One of the sadder sights in sports comes when a once-great player hangs on way too long. While I don’t begrudge an athlete for getting every ounce of playing time out of their bodies before retirement is forced upon them, it often remains a sad thing to see.
The great play of seemingly over-the-hill players during the 2010-11 season and its accompanying postseason has been a heartening storyline. Nicklas Lidstrom and Teemu Selanne didn’t just belong on the ice despite being in the plus-40 club, they remained among the better (if not best) players in their positions.
Mark Recchi probably has a foot in each side right now. His speed is diminished to the extent that he can’t always get where he wants to go, but his fantastic instincts and solid finishing ability help him to remain an asset. He’s not just out there because of the name on the back of his jersey.
Still, at 43 years old, he must realize that he’s almost certainly in the twilight of his career. With that in mind, Recchi hopes to go out a Stanley Cup winner (he admitted that he would retire for sure if the Boston Bruins win the Cup, for one thing). After fielding criticism late in the Tampa Bay Lightning series and early in the Cup finals, Recchi has burned his critics once again, scoring a goal in Game 2, two goals in Game 3 and collecting three assists in Game 6. That works out to a point per game average in the championship round at 43, leading all scorers in the series. He spoke to NHL.com about Wednesday possibly being the final game of his NHL career.
“It crosses my mind, but, you know, I have a job to do out there for the guys and I can’t put those thoughts in my head,” Recchi said if he had thought Game 6 could have been his last. “I’m going to lay it on the line one more time and see where it takes me after that. No matter what, it’s been a great 22 years, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. This has been one of my best ones, regardless of what happens, and I’m just still proud to play in the NHL.”
One more Cup victory would be a tidy finish to a great career. He would also finish the playoffs the same way he began his playoff career at 22 years old: with a Stanley Cup raised over his head. He made his first postseason appearance in his third season with the Pittsburgh Penguins, scoring 34 points in 24 games for his greatest playoff run ever. The Penguins then decided to trade him to the Philadelphia Flyers the following season, so he wouldn’t get a chance to repeat with that team. Despite being a productive player for years since, it took him 15 years to win it all again when he won a Cup with the 2005-06 Carolina Hurricanes.
Recchi has accomplished just about anything he could have hoped for, so there would be no shame in retiring whether he wins or loses on Wednesday. That being said, you can’t blame him for pulling for one last sip from the Cup.