Sunday

Bill Hajt

Bill Hajt was a classic defenseman, a complete throwback to the old days of hockey when a defenseman lived up to his name and focused primarily on defense, rarely getting opportunities to score goals.

Hajt was a huge defenseman, especially during the 1970s. Standing 6'3" and 215lbs, Hajt wasn't known for utilizing his size in an overly-physical manner. Instead he would routinely and usually flawlessly steer people wide and out of scoring position. He would then tie them up and kick the puck to a teammate who would clear the zone. They key to his game was perfect positioning and about making the safest play possible in order to clear the zone.

Because of his less-than-flamboyant style of play and complete lack of an offensive game, Bill was virtually unnoticed most of his 13 year NHL career, spent entirely with the Sabres. The media and fans may not have appreciated Bill's play, at least not as much as his coaches and teammates did. In fact during the Buffalo Sabres "glory years" in the late 1970s as a true Cup contender, Punch Imlach called Hajt his steadiest defenseman.

The Sabres took a liking to Hajt's game earlier than anyone else. The Sabres used their 3rd pick (33rd overall) in the 1971 NHL Entry Draft to select the big defenseman, who starred with the Saskatoon Blades for four years. The Sabres were toying with the idea of selecting Hajt in the first round, but opted to select French Connection member Richard Martin instead. With their second pick, they opted for Craig Ramsay, but then quickly grabbed Bill in round three.

"People talk about me being lucky with my drafts - first picks like Perreault, Martin and Schoenfeld - but they never mention Hajt," lectured Punch Imlach once. "That was really fortunate. Everybody knew those others were good. But apparently not everybody realized Hajt was good. I think he's going to be an all star!"

Bill's career didn't start out on such a positive note however. Hajt and the Sabres couldn't agree on a contract that summer following his drafting, which left Hajt without a team to play for. His junior eligibility was up, so he ended up sitting out the whole year.

Hajt and the Sabres were able to sign a contract for the following season, but due to the layoff the Sabres felt it was necessary for the defenseman to apprentice in the minor leagues. He played two strong seasons in the AHL with the Cincinnati Swords before making it to the NHL full time in 1974-75.

Bill proved to be an important addition to the Sabres blue line in 1974-75. His presence really helped to solidify the Sabres backline which in turn solidified their status as a top team in the league. That was proved in the playoffs as the Sabres made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. The all-expansion battle between the Flyers and Sabres was a classic, though the Flyers won.

Bill scored 3 goals and 29 points in his rookie season, representing his career high for points. Over the next 13 years Hajt would average about 3 goals and 19 points. He also only averaged about 34 penalty minutes a season! In total Bill played 854 games - scoring 42 goals and 202 assists and 244 points and 433 penalty minutes - all with the Sabres.

4 comments:

asfhgwt 12:24 PM  

He always had a great plus-minus rating, and I believe he didn't skate all that much with the French Connection line. Vastly underrated.

Fran B 12:36 PM  

BILL HAJT is still my FAVORITE ALL TIME Buffalo Sabre!! NEVER OUT OF POSITION!!

Fran B 10:47 AM  

Bill allowed teammates to be much better while making opponents look foolish with his SOLID Defensive play.

Eco-Buddhist 9:39 AM  

Watched Hajt at the Aud for several years when I lived in Buffalo. One of the best defensemen ever at getting forwards tied up. Clean player, definitely not flashy, rarely took a bad penalty. Best quote I remember about him: "Harder to get around than an 18-wheeler on a mountain road."

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