As if the world needed another Toronto Maple Leafs blog.
Sunday, July 26, 2009
Better Know a Leaf: Jeff Finger
Finger Money -noun 1. Being paid an amount that is not commensurate with one's value. 2. $14 million dollars over 4 years. ex. I wanted the team to sign him, but then I found out he wanted Finger Money.
On today's segment of Better Know a Leaf, we'll be looking at last year's big free agent splash Jeff Finger.
Jeff was born December 18th 1979 in Houghton Michigan. He was drafted 240th overall in the 1999 entry draft by the Colorado Avalanche. He played in the NHL for the first time in the 2006-2007 season, notching a goal and four assists in 22 games. He spent the following season on the Avs full-time, going 8-11-19 with a +12 rating in 72 games.
Following his first full season in the NHL, Finger was signed to a 4 year, 14 million dollar contract by the Toronto Maple Leafs on July 1st, 2008, on which day the term "Finger Money" was added to the public lexicon of Leaf bashing.
Now, first a sample of the total BS floating around the web about Finger:
Plays a steady game from the back end and usually limits his mistakes. Can log plenty of ice time and is a solid team-first player.
Has never put up great offensive numbers and probably never will. Isn't a physical player, despite his 6-1, 205-pound frame.
Now, I believe I'd covered some of this in a previous post just after the Finger signing, but I'll reiterate. Last year Finger put up 136 hits, good enough for 2nd on the Leafs and 30th among all NHL defensemen. His 158 blocked shots were good enough for first on the team and 18th overall for an NHL defenseman. Sounds to me like he's using that 6-1 205-pound frame pretty well.
Now, as for the "never put up great offensive numbers" bit, it's worth noting Jeff had 48 points in 55 games in the USHL as a 21 year-old. In even-strength scoring last season, Finger's 6 goals are tied for 15th in the NHL among defensemen, and his 15 assists tie him for 36th. Both of those numbers, by the way, lead the Leafs in even-strength scoring on the blueline. Finger's first goal as a Leaf was scored on November 25th, against the Thrashers.
Are those great offensive numbers? Not at first, it's hard to get excited over 23 points in 66 games. But that production is certainly valuable, and the fact that Finger was able to outscore two players in Kaberle and Kubina (who are paid more and are seasoned NHL vets) at even strength is pretty significant.
Now, Finger's had his mental lapses in the zone, and I'll never forget his performance on Wendel Night. But those nights happen for a player, and hopefully with more experience at the NHL level he can tighten up his game even more.
There are 30 teams in the NHL, meaning that theoretically there are 120 top-4 defensemen in this league. Finger's being paid like a top-4 guy, and statwise he actually comes out pretty well given his lack of PP time (6th on the team in minutes, behind Van Ryn who played half as many games). If anything, it's hard to argue that he's not worth the money on this team for what he provides. Derek Morris just signed a similar contract with the Bruins and stat-wise they're almost the same player... except that Finger is the clear winner in terms of hits and shots blocked.
Unfortunately for Jeff, he's become the kind of Leaf that will always be known for his reputation, an overpaid AHL calibre player, than for his on-ice deeds. Hopefully he can put on a good enough performance in the next few years of his contract that he won't be remembered as a raspberry by most of the fan base.