Sabres defenseman Numminen begins comeback

3/21/2008 - NHL Teppo Numminen Buffalo Sabres + more

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Sabres defenseman Teppo Numminen skated for nearly two hours on Friday, joining his team for the first time since January in his comeback from open-heart surgery.

Numminen skated with injured defensemen Jaroslav Spacek (ribs) and Dmitri Kalinin (right shoulder) for an hour before participating in the Sabres' workout before their game Friday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

"It's been a long journey," Numminen said. "It's great to be healthy and great to be back here."

Numminen had surgery in September to repair a faulty heart valve that was discovered during a routine checkup ahead of his 19th NHL season. He practiced with the team in early January, but was told by team doctors then that he wouldn't be allowed to play until mid-March at the earliest to allow his sternum to heal.

Despite being cleared to practice, Numminen is on Buffalo's suspended list, and he's yet to be paid under the one-year, $2.6 million contract he signed in July. He filed a grievance with the NHL Players' Association against the Sabres in November after he failed a preseason physical because he required surgery.

He didn't want to discuss any details of the grievance Friday, but noted the condition forced him to miss most of this season and should be deemed hockey-related.

"That's our opinion of it. That's how I'm looking at it and the [players' association] is looking at it," Numminen said. "It's going to be settled in the future."

Sabres general manager Darcy Regier said Wednesday until Numminen is cleared to play in an NHL game, he'll be on the suspended list and won't be paid.

"It was a big decision, and I don't agree with it," Numminen said. "If you're cleared to play, you're cleared to play."

Still, Numminen didn't commit to playing in any of Buffalo's remaining eight games, saying he would know more about his physical conditioning in about a week. He added there are no medical issues with his heart or chest.

"It's like any other injury. You have to go day-by-day and be smart about it," he said. "You have to push yourself to get there, but you don't want to do too much, too early."