Mark Recchi and the Hall of Fame Debate

(Photo by Chassen Ikiri).

It’s been a long ride for Mark Recchi. The 43-year-old Kamloops, B.C. native called it quits Wednesday night following his third and final Stanley Cup victory. It’s hardly a surprise, as Rex almost prophetically declared his intention to retire should his Bruins win the Cup. They did, and now the NHL’s active points leader, with eyes still brimming with youthful exuberance, will proudly walk away from the game he loves so much.

Will the “Reckin Ball” chug enthusiastically into the Hockey Hall of Fame? Some would suggest “no”, even in the face of his myriad accomplishments, for the (perhaps apt) reason the Recchi was never one of the top players of his time. The suggestion is, that unless you go out of your way towards the “dominant” end of the spectrum, longevity and consistency do not alone qualify one for enshrinement.

It goes without question that Recchi’s career numbers are Hall-Worthy. With 577 goals (19th all-time) and 1533 points (12th all-time), Rex has more than any qualified player not already in the Hockey Hall of Fame. He has played more regular season games than all but three individuals and is one of the few players whose careers extend through four decades.

First, let’s look at all the forwards enshrined since 1995 (who played a majority of their careers after the 1967 expansion). I made a quick analysis based on total and year-to-year performances, and as you can see, the cream rose to the top:

Goals Assists Points Cups FHOFP*
Wayne Gretzky 894 1963 2857 4 193
Mario Lemieux 690 1033 1723 2 131
Mark Messier 694 1193 1887 6 117
Luc Robitaille 668 726 1394 1 104
Brett Hull 741 650 1391 2 102

 

Anyone over 100 FHOFP (Forward Hall-of-Fame Points) is a guaranteed lock for the Hockey Hall of Fame. As you can see, magnificent players like Gretzky, Lemieux, and Messier have an outstanding combination of longevity, accolades and excellent single-season performances. Recchi isn’t close to these guys (no one suggested he was) and it shows.

Goals Assists Points Cups FHOFP*
Jari Kurri 601 797 1398 5 89
Bryan Trottier 524 901 1425 6 86
Mike Gartner 708 627 1335 0 86
Ron Francis 549 1249 1798 2 84

 

The next tier sees players with significantly less all-around success but who are nonetheless more than qualified to be a HHOF member. Kurri, Trottier and Gartner all had very good career numbers to go with very solid performances in single seasons. Francis’ season-to-season totals were mediocre for Hall-candidates of his era, but his incredible longevity and massive career point totals put him up in the realm of the other surefire guys.

Goals Assists Points Cups FHOFP*
Michel Goulet 548 604 1152 0 80
Mark Recchi 577 956 1533 3 80
Dale Hawerchuk 518 891 1409 0 79
Denis Savard 473 865 1338 1 72

 

Here’s the rub: Mark Recchi’s career numbers are outstanding. While it’s certainly arguable that his consistency and longevity are the primary factors in his potential induction, his year-to-year statistics are not exactly shabby.  Rex placed top-five in points three times in his career (’90-’91, ’93-’94, and ’99-’00) and added another top-ten early in his career. Rex only placed top-ten in goals once in his career, but he tallied 40 goals four times and 53 in his highest-scoring year (he finished tied for eleventh). He led the NHL in assists in 1999-00, and was third in points. Recchi added four more top-20 finishes in points throughout his career. Remarkably, he’s only missed more than twelve games once, in 2000-01.

Recchi’s career compares quite favorably with Denis Savard, who had an equivalent peak, and whose career did not last nearly as long. Goulet had a significantly higher peak, with his four consecutive 50-goal seasons, and displayed incredible excellent consistency, but the absence of a Cup Championship hurts him. Hawerchuk had an incredibly long and stable peak, averaging 100 points between ages 18 and 30, and never dropping below 81. His last three seasons were forgettable, but it’s the absence of a championship and low All-Star appearances that hurt his FHOFP.

