Red and Black Hockey
by David Lee on 09/19/08 at 09:12 AM ET
Jeff O’Neill made headlines earlier this summer when the Hurricanes announced that they had offered him a tryout. Most fans, myself included, grumbled and rolled eyes, muttering something like “don’t hold your breath”. By all accounts, O’Neill has looked good in unofficial practice sessions at “Camp Brind’Amour”, which prompted many fans to continue to grumble and roll their eyes and mutter “don’t hold your breath”. When Justin Williams tore his Achilles on Wednesday, things changed quite a bit. It isn’t the way O’Neill wanted the opportunity, but he has an opportunity on a silver platter now.
On Thursday, new Hurricanes beat writer Chip Alexander wrote a story about just that. He says that O’Neill would rather make the team on his own, without any outside circumstances influencing matters. He also points out that Jeff understands that he still must actually earn the spot.
It’s all good and well. Of course O’Neill would rather earn a spot the regular way, but certainly he has to recognize the opportunity. Of course I’d much rather be Naomi Watts’ first choice, but if some tragedy places her in my lap, you won’t hear me complaining about it.
Here’s where I think Alexander is a bit off-base:
The last thing O’Neill said he could have expected, or wanted, would be to go into training camp trying to replace an injured Williams.
What? I’m sorry. Replace Williams? No. Not quite. Viva is irreplaceable. Just as Brind’Amour and Staal and Cam Ward and even Erik Cole are irreplaceable. Everyone will be stepping up their game. Everyone will be afforded more playing time and it will give a guy like Patrick Eaves the most likely shot at some top line time. Is O’Neill considered as a replacement candidate? No way. First off, I don’t see him as a first line candidate. I’ve got him penciled in on the third line. Everybody will have more opportunities to play in different lines. Given Peter Laviolette’s penchant for shuffling lines, we may see 15 or 20 line combinations, but I can’t really imagine O’Neill on the first line, and I can’t imagine anything more than 45 points from him.
I hope I’m wrong. I hope the “old old” Jeff O’Neill makes the team. The guy who scored 41 goals in 2001. Realistically, if he makes the team, we should see him get 20-25 goals and 15-20 assists from the third or fourth line.
I’m certainly ready for some news other than “Jeff O’Neill this” and “Jeff O’Neill that” and “so-and-so needs surgery” and so on. Training camp starts tomorrow, and the Caniac Carnival will be on Sunday. I’ll be there to attend the red-white scrimmage.
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About Red and Black Hockey
David Lee is a restaurant manager with an unused degree in political science. He can be found at Carolina Hurricanes games, Scrabble tournaments and indie-rock shows. Sometimes, all in the same day.