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Sabres defenceman Numminen rejoins team for evaluation after heart surgery

BUFFALO, N.Y. - Defenceman Teppo Numminen rejoined the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday for an evaluation to determine whether he can resume playing six months after open-heart surgery.

Numminen arrived at HSBC Arena with his equipment bag and sticks during the Sabres practice. "I'm back," said Numminen, who planned to practice later in the day.

Coach Lindy Ruff said the training staff is evaluating Numminen's condition, but it was too early to determine whether he'll be cleared to play before the end of the regular season.

The Sabres, who host Tampa Bay on Wednesday, have nine games left over the final three weeks of the season. Coming off two straight wins, Buffalo is within a point of Philadelphia, which holds the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Numminen had surgery in September to repair a faulty valve, which was discovered during a routine checkup ahead of his 19th NHL season and third with Buffalo.

Numminen rejoined the team in January, but was not cleared for contact. He began skating with the Sabres in the hope he could play in February. Doctors told the 39-year-old he would have to rest until mid-March to allow his sternum to fully heal.

The Finnish player has had a heart murmur since childhood. He was diagnosed with a dilated aorta in March 2004, when he was playing for the Dallas Stars, and missed five games 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 2006.

In January, Numminen had ankle surgery to remove a bursa sac that bothered him the last few seasons.

Numminen re-signed with the Sabres to a US$2.6-million, one-year contract in July. He's spent the season on the team's suspended list, so his contract doesn't count against the salary cap.

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