O'Neill ponders future

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:27 AM ET

NEW YORK -- The bold decision to sit Matt Stajan last night opened the door for Jeff O'Neill to skate back into the Maple Leafs lineup.

Whether O'Neill is back next season, however, remains to be seen.

In a surprising admission that caught many observers off guard, O'Neill yesterday hinted that he might not play any hockey in 2006-07 -- at least not at the NHL level anyway.

"It has been a tough time focussing (this season)," said O'Neill, who was minus-1 and failed to register a shot in the Leafs 5-2 loss to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

"At the end of the year I'll decide if I'll keep going. I'll take time to decide.We'll see what happens."

For the record, O'Neill is contractually obligated to the Leafs for one more season. Acquired last summer from the Carolina Hurricanes for a conditional fourth-round draft pick in 2006, the King City native signed a two-year, $3-million US deal with Toronto.

But the return to southern Ontario hasn't gone anywhere near as planned. Still haunted by the death of his brother Donny last summer, O'Neill has only 30 points this season and has found himself in coach Pat Quinn's doghouse at various times.

O'Neill had been a healthy scratch for the previous three games before suiting up last night.

Meanwhile, Stajan was caught off-guard when he discovered he would be watching the game against the Rangers in civvies. He, Tomas Kaberle and Alexei Ponikarovsky were the only Leafs to have participated in every game entering play last night.

"Obviously I never expected to sit," Stajan said. "I (didn't miss a game) last season in St. John's and it was a goal of mine not to miss any this year either.

"What can I say? Obviously the coach is tinkering with the lineup in order to get wins.

True, Quinn has not blessed Stajan with a lot of ice time this season. At the same time, you can bet the Leafs bench boss was aware that Stajan has just two points in his past 19 games.


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