In the aftermath of the Carolina Hurricanes' Stanley Cup championship in 2006, Mark Recchi was among the players the team couldn't afford to retain. He arrived at the trade deadline, helped replace the injured Erik Cole in the lineup and left with his name on the Cup for the second time. Not bad for four months' work.
The finances just didn't work out that summer, so that was that, but then again, at 38, how many useful years did Recchi really have left in him?
Almost five years later, the answer is five - at least.
"There's going to be a time and point," Recchi said earlier this week, "but I'm not there yet."
Now 42 and the oldest player in the league, Recchi hasn't slowed a bit. Three years after leaving the Hurricanes, he was going up against them in the Eastern Conference semifinals with the Boston Bruins. This season, he's sixth on the Bruins in scoring with 21 points in 35 games.
As a new year begins, as the calendar changes, one thing hasn't: Recchi is in the NHL for the 22nd straight season.
"I don't know if it's good or bad," Recchi said. "It's all how you feel, and I still feel good."
The Bruins' leading scorer, Milan Lucic, was born five months before Recchi made his NHL debut in November 1988. Two other teammates had not been born yet: They've never known an NHL without Recchi. Many of Recchi's former Pittsburgh Penguins teammates played in the alumni game Friday before today's Winter Classic.
How many more years? Only Recchi will know, and he doesn't know yet. He does know that Chris Chelios was playing in the NHL at 48 last year, and Recchi doesn't see that happening for him.
"I'm not going after 'Chelly,' let's put it that way," Recchi said.
Along the long and winding way, Recchi has reached ninth on the NHL all-time games played list with 1,606 - 20 of those, a mere 1.2 percent, came in a Carolina uniform, along with 25 playoff games - and 13th in scoring with 1,504 points. Recchi is only six games away from catching Bruins legend Ray Bourque in games played, one of many milestones his younger teammates won't let him forget.
"The guys are great," Recchi said. "They know my stats better than I do. ... They really respect the fact I've played a long time and really take pride in it and enjoy it with me. That's the fun part for me, seeing how excited they are for me."
His time with the Hurricanes was a mere blip in Recchi's hockey transcript, but both Recchi and Hurricanes fans remember it with intense fondness. And why not? Everyone got what they wanted. In the midst of a long, long career, that short stint was awfully sweet.
"It was amazing what happened there," Recchi said. "For how close I got with the guys in a short period of time, just 20 regular-season games and then the playoffs, it was a special group of guys. You obviously have to be to win the Stanley Cup, but the way they embraced Dougie [Weight] and me, both late additions, they really welcomed us. It was a great feeling to get into that dressing room and be a part of it, a piece of that puzzle."
He's still playing. Times change, seasons change, the game of hockey changes and the years change. Mark Recchi apparently does not.