had as a player and that speaks for itself. Not only how elite he was as a player, but just the longevity. I think it speaks to his character - his ability to play that many years and help different teams win Stanley Cups - and play different roles. I know our players have so much respect for him already, and that's one of the reasons we're so excited to have Rex join our staff."
* Secondly, Recchi wasn't just any player - he was a teammate of several current Penguins during his career. When Sidney Crosby entered the league in 2005, Recchi was his first linemate and factored into both his first point (an assist on a Recchi goal) and his first goal (Recchi got the assist). He also spent time playing alongside Evgeni Malkin. Few, if any, coaches in the league can say they've played with the two-headed monster, so it will offer Recchi a unique perspective.
"I think it definitely helps," Recchi said. "They were young men when they started with me and just being around them and seeing the drive they had and playing with both of them, on lines extensively at times, it's definitely going to help."
It also helps having been around them in a front-office role the last three seasons and watching how they interacted with Sullivan and Tocchet.
"They are very competitive people and there's a reason why they've got three championships," Recchi said. "They thrive on competition, they thrive on the challenge and I'm excited to get in there and help them go through this. There's always going to be times when you're going to have challenges throughout the year. You're going to have to sit down and talk to them and they're going to want to talk to me, and I think I have that relationship that's already there that will just help the transition very easily."
That goes for Phil Kessel as well, somebody who was close with Tocchet but also has a rapport with Recchi.
"He already has a great relationship with Phil," Sullivan said. "We've used Rex over the last couple of seasons with Phil to try to help him grow his game and develop his game in different areas that we were trying to help Phil."
Sullivan went on to praise Recchi's "instant credibility" with the Penguins not just as a fellow player, but also as a coach.
"He's a natural when it comes to his ability to teach the game," Sullivan said. "I've watched him both on the ice and in the locker room, in meetings with players, and he's a natural. So I really believe that he's going to continue to foster those relationships that are so important to helping us grow as a team and more specifically, some of our individual players like Phil. I think Rex is going to do a great job in helping that process along."
* Thirdly, it's not just Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, Kris Letang and Pittsburgh's other star players that Recchi is familiar with. In his role as player development coach, he was responsible for working with young prospects throughout the organization and assisting with the development of players in the minor leagues as well as junior and college hockey. He also helped recruit coveted NCAA free agents, as forward Zach Aston-Reese cited Recchi as a big reason he decided to sign with Pittsburgh. In fact, Recchi had just earned a promotion to director of player development for his tremendous work before accepting this new role.
"I think his relationship that he's built with the young players, working with them in Wilkes-Barre and through the development process, gives him so much familiarity with these guys and an already established relationship where we think he's just going to hit the ground running," Sullivan said.
* Finally, Recchi has been quietly working towards this for a while and has spent a lot of time behind the scenes involved in different parts of the process. Sullivan said that they talk hockey all the time in their offices and that Recchi has been a part of their coaches' meetings.
"Whether it be on the power play or penalty kill or 5-on-5, he's always added his insights to help us along the way solve some of the challenges that we've had in my tenure as the coach," Sullivan said. "I feel fortunate that we've got a guy like Rex that I've had the privilege to build a relationship with as well here in my time with Pittsburgh and it started when I was in Wilkes Barre."
Actually, the relationship began even earlier than that - back in 2008-09, to be exact. That season, Recchi was a player for Tampa Bay while both Sullivan and Tocchet were on the Lightning coaching staff.
"I'm just looking forward to this opportunity of working with Sully," Recchi said. "I have been around him for a long time. I was in Tampa when Sully and Tocc were coaches and we were together there. I've been around the dressing room and around them the last three years. I know I've built that trust with Sully and he knows I have his back, and we're going to work to do this thing together with Sergei (Gonchar) and Jacques (Martin)."
Overall, it's been one heck of a summer for Recchi so far. It started when he won his fifth Stanley Cup - second as an executive - in June. It continued when he was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame, and has cumulated with this latest announcement. Not to mention dealing with the promotion to director of player development, the NHL Draft, development camp and free agency in between all of that.
"It's been exciting," Recchi said with a laugh. "I just caught up to my other texts from everything from the last couple weeks, so I'm going to have to catch up again now. It's been so exciting. When you win the Cup, seeing what these guys put into it and being part of that was huge. Then obviously getting into the Hockey Hall of Fame is the icing on the cake on a career that I was very proud of, put a lot of work into and really excited about that.
"Then I got moved up to director of player development and when the situation with Tocc arose and Sully and Jim (Rutherford) called me, it didn't really take me long to make the decision. The more I thought about it, the more excited I got and I'm just looking forward to this opportunity of working with Sully."