PITTSBURGH (AP) _ Mario Lemieux said he won't be playing in the 1996 World Cup for Team Canada later this month, but that doesn't mean he won't return to the National Hockey League and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

``In no way should this be construed as a signal that I will not be playing for the Penguins this year,'' said Lemieux, 30. ``I still need a little more time to decide.''

In the opening game of the World Cup on Aug. 29, Canada plays Russia in Vancouver, British Columbia. Two days later in Philadelphia, Canada plays the United States.

Lemieux said training and rest are more important to him.

He stayed out during the 1994-95 season to recover from chemotherapy for Hodgkin's disease and to rest an aching back, but he played last season and was named league MVP. If Lemieux stays away in 1996-97, he will forgo a contract worth nearly $11 million.

He said he likes what management has done this summer to improve the team. In June, Pittsburgh traded defenseman Sergei Zubov to Dallas for Kevin Hatcher.

Lemieux has hinted he might be back if the Penguins build a seriously contending team.

Pittsburgh came close in the spring. The Penguins defeated the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers in the Stanley Cup playoffs before being eliminated in the Eastern Conference finals by the Florida Panthers.

Penguins owner Howard Baldwin says he expects to make an announcement about Lemieux this month.