Sunday, October 01, 2006

Jeff O'Neill's Future in Doubt?

We shall learn shortly whether one Jeff O'Neill, former 40-goal scorer and current under-achiever, has a future with the Leafs.

It has been recently rumoured ^ that the enigmatic forward may be on the 'outs' with new Leafs bench-boss Paul Maurice. Maurice and O'Neill have a long history from Carolina, with Maurice having the advantage of seeing O'Neill at both his energetic best (circa 2000-2001 through 2002-2003) and at his slow, defense dodging worst (2003-2004, last season).

Paul Maurice was quoted this morning as saying that he thinks Jeff is 'an outstanding player', but that he is not where the coaching staff wants to see him in terms of his effort and his results. With O'Neill sitting for both of the final pre-season games against Detroit, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that O'Neill, barring an unforeseen turn of events, will NOT be in the Leafs starting lineup on Wednesday vs. the Ottawa Senators.

Now, clearly Maurice has taken a different tack than his predecessor Mr. Quinn in deciding not to treat his veteran players with 'kid gloves'. It appears that nobody in the Leafs lineup is guaranteed a starting job, regardless of history or past production. This should be a welcome change to long-suffering Leaf fans everywhere. We can only hope that Maurice and neophyte GM John Ferguson are given free-reign to shape the on-ice product of this team, without interference from the business side of MLSE (see Domi and Peddie, among others).

So, with all that being said, what does the future hold for O'Neill if he is indeed sent-down? Never a defensive specialist (Jeff has only ever been a + player in one of his 10 seasons in the NHL, and was, along with Jason Allison, absolutely brutal last year in his own end), Jeff will have three choices.

  1. He reports to the Marlies, and works his butt-off trying to recapture a very promising NHL career;
  2. He demands a trade to another team, which given his offensive pedigree and relatively low salary (final year of a $1.5 million/two year contract) is highly probable for a pick (a similar trade to the one that brought him to Toronto), or;
  3. He retires. Given he is just 30, and given the potential money involved, this would seem improbable, but rumours this summer pointed to this as a real possibility.
Luckily for us who are impatient, we will likely have our answers by the end of this week. I personally hope O'Neill can turn it around and play a gritty, responsible game. By all reports he is a genuinely nice guy who has had a very rough go of it over the past few years. But the Leafs may be reaching the point of having to fish or cut bait with O'Neill.

Which segues us nicely to a future post; just who does Nik Antropov have pictures of?

Addendum: given the lack of scoring depth on the wings, sending O'Neill would mean that Suglobov is likely a lock to make the team. He adds some intriguing offensive abilities, but little improvement over O'Neill defensively. Right now, the Leafs most dangerous offensive player on either wing will be Darcy Tucker... yikes.

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