Numminen wants to return to Sabres after heart surgery

Updated: September 15, 2007, 1:37 AM ET
Associated Press

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- As Teppo Numminen prepares for open-heart surgery to repair a faulty valve next week, the Buffalo defenseman is determined to return to the ice.

"It's been quite an emotional week," Numminen said Friday, a day after the Sabres announced he will have surgery. "And my plan was to play for the Sabres this year, and that hasn't changed. If everything goes well, I will play."

Numminen said doctors have assured him that -- barring complications -- he will be able to live a normal life, including resuming his career, and could be back in the lineup as early as December.

The 39-year-old Numminen also said the least of his worries is a suspension without pay because of his health by the Sabres -- who say they're following NHL guidelines.

"Whatever," Numminen said. "I've got so much on my plate right now with other things. I don't want to get into that."

General manager Darcy Regier said the decision to suspend Numminen fell under the league's collective bargaining agreement. Regier stressed Numminen is still part of the team and that the Sabres will "assist and help in any way we can."

NHL Players' Association spokesman Jonathan Weatherdon said the union is reviewing the Sabres' decision.

Numminen is scheduled to have surgery Thursday at The Cleveland Clinic.

Re-signed by the Sabres to a one-year, $2.6 million contract in July, Numminen was eagerly getting ready to play his 19th NHL season when he was blind-sided by the doctors' recommendation to have surgery after a routine checkup in Cleveland last week.

The Finnish player has had a heart murmur since childhood and was diagnosed with a dilated aorta in March 2004, when he was playing for the Dallas Stars. Numminen missed five games because of the condition before he was cleared to play.

The condition also forced him to miss one game and part of another during a playoff series against Philadelphia in spring 2006.

Numminen said he's had two "procedures" to alleviate the problem, but noted this time it's different. He said doctors will work on his heart by opening his rib cage.

Numminen had been informed he would have the operation later in life, but the doctors elected to have it done now based on the latest studies involving the condition.

"When you talk about your heart, it's scary," Numminen said. "But there's positive things. I'm going to be in a good hospital. I'm going to be in top care. So I've been preparing myself to get ready for the surgery mentally."

Numminen has played 1,314 regular-season games, last season passing countryman Jari Kurri for most by a European-raised NHL player. He has 115 career goals and 505 assists for 620 points, and spent his first 15 seasons in the league with the Phoenix-Winnipeg franchise. He signed with the Sabres in 2005 and has played a key role in helping the team reach the Eastern Conference finals the past two seasons.

Numminen was the Sabres' alternate captain last season, and his uncertain status means the team will open this year short yet another leader. The President's Trophy-winning Sabres lost both co-captains to free agency July 1 when Chris Drury signed with the New York Rangers and Daniel Briere signed with Philadelphia.

"It's definitely disappointing news," forward Jason Pominville said after the Sabres held their first day of training camp. "He's definitely going to be missed. Somebody else is going to have to step up just like we have in the past."

Regier is open to Numminen's return.

"Our focus right now, first and foremost, is his health," Regier said. "All indications are, based on what I've been told by him and our medical staff, is that there's a lot of reason for optimism. It's a personal decision that he will make."

Coach Lindy Ruff also noted that defenseman Dmitri Kalinin, who practiced Thursday, had surgery to repair a sports hernia this summer.


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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