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Inside the NHL: Reunited and it feels so good for several veterans

Don't get the feeling NHL general managers were sitting around playing that 70s elevator music about how it feels so good to be reunited. It just seems that way.

One of the big stories of the last couple days, especially once free agency opened on Saturday, is the return of old familiar faces in several places. Some were matters of convenience, like the Sabres taking the salary of former captain Jason Pominville back from Minnesota so they could acquire Marco Scandella.

"Blast from the Past" roared the headline in Sunday's Chicago Sun-Times extolling the Blackhawks' one-year deal with Patrick Sharp. Scott Hartnell signed a similar contract in Nashville after getting bought out in Columbus and Mike Cammalleri is going back to Los Angeles. All for one year and $1 million.

Justin Williams got two years and $9 million to go back to Carolina, where he first started his Game Seven magic for the Canes' 2006 Stanley Cup champions. Remember that clinching goal in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference finals against the Sabres?

Pominville and Chicago's Brandon Saad were reacquired in trades, with the Hawks feeling Saad's two-way game translates better in the postseason than the offense-first game of Artemi Panarin. Wonder how Panarin will mesh with Columbus coach John Tortorella.

As for Pominville, he's not a 30-goal man anymore but he's still effective at 5-on-5 play and he will certainly help the Sabres' second power play unit. Even though Buffalo finished first in the NHL last season, most of the work was done by the top quintet. A little more balance could be in order.

Pominville is expensive at $5.6 million, especially since you're now likely looking at a third-line player. But the Sabres' bottom six has been terrible and we've learned in the playoffs you need four lines. If that means spending some money for two years, so be it.

Projecting the Sabres' roster as competition for spots heats up

Who's left?

Joe Thornton decided to stay in San Jose on a one-year deal, but Patrick Marleau took his stick to Toronto for three years and $6.25 million per year. That's a big-win now move by the Leafs.

The Canadiens are getting nowhere in their quest to retain Alexander Radulov and old friend Thomas Vanek is still out there.

Vanek might have made a nice one-year guy for the Sabres instead of Benoit Pouliot but he certainly would have cost more than Pouliot's $1.15 million. (Imagine how goofy you would have thought of someone who said last week the Sabres would have both Pominville and Vanek back).

Older players like Brian Gionta and Jaromir Jagr may have to wait several weeks to see where, if anywhere, they will land next season. Sabres GM Jason Botterill said Saturday he's still talking to Gionta, although it's hard to see where the outgoing captain would fit.

All signs point to new captain for Sabres, exit for Gionta

Jagr, meanwhile, tweeted his lack of a deal in a way only the 45-year-old can do, pointing out how he has gotten no calls from any GMs. In another tweet, Jagr pointed out how every team called him when he was a free agent in 1994.

Hard to believe the Panthers aren't still interested. Jagr had 27 goals and 66 points for the Panthers in 2015-16 and dropped to 16 goals and 46 points last year. But that's still more than serviceable on a team that lost a lot of goals in the expansion draft.

Miller gets two years, Cup chance

Ryan Miller finally got his wish to play in Southern California and even got a two-year contract from the Ducks to back up John Gibson. Pretty good gig.

“I’ve just been exploring what people are open to and the Ducks were open to that,” Miller told the Orange County Register. “I do feel like I have a lot of hockey left in me. I’ve been able to take care of myself and feel like I can still play at a fairly high level. Any chance you have to play in the NHL is really a blessing. I wanted to maximize my time and maximize my chances at chasing down a Stanley Cup with a team.”

Miller, who turns 37 on July 17, will be a good mentor for the 23-year-old Gibson. And he'll be a good option for the Ducks when Gibson is struggling or needs a break. And he gives Anaheim a better option than Jonathan Bernier if Gibson goes down, like he did to miss Game Six of the Western Conference final in Nashville.

“I’ve been playing for a long time,” Miller said. “I’d like to think I have some things that can help him out. We’re going to be teammates in this. As you can see with the Penguins and it continues to pop up, you need guys to come in and step up when they’re needed."

Among Miller's thank-you to Vancouver fans was a tweet video showing his 2-year-old son, Bodhi, singing "O, Canada".

Kunitz wanted chance for fifth Cup

You wondered heading into free agency if the Botterill connection could have made an impact in free agency with Chris Kunitz, the active leader in Stanley Cups with four. Apparently not. The Sabres are still too far away from contention, judging what Kunitz told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Sunday after he signed a one-year, $2 million deal with Tampa Bay.

“One of the most important things for us was to find a team that had a chance to win -- that had all the key ingredients -- that also has that quality of life for you and your family," he said. "Once Tampa reached out to us, I think it fit the bill for all of those things that we wanted if we were going to move on somewhere else. It looks like a Stanley Cup is on that team’s mind.”

The Penguins didn't have much interest in retaining the 37-year-old and Kunitz first broke the news to Penguins captain Sidney Crosby.

“He’s done so much for our career, and we’ve become such great friends outside of hockey," Kunitz said. "It’s tough. Obviously you’re not saying goodbye like you’ll never see each other again. It’s definitely tough to try to put into words how much playing with him and meeting a guy of his stature and personality, how much he’s done for my family and our career here.”

Price was right for Habs

Carey Price's eight-year, $84-million extension signed Sunday is the biggest ever for a goaltender. TSN reported that $70 million will be paid in bonuses, which is buyout and lockout protection for Price.

Price's $10.5 million cap hit ties the Chicago duo of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, who are currently tops in the NHL. In 2018-19, it's expected they will all be blown away by the first season of Connor McDavid's eight-year extension, which could have a cap hit in the neighborhood of $13.25 million.

"There's a saying we use: Goalies are not important until you don't have one," Habs GM Marc Bergevin told reporters Sunday. "It's a position that's hard to find and we have in our opinion one of the best in the business, if not the best. So we're going to keep him and make sure he's here for the rest of his career."

Around the boards

---With Price off the market, the biggest extension to watch for is what the Islanders can do with John Tavares. The franchise center seems to be waiting to see how the team continues to develop and what might transpire regarding its arena. With the Barclays Center on the outs, will a new Islanders arena near Belmont Park be part of the lure for Tavares to stay put?

---More questions: Do the Winnipeg Jets have scouts who watched any Sabres games last year? Three years for Dmitry Kulikov? At $4.33 million per year? They're making the same mistake Tim Murray did, expecting the same player they saw for Florida in the 2016 playoffs. But at least Murray only made a one-year mistake. Kulikov had a tough preseason back injury last season but wasn't a whole lot better in the second half than in his dreadful first half.

---Colorado seems to have waited too long to unload Matt Duchene. With Nick Bonino signed in Nashville, the Preds seem to be out and only Columbus is reportedly a serious player. How much return can the Avs expect to generate without competition for Duchene?

---"If you want loyalty, buy a dog" -- Bergevin, when asked Sunday if he expected loyalty from Radulov after taking a chance on him last year. The Habs aren't close to making a deal to retain the free agent winger, who is coming off an 18-goal, 54-point season in his return to the NHL after four years in the KHL.

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