There was a time when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. You have your Brontosaurus, your Triceratops, your Tyrannosaurus rex. In our blessed year of 2011, another dinosaur roams NHL arenas: M-Rex.
Some current NHLers played in the Dead Puck era. Mark Recchi played in the Triassic. Recchi -- Rex, as he is commonly called -- is 43, one of two current NHL players to have played in four decades, beginning in the 1980s. (On the Fly bonus points if you came up with Detroit's Mike Modano.) He will not make it to Gordie Howe's 51 or Chris Chelios's 48, but the Boston Bruins right winger, who this month passed Dave Andreychuk into fifth place on the NHL's all-time games-played list with 1,640, could make it to age 44, a staggering accomplishment considering the type of game Recchi plays.
There is nothing soft about it. Nothing easy. Indeed, now that he no longer has the grand burst of speed that used to whoosh him down the flank -- those distinctive short, almost mincing strides don't cover as much ice as they once did -- his game has become even more taxing. Recchi is spending more of it wrangling with defensemen for pucks, mucking near the crease.
The result: 12 goals (six on the power play), 43 points and enough conspicuous jam that he has earned 16 minutes of ice per game from coach Claude Julien. Recchi also is plus-15.
"He's been way more productive than (what we expected) when we got him," says Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli. "We knew we were getting a real good player, but to contribute as much as he has ... At some point you'd expect him to slow down. There are some slips, like you might see with any player in the league, but then Rex comes through with a real big time play.
"His battle level hasn't changed. In fact, maybe it's even gotten better because some of the other areas have diminished a tiny bit. What was a big part of his game that shines even more now is (how he plays in) the greasy areas. Tip-ins. Positioning. The garbage stuff ... while it's called garbage stuff, you got to get in there. You got to know where the puck's going to bounce out and you've got to know how to finish."
Recchi knows. He has 575 goals, a remarkable total considering that he has just one 50- and two 40-goal seasons in a career that began in 1988-89, yet he has moved into the top 20 in NHL history, surpassing Joe Nieuwendyk. Recchi has not scored at least 30 since 1997-98 with Montreal, but you could always put him down for 20-plus, at least until he approached and then turned 40.
He accumulates milestones, including penalty minutes. Recchi is the rare player with both 1,500 points -- his 1,528 trail Paul Coffey, 12th all time, by three -- and 1,000 penalty minutes, a total he padded earlier this season by having his first fight since 2004.
And yes, he is old enough to know better.
"Obviously I'm not the player I used to be," Recchi says. "But I understand my role. I know what I can do to help the team and be a piece of the puzzle, lead by example and all those fun things."
The problem, in terms of figuring out Recchi's proper place in hockey's pantheon, is his name was never above the marquee. He was an A-Lister in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, a star in Montreal, a Stanley Cup-winner with the Penguins, and later a Cup mercenary on Carolina's 2006 championship team. But there was always someone around who seemed more significant, if not always better, to capture the eye and the imagination: Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr in Pittsburgh, Eric Lindros in Philadelphia, Saku Koivu in Montreal. Even as Recchi became a vagabond later in his career, he was the sidekick whose name you can't quite remember in Judd Apatow movies, playing in the shadow of Sidney Crosby, Ilya Kovalchuk or Vincent Lecavalier.
"I guess most people associate me with Philly or Pittsburgh," Recchi said, "but now people are starting to associate me with Boston even though I haven't been here that long."
Certainly, he seemed born to the black and gold, Part IV. (He has had three separate stints with Pittsburgh.) Recchi, who Boston acquired for a Cup run late in 2009, scored 10 goals in 18 regular season games upon arrival and then was a rock in the playoffs. Well, a stone, anyway. Late in the second-round series against the Hurricanes, he futilely tried to pass a kidney stone. To the amazement of teammates, he would be in agony on a trainer's table before the game and then go out and play. He scored in Game 5. He suffered through Game 6. Before Game 7, he finally had an operation.
"Lot of fun," he says. "I was also playing with a broken rib. The night before Game 7, I had surgery. Got out about six o'clock, got some rest and played the next night."
Boston lost at home in overtime, but the moral of the story is that you can't win 'em all, but you should never leave a stone unturned.
Recchi also fits because he never acts old, even if he is not quite New Age. ("All these guys play Nintendos, Facebooks and Twitters," he says. "I have no idea, and I don't plan on having any idea." The last Luddite.) In the dressing room he is not the local school marm, not a back-in-my-day guy, even if he does have opinions.
Said Boston forward Chris Kelly, a pre-deadline acquisition from Ottawa: "Rex is great for the younger guys. When a guy gets on in his career, he tends to not be in the best of moods every morning. They can see the end, and they kinda keep to themselves. Rex is the opposite of that. He has patience with the younger guys. He seems to enjoy coming to the rink every day, like he's 20 years old. That was one of the things I noticed right off the bat."
Chiarelli says it is far too early to think about signing Recchi for another season -- his current cap hit, including salary and bonuses, is $1.95 million, according to capgeek.com -- and while Recchi says he goes year-to-year, his body language seems to say he is eager to squeeze out another season. He enjoys his teammates and he likes the company he keeps in the NHL record book.
"What I'm doing, who I'm passing, those names ... it's pretty funny," Recchi said. "I think it's neat, actually."