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Teppo happily returns Sabres will rely on his leadership

Three days after losing their co-captains to free agency, the Buffalo Sabres brought back a savvy veteran with credentials to wear the "C" next season.

The Sabres re-signed defenseman Teppo Numminen for what will be his 18th NHL campaign. The four-time Olympian agreed to return for the same contract he played under last season, one year for $2.6 million.

"It was an easy decision to come back," Numminen said Wednesday from his home in Finland. "I was hoping to come back. It was a situation where I told them I wanted to come back and I'm glad it worked out well. Being there two years, I really enjoyed myself and my family really felt comfortable in Buffalo. That was my first choice."

Numminen said he wasn't discouraged by the departures of top centers Daniel Briere and Chris Drury on Sunday.

"There are going to be a lot of different challenges because of the way the team's going to look, but I feel good about it," Numminen said. "I still believe we have a good, young team with a good future. We have the goaltending and we have the defense and we still have lots of good, talented forwards.

"Things are going to be different. We know that already. It's still early to say what the team is going to look like when the season starts, but two years ago we started without expectations and that worked out well. We just have to play defense first like we have been and see where we can take it.

"I think they're going to be good times."

Numminen's signing means all of Buffalo's top-six defensemen from last season's Presidents' Trophy team are under contract. Seventh defenseman Nathan Paetsch is an unsigned restricted free agent, but his contract is considered a formality.

"At least we don't have a change in that aspect, which is nice," Sabres defenseman Brian Campbell said of the blue-line continuity. "I liked what our defense was last year and we're bringing back seven quality guys to do the job. It helps when you get to play with the same guys and get to know the guys better year after year."

Numminen, a former Phoenix Coyotes captain, was Buffalo's alternate captain last season. His leadership qualities should make his presence all the more important given the absences of Briere and Drury.

"I know a lot of guys go up to Teppo and ask him what he thinks in different situations," Campbell said. "He's such an easy-going guy you can approach. It's nice we have one of our three captains coming back. It's going to be a little different in the room, but it's nice to have him back."

Numminen had two goals, 27 assists and a plus-17 rating while setting the NHL record for career games played by a European-trained player. His average ice time of 20:47 finished third to Campbell and defenseman Henrik Tallinder among all Sabres.

In 16 playoff games he added four assists and had a team-high plus-10 rating, tying him with a pair of Anaheim Ducks, star defenseman Chris Pronger and Selke Trophy finalist Samuel Pahlsson, for the NHL's postseason lead.

Numminen has been on retirement watch for about five seasons now. He turned 39 on Tuesday but said he anticipated contributing just as much next season.

"For myself, it's going to be the same kind of situation I've been in last two years and the same expectations," Numminen said. "I feel comfortable with that."


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