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At the time, Kotalik was considering a chance to return to Europe so he could play closer to his native Czech Republic.

“It seemed like the Flames had a plan to buy me out so I would become a free agent,” Kotalik said. “I would have considered the options, and one of the options for sure would be maybe coming back home for good.”

Instead, Kotalik has a chance to reconnect with the Buffalo franchise for which he scored all but 22 of his 136 career goals and also established himself as a force in shootouts, where he has scored on 22 of 44 attempts with 11 game-winners.

There is no guarantee he will make the roster at the end of training camp. Buffalo is over the salary cap and could hide his $3 million salary by sending him to the minors.

“I hope that I will be on this team and I will do good things for this team,” Kotalik said. “I have a feeling that this is a really good hockey team. With the young exceptional talent coming up, it’s really exciting.”

And he prepares for the season with a renewed perspective. He lost three good friends _ Jan Marek, Josef Vasicek and Karel Rachunek _ who were members of the Kontinental Hockey League’s Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, who died in a plane crash in Russia earlier this month.

“It’s been tough. It still is. It’s always in the back of your mind,” Kotalik said. “It gives you a different look, and different life perspective. I want to have fun and enjoy things. I’m just happy being around the people I like and I know. And everything else will take care of itself.”