Michael Peca can't make the Buffalo Sabres want him.
Still, the popular former captain longs to return.
"I want it to happen," Peca said Thursday from his East Amherst home. "I do have a couple of options right now that are pretty exciting, but Buffalo has always been at the top of my list."
Peca earned the nickname Captain Crunch for the fearlessly physical style he displayed during his five seasons in Buffalo, a tenure that ended with a wicked contract dispute.
Now he's a 33-year-old unrestricted free agent coming back from a serious leg injury that limited him to 35 games last season for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The two-time Selke Trophy winner insisted his injury has fully healed, the animosity between him and the Sabres front office evaporated once the Rigas family lost control of the team and his presence could help the Sabres fill the void left by co-captains Daniel Briere and Chris Drury.
"I feel like I can help the team in a lot of ways and be a positive influence on the ice and in the community," Peca said. "With Chris Drury gone, I see myself helping in key defensive situations, key faceoff situations and with leadership.
"I wouldn't feel I need to be [the captain]. My role and expectations wouldn't change regardless of that. There's a lot of good, young, developing leadership on that team."
Peca said he has some attractive options. The New York Rangers are believed to be in pursuit. Carolina Hurricanes coach Peter Laviolette, who had Peca with the New York Islanders, called frequently before the Hurricanes swung a deal with the Rangers to bring back Matt Cullen.
"I'm still hoping Buffalo will be in the mix," Peca said. "I hope that the organization sees me as a guy that can come in and help. I've been telling people every day out in the community that Buffalo is my first choice if it's an option."
The feeling apparently is not mutual. Peca's agent, Don Meehan, recently contacted Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier and was turned away.
"I had a general discussion with Darcy as I would with all managers at this time of year," Meehan said, "and asked if there was anything he felt the Sabres needed that might relate to the players I had not signed, and his response was 'No, we're going to go with our people in our organization.'
"So on the basis of that answer, that indicates there isn't any interest in Michael or any other free agent."
Regier, while stating he hasn't spoken to Meehan about Peca specifically, wouldn't dismiss the possibility of a reunion but suggested it would be unlikely given Buffalo's roster composition and its in-house timetable.
Peca said he planned to make a decision in about a week, while Regier said "for now our focus is on our own guys we need to sign."
The Sabres on Thursday signed winger Daniel Paille to a one-year, $585,200 contract, leaving center Derek Roy and defenseman Nathan Paetsch the only unsigned Sabres. Roy and Paetsch both filed for arbitration. Each will have a salary assigned to him if the Sabres can't hammer out a deal before the hearing.
The Sabres already have 13 forwards, counting Roy. All but winger Drew Stafford, a near certainty to make the team out of training camp, would have to clear waivers before being sent to the minors.
"We'll certainly look for ways to improve the team, but any changes we make to the team likely will involve the movement of players," Regier said.
Peca's injury could improve his appeal in at least one regard: His contract would be a low-stakes gamble.
Because he has played more than 400 career games and was on injured reserve last season for more than 100 days, he's eligible for a bonus-driven contract under Article 50.2 of the NHL's collective bargaining agreement. Bonuses don't count toward the salary cap.
"In these types of situations, the CBA does what it is supposed to do," Regier said. "It gives the player an opportunity to prove what he can do and not put all the risk on the club."
Peca has been working out with power-skating instructor Dawn Braid twice a week in the Amherst Pepsi Center.
"The way I feel mentally and physically, I feel like I'm about to play my best years," Peca said. "[The knee] is not a concern for me at all. On the ice it's 100 percent. In certain elements of my game I'm feeling faster and more confident -- and not just in my legs."