Numminen will need two more months to recover after open-heart surgery

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Buffalo Sabres defenseman Teppo Numminen's season is likely over after finding out he'll need an additional two months to recover after having open-heart surgery to repair a faulty valve.

Stressing that his heart is fine, Numminen told The Associated Press on Wednesday that doctors said he'll require more time off to allow his sternum to heal. Numminen learned the news Tuesday after Sabres doctors consulted with doctors at the Cleveland Clinic, where the player had the operation in September.

The news came as a shock to Numminen, who spent the past month practicing with the team and was preparing to return to action within one or two weeks.

"It's always disappointing. Things were going really well, I was getting into good shape and your mind to a point where you'll be playing again," Numminen said. "Now you're just kind of floating and floating and wondering what happened and where to go from here."

The new prognosis came after doctors studied Numminen's latest test results after he went to Cleveland for a checkup last week. Doctors ruled Numminen should be out for six months after surgery before being cleared for contact.

That timetable means Numminen wouldn't be able to return until mid-March at the earliest. Barring the playoffs, the Sabres close the regular season at Boston on April 5.

Acknowledging that he might not play this season, the 39-year-old said he is still open to playing next year.

"If things keep going the same way they've been, why not?" Numminen said. "The last three to four weeks, I've been getting so much confidence in my ability and my heart. I was surprised how good I've been feeling."

As for any thoughts of retiring, Numminen said: "I was planning to play because I felt so good. I haven't changed that thought, yet. Things might change, but I don't know. I guess if you're born a hockey player, it's tough to give up."

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

The Sabres, in Ottawa preparing for a game against the Senators on Thursday, weren't immediately available for comment.

Sabres general manager Darcy Regier told The Buffalo News that doctors weren't confident Numminen's chest had fully healed, according to a story published on the newspaper's Web site Wednesday afternoon.

"He obviously wants to play, so there's disappointment in there," Regier said. "We'll sit down with him when we get back."

The operation was required after a problem was discovered during a routine checkup before Numminen was preparing to report to training camp for his 19th NHL season, third with Buffalo.

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 the Philadelphia Flyers in 2006.

Numminen was initially disappointed but has since reached a better perspective now that he's returned home to Buffalo.

"I was down when I heard it, but now, looking back a day, you're still just so happy and excited that everything is fine," Numminen said. "You're healthy. I've got this far. It's amazing."