Jeff O'Neill hoped to make some headlines with the Maple Leafs this season but not as a high-profile healthy scratch.
O'Neill clearly was ticked yesterday when discussing for the first time his benching on Saturday night. But he admitted his shortcomings and vowed a better showing whenever Pat Quinn reinstates him.
"It's a way of my coach telling me that he doesn't think I'm doing the best I can," O'Neill said at Lakeshore Lions Arena. "I accept that responsibility and will do my best when I get back.
"(Sitting) does motivate you. You want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. When you lose nine of 10 games, people aren't doing their jobs properly. Was I one of them? Probably so. Does it make it any easier to sit out? It doesn't. But I'm going to be a pro about it, work hard when I get the chance and do my best to help the team."
O'Neill has had a plethora of chances to excel this year on a number of lines, as well as on the power play and in shootouts. But at the time Quinn pulled him, he was a club-worst minus-17, with 14 of his 30 points coming on the power play.
"I don't know if I was doing it necessarily for an angry reaction," Quinn said. "You're trying to put a lineup in that you think will win a game. We had lost some points (during a three-game trip) and we had a guy sitting there (Mariusz Czerkawksi) who I thought I'd bring in.
"We carry 23 guys and Jeff is going to be a big part of this team. We could've probably picked three or four guys (to sit on Saturday) based on play of late and Jeff was the one. But I don't believe that is going to be permanent at all."
At practice yesterday, however, Quinn had O'Neill as an extra on the fourth line with Clarke Wilm, Tie Domi and Matt Stajan. The coach will be tempted not to break up the winning lineup from the 4-2 decision over the New Jersey Devils.
Aki Berg's anticipated return to the defence tonight against Atlanta means Wade Belak could be stuck in limbo again as a spare forward.
O'Neill, a former 40-goal scorer with Carolina, admitted it "had been awhile" since he was a healthy scratch.
"There are two ways of taking it," O'Neill said. "Sitting around and moping, whining and crying, or just work hard and when you get your chance to get back in, make the most of it. This game is about results and accountability."