Sabres D Numminen can play, six months after open-heart surgery

TORONTO – Sabres defenceman Teppo Numminen was activated off the injury-suspended list and cleared to play Tuesday, more than six months after the 39-year-old had open-heart surgery.

General manager Darcy Regier announced the move prior to the team’s 4-3 shootout win at Toronto. Numminen was not in the lineup against the Maple Leafs, but has not been ruled out from playing in either of the Sabres’ final two regular-season games.

“Whatever the decision is, that’s fine with me,” he said . “It’s team first.”

Buffalo is on the brink of elimination, sitting in 10th place in the Eastern Conference standings, and closes its season with games at Montreal on Thursday and at Boston on Saturday.

Numminen, an 18-year NHL veteran, has not played this season after having surgery in September to repair a faulty heart valve. The problem was discovered during a routine checkup a week before he reported for the start of the team’s training camp.

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The Sabres immediately placed Numminen on their suspended list, meaning he could not collect any portion of the US$2.6-million, one-year contract he signed in July.

In November, Numminen filed a grievance with the NHL Players’ Association, arguing that his heart condition was hockey-related. The grievance will be settled between the union and NHL.

After rejoining the team for light practices in early December, Numminen’s hopes to resume playing ended in January when doctors ruled he’d be out until mid-March to allow his sternum additional time to heal.

Numminen rejoined the team again two weeks ago, and has been practising regularly.

He 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 Numminen to miss one game and part of another during a playoff series against Philadelphia in 2006.