Though just a blip on radar, Lemieux comeback is under way

December, 29, 2008
Claude Lemieux still has a long way to go before his NHL comeback becomes a reality, but the 43-year-old winger inched closer to his improbable goal Monday when the San Jose Sharks signed him to a two-way contract for the remainder of the season.

We were quick to mock this comeback bid earlier in the season, but maybe we should give the guy a little more credit.

Lemieux was an NHL free agent who had been playing on an AHL contract with Worcester (San Jose's top farm team) since late November. Should he clear NHL waivers at noon ET on Tuesday, he'll officially become property of the San Jose Sharks organization. Still, don't assume that means he'll get the call-up to the bigs.

"It's just part of the process," Sharks GM Doug Wilson told on Monday. "We'll put him on an NHL two-way deal, but he'll continue to stay in Worcester. Nothing should be read into it other than the fact our evaluation will continue. Until our coaches there feel that he is better than the players we have here and fulfills an ingredient here, he'll continue to work on his game and stay in Worcester.

"It's pretty premature to look at it as anything other than that."

Lemieux, who hasn't played in the NHL since 2003, has six points (2 goals, 4 assists) and a plus-3 through 14 games with Worcester. He's listed as a retired player in the NHL Official Guide & Record Book, but he intends to change that.

"This is very unlike any other player we've ever done," said Wilson, "because this is a guy who hasn't played in five years and hasn't been part of training camp and all those things. I don't know where it's going to lead to. All I know is that he's helping our team in Worcester win games. He's helping our young players down there understand what it means to be a pro. That in itself is worth it. If we can provide him the opportunity to pursue his comeback, it would be a home run, obviously, if he could help our hockey team."

There's always the chance another NHL team will claim him on waivers before Tuesday's deadline.

"The one thing I won't do is prevent him from having the opportunity to pursue his comeback," said Wilson.

Lemieux remains a long shot to get called up by the Sharks, but what he has going for him are four Stanley Cup rings. Wilson made no bones about the intrinsic value of acquiring Cup winners Rob Blake, Dan Boyle and Brad Lukowich last summer. The Sharks' GM wanted to bring in proven champions to help his talented club get over the hump come spring. Lemieux is on his radar, albeit as only a blip, because of those rings.

Lidstrom update
We checked in on the status of six-time Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom. He absorbed a Shea Weber slap shot Friday night and suffered an ankle injury. It would be a crying shame if he missed Thursday's Winter Classic at Wrigley Field.

"He's day to day," Wings GM Ken Holland told on Monday. "He's doubtful for tomorrow [Chicago at Detroit in Joe Louis Arena]. X-rays have been negative, the CT scan we took today was negative. I would anticipate he doesn't have a break but rather a real bad bruise."

There's a chance he could play Thursday.



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