Buffalo Sabres re-sign defenceman Numminen after heart surgery

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BUFFALO, N.Y. - The Buffalo Sabres are convinced Teppo Numminen has the heart and ability to play at least one more season after re-signing the veteran defenceman to a one-year, US$1.1-million contract Friday.

The signing came after the Sabres were assured by both their medical staff and doctors at the Cleveland Clinic that Numminen will be capable of playing at 100 per cent after missing all but Buffalo's final game last season following heart surgery to repair a faulty valve.

"The number one reason was because we believe he can help our hockey club, and we felt strongly that we missed him last year," general manager Darcy Regier said. "We missed his leadership and his play and his coolness."

As part of the deal, the Sabres reached an undisclosed monetary settlement with Numminen to resolve a grievance the player filed against the team in November. The grievance was over the Sabres suspending him without pay in September after doctors ruled he required surgery following a routine checkup at the Cleveland Clinic.

Numminen claimed the Sabres owed him a portion of his $2.6-million salary once he was allowed to practice with the team on a non-contact basis in November. The Sabres didn't activate Numminen until the final week of the season, and he played 16 minutes in Buffalo's regular-season finale against the Boston Bruins.

The grievance didn't deter Numminen from expressing hope that he would return to Buffalo for a fourth season, something he told management in April.

"He wanted to come back and we wanted him back," Regier said. "And you obviously don't want to enter into a new contract without resolving the past, so we did that."

Regier said he and coach Lindy Ruff spoke with Numminen by conference call and the player said he is working out on a regular basis. Numminen was with his family in his native Finland and unavailable for comment.

Numminen is a 19-year NHL veteran who turned 40 last month. He previously served as the Sabres' alternate captain and has been a highly respected figure in the team's locker-room, in part for his unflappable nature and efficient style that rarely leaves him out of position.

Numminen broke into the NHL in 1988 with Winnipeg and remained with the franchise through 2002-03, after it moved to Phoenix. He also played the 2003-04 season with Dallas.

He has 115 goals and 505 assists for 620 points in 1,315 career games, the most by a European-trained NHL player. In three seasons with the Sabres, he has four goals and 65 assists in 155 regular-season games.

Numminen provides the Sabres eight defencemen with NHL experience, including Craig Rivet, who was acquired by Buffalo in a trade with San Jose last month.

Regier is impressed by Numminen's desire to continue playing, and credited it to his love for the game.

Then again, Regier noted, Numminen has a season owed to him after last year.

"He's actually not 40. He's 39 now," Regier said with a smile. "We're looking forward to that, getting that year back."



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