BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) – Sabres general manager Darcy Regier finally found a free agent defenseman in Buffalo’s price range – Teppo Numminen.

A 16-year NHL veteran and three-time All-Star, Numminen agreed to a one-year contract with the Sabres on Thursday. Monetary terms weren’t announced, but the deal is expected to be worth a little more than $1 million, the amount the Dallas Stars had offered to re-sign him.

“He’s not going to be a household name … but he is recognized as being a tremendous professional and an all-around player,” Regier said. “He’s got very good leadership and experience and it was something we felt we needed.”

Numminen, who spent most of his career with the Winnipeg Jets-Phoenix Coyotes franchise, is capable of quarterbacking the power play and being responsible in his own end. He’s a five-time, 10-goal scorer and has registered at least 40 points in six seasons.

Buffalo has not had a defenseman produce 40 points in a season since Jason Woolley had 43 in 1998-99.

The Sabres had been intent on bolstering their thin defensive corps, particularly after losing workhorse Alexei Zhitnik, who signed with the New York Islanders on Tuesday. But they had been previously outbid for players since NHL free agency opened Monday.

Regier expressed surprise by the multimillion-dollar contracts players have signed under a new collective bargaining agreement that was expected to lower salaries.

“I’ve been in the business long enough where I’m not easily surprised. And I will tell you that what’s taking place in the marketplace is very surprising,” Regier said, shortly after Scott Niedermayer signed a four-year, $27-million contract with Anaheim. “I think we can do it a different way, and we will do it a different way, either through trades or signing unrestricted free agents like Teppo.”

Regier said the Sabres aren’t prepared to get into any bidding wars, instead sticking to their intention to have a payroll in the $27-29 million range – well short of the newly imposed $39 million salary cap.

In 1,160 career games, the 37-year-old Numminen has 111 goals and 440 assists for 551 points.

He had three goals and 14 assists, while averaging 21 minutes of ice time, in his one season with Dallas in 2003-04. And he’s overcome a heart condition that forced him to miss five games that season.

Numminen was cleared to play by Dallas team doctors after a series of tests showed that a dilated aorta wasn’t considered life-threatening. He competed in the playoffs and represented his native Finland in the World Cup of Hockey tournament later that summer.

Regier said he would like to add at least one more defenseman, and didn’t rule out making a trade.

The Sabres have a surplus of young forwards and would also consider trading a goaltender. Prospect Ryan Miller is expected to compete with returning veterans, Martin Biron and Mika Noronen, for one of two jobs in the Sabres’ lineup this season.

Regier also announced that left wing Taylor Pyatt re-signed with the Sabres, accepting the team’s one-year $990,000 qualifying offer.

Pyatt is a four-year NHL veteran, who has spent the past three seasons with Buffalo. A physical forward, Pyatt had eight goals and 12 assists for 20 points in 63 games in 2003-04. That’s a drop-off from the career-high numbers he produced the previous season, when he had 14 goals and 14 points.

AP-ES-08-04-05 1752EDT

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