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This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Peca out of pickle

   June 24, 2001 -- Michael Peca probably should have been a Sabre forever. He was one of the most popular players on the team, married a woman from the area, and was one of the best defensive centers in the league. You usually try to find ways to keep guys like that around, and not get rid of them.

   But, Peca and the Sabres hit a contract wall in 2000. Peca reportedly was waiting for a salary of $3 million, and the Sabres thought that was a little high. So Peca stayed home, and a stalemate developed. Peca had missed a month of a season earlier in his career, but this was worse -- much worse.

   The 2000-01 season came and went, and Peca missed all of it. Considering how close Buffalo came to make the conference finals that year, it was easy to play the "what if? game.

   Finally, 460 days after playing his last NHL game, Peca found a new team. He was swapped to the New York Islanders on his day for center Tim Connolly and winger Taylor Pyatt. It came after the NHL draft in Florida.

   "Obviously, the temporary feeling is I'm relieved it's over," Peca said. "Professionally, I look forward to moving on with my career. Personally, my family is looking forward to moving on with our lives."

   Peca did some good work with the Islanders, scoring a career-high 60 points and winning another Selke Trophy (best defensive forward) in 2001-02. He then bounced to Edmonton, Toronto and Columbus, retiring in 2009. Still, Buffalo's fans will always think of him with a mixture of appreciation and sadness.

--- Budd Bailey

   This Birthday in Buffalo Sports History: Antoine Winfield, Bills' cornerback - 1977; Uwe Krupp, Sabres defenseman - 1965.

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