The Regression of Matt Hackett
April 3rd, 2013 was the date. The then Sabres general manager Darcy Regier made a blockbuster deal that sent Jason Pominville to the Minnesota Wild for a 2013 first-round draft pick (Nikita Zadorov) , a 2014 second-round draft pick, forward Johan Larsson, and goaltender Matt Hackett. The most “NHL ready” of the prospects at the time was considered to be Matt Hackett, yet he has not played an NHL game for the Buffalo Sabres and has struggled to regain his once top form since joining the Rochester Americans. So what exactly happened to Matt Hackett?
In three seasons with the Houston Aeros (Wild affiliate), Matt Hackett appeared in 132 games posting a 62-53-13 record. In his first season, Hackett recorded a 2.37 goals allowed average and a .916 save percentage. In his second season he posted a 2.38 goals against average and a .917 save percentage while also being named to the AHL All Star team. In his third and final season with the Houston Aeros, Hackett deviated slightly from his goal tending consistency by posting a 2.66 goals against average and a .907 save percentage.
Throughout the aforementioned three seasons, Hackett appeared in 13 games for the Wild. Twelve of those games came during the 2011-2012 season, where Hackett posted a 3-6-0 record in games started, as well as a 2.38 goals against average and a .921 save percentage. The 13th game came in his last season with the Wild organization in 2012-2013. In that game, Hackett posted a 5.08 goals against average and a .848 save percentage (5 goals on 33 shots). While these numbers are by no means spectacular, Matt Hackett was solidifying his number one role in the American Hockey League, while slowly earning his chances in the National Hockey League.
At the time of the trade, Hackett was moving quickly toward his projected role as a starting goaltender in the NHL on a Minnesota team that was struggling to find consistency in net. When Hackett joined the Sabres organization, he was immediately relegated to the Rochester Americans of the AHL. Despite being a top-tier starting goaltender on his previous AHL team, Hackett found himself in the backup position behind entrenched starter David Leggio, playing only three games after joining the Amerks following the trade deadline.
With David Leggio leaving the organization in free agency prior to the start of this season, Matt Hackett assumed the starting role for the Rochester Americans. In 25 games so far, Matt Hackett has posted a 10-12-2 record while maintaining a 2.90 goals against average and a .904 save percentage. These numbers are significantly lower than previous years in the AHL in which he averaged a 2.47 goals against average and a .913 save percentage.
There are a number of things that can cause regression in a player’s development. In Matt Hackett’s case it is safe to assume that the circumstances in which he arrived in Rochester played a major role. Being cast as the backup goaltender not only limited his playing time but could have dashed the confidence he gained in being the number one goaltender in Houston for the previous three years. When Hackett was in Minnesota, he was not far off from a legitimate shot at playing in the NHL. On the other hand the Buffalo Sabres are very comfortable with their goaltenders in Ryan Miller and Jhonas Enroth, as well as very intrigued with the recent play of fellow Amerk Nathan Lieuwen. Regardless of any underlying factors, the harsh truth is that Matt Hackett is not performing his best. It is clear that Hackett will need to improve if he wants to continue to hold the number one spot for the Americans or have a shot with the Buffalo Sabres.