Goals Assists Points Cups FHOFP*
Dino Ciccarelli 608 592 1200 0 68
Peter Stastny 450 789 1239 0 66
Glenn Anderson 498 601 1099 6 64
Joe Mullen 502 561 1063 3 62
Pat LaFontaine 468 545 1013 0 59
Bernie Federko 369 761 1130 0 55
Cam Neely 395 299 694 0 51
Clark Gilles 319 378 697 4 34

 

The remainder of the 1995-present modern HHOF forwards range from debatable to borderline to questionable at best. Gilles’ 34 indicates that by this (admittedly imperfect) quantification, he’s not a Hall-of-Fame caliber player. His historical significance, two-way play and pugilistic skill notwithstanding, I think many would agree that, as a forward, the offensive numbers just don’t add up. Neely is borderline but because his career was cut short prematurely and his historical significance is noteworthy, I can understand his inclusion. Mullen and Anderson both make their cases based off good career numbers and standing on the backs of excellent Cup-Winning teams.

Consider that most of these Hall-of-Famers had the benefit of playing in the period of the most prolific offenses in the history of the NHL, whereas Recchi played a good portion of his career in the dead-puck era. His lifetime numbers would undoubtedly be significantly increased if he’d entered the League ten to fifteen years earlier.

Mark Recchi has been a leader on and off the ice for much of his career. (Icon SMI)

As it stands, Recchi entered the NHL in 1988, after parts of four seasons in the WHL (and two with his hometown, Kamloops Blazers, a franchise he now owns). Young Rex found almost immediate success, scoring 30 goals as a rookie and 40 and 100 as a second-year player with Pittsburgh where he won his first Stanley Cup in 1991. Between 1991 and 1994, the ‘Reckin Ball found the net an average of 44 times per season and was credited with an average of 110 points per year.

While he would never again reach either 40 goals or 100 points, Recchi remained a dangerous scorer and fan favorite. After a late-season trade in 1992, Mark was sent to the Flyers. In Philly, he became part of the “Crazy Eights” line with a young Eric Lindros and Brent Fedyk and enjoyed some productive seasons.

In 1995 he was again traded, this time to Montreal, where he would score 120 goals and 322 points in parts of five seasons before he returned (again, via trade) to Philly. There, he would have his final All-Star-caliber seasons before two return stints in Pittsburgh and several short stints in Carolina (where he would win his second Cup in 2006), Atlanta and Tampa Bay.

While Recchi’s numbers are indicative of stability and consistency, his career has been anything but. His 22-season career has seen him play for seven different franchises (including two stints with Philadelphia and three with Pittsburgh). In 2007, in what could be seen as the low point in his history, he was sent through waivers by former Penguins’ Coach Michel Therrien after some mediocre play to start the season and eventually claimed by Atlanta – where he silenced his critics with 40 points in 54 games.

Rex finished his career with the Bruins after a lopsided deadline deal. His numbers with the Bruins as a 40-something were never extravagant, but he was a steady contributor on and off the ice. Earning one of the B’s two alternate-captain “A’s”, Recchi showed exceptional leadership and commitment in helping to guide Boston to its first championship in almost 40 years, and his own third title.

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Recchi has been heralded throughout his career as a leader and a guy with excellent strength of character. With the Bruins, he has been credited with helping to develop and mold several young stars including Tyler Seguin, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. Earlier this season, rookie Brad Marchand was quoted, saying, “It’s great having him here. He’s such a leader. Every time he steps up, he always says the right thing at the right time. It’s great.” He’s been credited with aiding other youngsters including Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos, who said of Recchi earlier this year: “He’s a great mentor, someone to learn from; he’s been around the game so long and had great success.”

While the argument can be made that players with less-than-dominant career peaks do not deserve to enter the Hall-of-Fame’s illustrious company, under the current standards, Mark Recchi is unambiguously qualified.

*Forward Hall-of-Fame Points is a weighted score based on career goals, assists, points and Cup wins, single-season goal and point totals along with All-Star appearances and major awards. It’s not perfect, I’m not a statistician.