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Melrose in the mix

The Lightning wants to talk to a talking head.

Check out this SportsCenter moment: Lightning general manager Phil Esposito said Thursday he would like to talk to ESPN's Barry Melrose about the team's coach opening.

And Melrose said he would listen, even though he wondered how serious Esposito was about speaking to him.

"I certainly would talk to Phil," Melrose said from St. Louis, where he was working the Blues-Avalanche game.

"But I have what I think is a great job at ESPN, and certain issues would have to be addressed and resolved before I would return to the NHL. Any team offering me a job would have to make certain commitments to me before I would consider going back to coaching."

Melrose, who spent three years coaching the Kings, said he has thought about returning behind the bench if the right job came along. And Melrose believes the Lightning is a better job than most people think.

"They are not a 2-9-2 team. They are better than that," he said. "I like their young players _ Roman Hamrlik, Daymond Langkow. I think Jason Wiemer is on his way to being a real good player. Dino Ciccarelli? Who wouldn't want that guy on his team. The goaltending is solid. I think this team has talent. They are not at the bottom of the league. In fact, I kind of like their team."

Melrose believes the Lightning could climb out of its early hole, and a different voice may be the thing to help it.

"I think Terry Crisp is a great coach, but I believe in the three-year rule," Melrose said. "It happened to me in Los Angeles. After three years, the players stop listening. The message doesn't get through. Maybe that's what happened there."

Esposito gave no timetable for when he might call Melrose. Maybe that's because he had not talked to former Flyers coach Terry Murray, even though he received permission to do so Wednesday.

"I have had no contact with Phil or anyone in the Lightning organization," Murray said Thursday, minutes before leaving for a three-day scouting trip. "So I don't know what to say. But if he calls, I'll talk to him, certainly."

It was believed the Lightning's unstable ownership and dismal start would dissuade Murray from considering a possible offer from the Lightning, but Murray snuffed that idea.

"Let's not forget, Tampa Bay is in the NHL. They are one of 26 teams in the league, and a lot of people would love to be coaching one of those 26 teams," Murray said.

"Absolutely I would like to talk to Phil if he calls. It would be foolish of me not to speak to Phil if he called."

Murray specifically said ownership is not a concern of his and pointed out that he talked with Buffalo three times during the summer despite the Sabres ownership being unclear at the time.

Melrose also said ownership would not preclude him from considering an offer. After all, Melrose coached under Kings owner Bruce McNall, who now is serving a jail sentence for fraud.

"Ownership doesn't affect what a coach has to do: prepare his team to win," Melrose said.

"In this case, I would love to talk with Phil. I don't know him that well, really. But I would base any decision on whether I would be interested or not on conversations with him and the commitment the team would be willing to make. But like I said, I think Tampa Bay is a better team than we've seen. It's interesting."

MALLETTE OUT INDEFINITELY: The career of tough guy Troy Mallette is in jeopardy after doctors discovered a herniated disc. Mallette, who signed with Tampa Bay before the season, is scheduled to visit doctors in Los Angeles next week, but Esposito said it is possible Mallette could be forced to retire.