By Mike Harrington
Jochen Hecht is the senior Sabre, having first joined the team in a 2002 trade with Edmonton, and ranks 20th in franchise history in games played (566), goals (133) and points (331). But when he left First Niagara Center on locker cleanout day in April, his time in Buffalo looked over and his NHL career seemed on its last leg as well in the wake of two seasons dogged by concussions.
But Hecht insisted that day he was healthy and wanted to come back. He proved it with some good games in the DEL, the top league in Germany, where one of his linemates was Jason Pominville.
So there was the 35-year-old Hecht on Sunday, taking the ice midway through practice at First Niagara Center to a stick-tap salute from his teammates. Hecht took his physical and signed a one-year deal with a $1 million cap hit, likely cementing a place on the roster as one of the team's four centers.
"There was a time during the summer where I didn't think it was going to happen but everything worked out," Hecht said. "The situations are imagined, the best one came out by returning back to Buffalo."
Hecht said the Sabres haven't discussed a role with him yet but it's pretty obvious he's here to play his usual solid game up the middle and to kill penalties. And at a much more cap-friendly price (he was making $3.525 million), it's not a bad deal to bring a guy in who knows your system with just a week to get ready for the opener.
Hecht played six games for Adler Mannheim, his hometown team, and had five goals and 13 points. Even he was surprised at how fast his timing returned.
"I didn't play for 10-11 months," he said. "To come back to a pretty good league that had already played 30 with guys in midseason form, I stepped in there and I didn't think it would go that well. It came back right away. The timing and positioning out there came back."
Click below to hear my chat with Hecht after practice today.