Penguins Q&A with Dave Molinari?

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Q: I'm sure this is kind of nuts, but I'm thinking of a guy who, with some intensive conditioning work over the All-Star break, might be able to play a handful of shifts a game during Sidney Crosby's absence and would provide comparable leadership and playmaking ability, wouldn't cost players or draft choices in a trade and would certainly provide the fans and organization a huge boost while Sid rehabs. Used to wear No. 66.

Michael Gold, Glen Allen, Va.

MOLINARI: You laid out a few undeniable truths, sir.

1) Mario Lemieux probably still could make some plays, and provide some leadership.

2) Adding him to the lineup wouldn't cost the Penguins players or draft choices.

3) Seeing Lemieux in uniform again undoubtedly would give the Penguins and their fans a major emotional boost.

4) Lemieux did used to wear No. 66.

Unfortunately for the many Q&A readers who have suggested in the past few days that the time might be right for another Lemieux comeback, the part you really nailed was that the idea of him playing again is "kind of nuts." Especially if you edit out the "kind of" part.

Whether the procedure he underwent to correct the irregular heartbeat that led to his retirement two years ago yesterday would preclude another attempt at playing isn't known, but neither is it relevant, because Lemieux simply doesn't have any interest in reviving his career.

He's 42 years old, and even though his instincts and hands probably are still better than those of 90 percent of the guys in the league, he would have to go through an incredibly grueling training regimen to get back into anything resembling playing shape. Crosby probably could recover from his high ankle sprain and a multiple-organ transplant in less time than it would take Lemieux to get ready to play.

Penguins fans were incredibly fortunate to be able to enjoy Lemieux's talents. Now's the time to let him enjoy his retirement.

Q: The NHL extended its contract with Versus for three years. Does the contract contain a provision that the NHL cannot televise games on ESPN?

Gary Parkhurst, Tampa

MOLINARI: Well, that probably depends on how you want to interpret the option that Versus exercised extend its deal with the league through 2011.

The agreement does, in fact, make Versus the exclusive cable home of the NHL during the time it is in effect. That sounds pretty straightforward, except that Versus has the right to surrender that exclusivity, and executives from the network have not ruled out doing so. At least for the moment, the catch is that no one has asked.

For months, the thinking in some hockey circles has been that ESPN will, at some point, express interest in picking up at least a limited number of NHL games, and that Versus will gladly surrender its exclusive rights for the benefits of having a cross-promotional arrangement with ESPN. While that could be precisely how this plays out in the future, there's no time frame for when -- or guarantee that -- it will.

Versus officials, by the way, report that their network now is in 74 million homes, up from 60 million when it secured the rights to NHL games in 2005.


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