...why the Leafs signed Jeff Finger?
Well, at least I got a Finger joke out of the way early on.
When the numbers 3.5 over 4 were first thrown around on the AM640, I figured it was a fantastic signing as Finger was one of the more underrated players in the league I hoped the Leafs would go after. I figured something in the range of $1.5-2M would be a great bargain, but less than $1M a year? Sign me up!
Then, I found out it was $3.5M PER year, and started scratching my head. Where was this coming from? Signing a guy most people have never even heard of to a double digit contract?
Where would Finger’s contract rank among NHL defensemen? It would place him roughly in the mid 50's as of today, but one must also take into account the rising cap and increasing amount of free agent dollars thrown at players. But let’s just keep in mind roughly mid 50's for the sake of some statistical analysis.
Now, why did they sign Jeff Finger? What roles is he being expected to take on? I think it would be reasonable to say the following three would be the main skills he would be be asked to bring to the table:
#1 - Log some decent minutes
#2 - Play reliable, defensive hockey
#3 - Bring a physical element into the game
Now, he's being asked to do those things, but has he shown he can do the above mentioned tasks at a high level?
Well, let’s find out:
72 games played
121 hits (ranked 40th among NHL D-men)
117 blocked shots (Ranked 47th among NHL D-men)
26 takeaways (Ranked 51st among NHL D-men)
Post all-star Time on Ice (Ranked 43rd among NHL D-men)
+12 plus/minus rating (2nd on team, Ranked 24th among NHL D-men)
So by the looks of it, he certainly looks like a stat stuffer defensively, putting up numbers that would seem to indicate that he was indeed among the league’s top 40 D-men (or top pairing) defensively last season, and keep in mind those stats would be higher had he played 82 games, or had received the minutes he earned in the 2nd half, throughout the entire season.
So essentially, we're paying him “mid 50's” money to be a “top 40″ defender on the defensive side of the ice. Doesn't look so bad now, does it?
Let’s compare Finger to his '08 co-signees:
67 games played
144 hits (ranked 24th among NHL D-men)
95 blocked shots (Ranked 81st among NHL D-men)
23 takeaways (Ranked 81st among NHL D-men)
18:12 Time on Ice (Ranked 141st among NHL D-men)
-7 plus/minus rating (Ranked 234th among NHL D-men)
Ouch. Aside from hits, Finger has Commodore blown out of the water in every other statistical category, and yet, Mike’s making more money over a longer term.
78 games played
239 hits (ranked 2nd among NHL D-men)
125 blocked shots (ranked 32nd among NHL D-men)
10 takeaways (ranked 179th among NHL D-men)
16:59 time on ice (ranked 173rd among NHL D-men)
+11 plus/minus ratin (ranked 32nd among NHL D-men)
Now Brooks Orpik is a much closer example to Finger, and he too got nearly double the amount of total money.
Now before we all go rush off yelling we stole a top pairing defender off the market, it’s important to consider that all of this analysis is based off only 1 season of play. Jeff is unproven at the NHL level, but also just 28 years of age, so it’s essentially a big gamble.
The fact of the matter is, he's being paid very handsomely based on some extremely underrated and very good play from one season. If Finger proves that it wasn't a one time fluke, or that he even improves under Wilson’s tutelage and simple fact that he could be a late bloomer, then the Leafs may be very happy with this contract a few years from now. If he doesn't and falls back to the level most people think he is (#5-6 stay at home defender), then Toronto took a big gamble and lost.
So while I'm not exactly proclaiming my outright support and sheer joy for the Finger signing, I figured it would beneficial to shed some more light into the situation and perhaps understand a little bit of the reasoning behind why it was done.
Will Leafs fans ever commend Fletcher for giving them the Finger? (Sorry, couldn't esist.) Guess we'll find out soon enough.
Always a pleasure,
Visit Maple Leafs Hotstove for the latest Leafs news and analysis!
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