There will be different Jeff O'Neill camps when the Maple Leafs visit the RBC Center for the first time on Thursday night.
One group will warmly welcome him back with cheers and well wishes. He was, after all, a pretty freakin solid player for a couple of years. He was a huge part of our run to the Stanley Cup finals in 2002, and had been one of the fan favorites. He endured tragedy when his brother was killed in an automobile accident this summer and left town for good shortly thereafter.
I, on the other hand, will be in the other camp. For the entirety of the 2003-04 season, he was lazy and unproductive. He had become increasingly difficult for the coaches and players to deal with, and he was generally regarded as a malcontent. Nobody likes that. I vaguely recall him making some Allen Iverson-like comment about how he didn't need to practice. During the lockout, he chose to hang out with Pavel Brendl and Keith Tkachuk, getting fat and drunk instead of making an effort to stay in shape. To make himself look even worse, he was arrested for DUI in the spring (his second such charge).
To be fair, I made that up about hanging out with Brendl and Tkachuk. I just had to pick on the fat guys.
Also, to be fair, I am truly sorry for the loss of his brother. Even before that, though, he was beginning to express the desire to be traded.
I will boo him soundly on Thursday night. I booed him all season when he played for us in 2003-04, and I won't stop now. Playing for the Leafs is reason enough to get booed around here.
5 years ago