It appears one of the “same old Sabres” is on his way back to Buffalo. Reports from Germany say what Darcy Regier intimated during a press conference on Tuesday: That Jochen Hecht will sign with the Sabres.
Welcome him back, folks.
The Sabres are short on forwards. Nathan Gerbe and Cody McCormick are not ready to begin the season and, even if Mikhal Grigorenko sticks with the team, they still have zero depth. If there were another injury, Buffalo would have to reach to Rochester to get Kevin Porter.
That's really the only option. Lose two players and they are in big trouble.
Signing Hecht isn't about Regier and coach Lindy Ruff going with old faithful, it's about them finding the best option. And sometimes, the best option is the guy you know.
Consider the players who are still free agents: Brian Rolston, Daymond Langkow, Jason Arnott, Mike Knuble, Marco Sturm, Jason Blake, Jay Pandalfo, Brendan Morrison and on and on.
All old and none better than Hecht. If you are thinking trade, fine. But what team in their right mind is giving up a solid center with six days to go before camp? (“In their right mind” obviously excludes Columbus). The trade market will undoubtedly loosen up as the season progresses, but signing Hecht now doesn't mean the Sabres can't make a deal later. It's a stop gap – and a pretty good one at that.
Hecht is a versatile, puck possession forward. He can play on both ends of the ice as a center or winger, he can penalty kill and even fill play power play minutes if need be. His basic statistics (goals, assists) as slightly deceiving.
Last season he only played 22 games, so going back to the two previous seasons, he scored 71 points. Thing is, 66 of those were at 5-on-5. In 2010-11, Hecht had nearly the same even-strength scoring rate (points per 60 minutes) as Tyler Ennis. Two years ago, he was close to Derek Roy in terms of 5-on-5 scoring per 60. So even if he doesn't score 60 to 70 points over 82 games, Hecht, when healthy, was still a solid producer compared to his teammates.
In terms of puck possession, there have been few better on the Sabres over the past several years. Actually, only one better. Jason Pominville. In '09-'10 and in '10-'11, Hecht ranked second on the Sabres in Corsi (possession) relative to Competition, only behind the Sabres' captain. The stat compares a player's possession vs. the opponents he was on the ice against.
Why is this important? With Hecht mostly out of the lineup last year, the Sabres ranked 23th in the NHL in possession. The Cup-winning Kings ranked fourth. The Blues, Penguins, Red Wings and Blackhawks – all playoff teams – rounded out the top five.
So even if he's playing a third or even fourth line role, Hecht's presence will help improve a major weak point for the Sabres.
In his last two full seasons, Hecht has also been one of the Sabres' top penalty killers. The Sabres were 19th in the NHL in penalty killing last year.
Now, is it reasonable to be concerned about his concussion history? Yes. But in terms of a depth forward, you won't come across too many who are better at this stage in the game.