O'Neill knows his Leafs days may end

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:23 AM ET

A frustrated Jeff O'Neill left the Air Canada Centre yesterday lugging a bunch of his belongings and a whole slew of questions.

Why, for example, was he booted into the doghouse and left to rot there for such a long time?

And why did the Maple Leafs braintrust refuse to put him back in the lineup even after the team had suffered some ugly losses?

Whatever the case, the King City native realizes the writing might very well be on the dressing room wall concerning his future -- or lack of one -- as a Maple Leaf.

Having been healthy scratch for the team's final eight games, O'Neill understands his days in blue and white could be done.

"I'd love to come back," O'Neill said yesterday. "I waited 12 years to come back home to play. But the fact they didn't dress me for so long seems to be explanatory."

After scoring his 20th goal of the season back on Feb. 24, O'Neill optimistically told reporters he hoped to crack the 30-goal barrier. But those aspirations were quickly squelched when he failed to record a point in the following 12 games, causing management to hand him a one-way ticket to the press box.

"I scored 20 goals for the team with marginal ice time," O'Neill said. "Then I went into a slump, which I admit. Still, you don't get out of a scoring slump if you are getting just six or seven minutes of ice time per game."

As for being banished into street clothes for the Leafs final playoff run, O'Neill could not explain the decision.

"It's disappointing," O'Neill said. "No one talked to me about it. I was just told: "You are not playing" and that was it."

O'Neill's relationship with coach Paul Maurice has run hot and cold dating back to their days with the Carolina Hurricanes. After each made his way to Toronto, Maurice benched the hard-shooting winger during the end of the pre-season last fall because he thought O'Neill needed to work his way into game shape.

Asked about Maurice, O'Neill said, "we're fine." Yet read between the lines, and a different picture is painted.

"I know I could have made a difference down the stretch for the team," O'Neill said. "But someone saw it differently. Someone decided I wouldn't go in even after a couple of stinkers. Other guys were put back in the lineup when we struggled earlier in the season, but I didn't get the chance."

With his two-year, $3-million US deal with the Leafs expired, O'Neill can't say if retirement might be the path he chooses.

"I don't know," O'Neill said. "That's too far ahead. I just have to take a deep breath and see what happens."


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