Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Severed Finger

So, I had a chance to speak with Brian Burke the other day, that is to say, I was thinking about something and then I read his response in a newspaper:

“We’ve got good depth on defence. I know you’re going to ask: ‘What are you going to do with seven NHL defencemen?’ But those things work themselves out."

And so I replied, "Actually, no, I was gonna ask, what are you going to do with eight NHL defencemen, uh, but nevermind, I think instead I'll write a post about the demise of Jeff Finger..."
Phaneuf, Kaberle, Komisarek, Beauchemin, Gunnarrson, Schenn, and Lebda. That's seven. Unless Burke has miscounted, there's a missing Finger somewhere.

Over the summer there's been a lot of speculation that Finger's contract would be moved down to the Marlies this season to clear cap-space and reduce the number of redundant blue-liners, but this is the first semi-clear indication that I've seen from Leaf management one way or the other. Thus far, Finger has been this summer's Frogren - quietly losing relevance and drifting from overlooked into the realm of unmentionable.

Finger was a late bloomer, coming to the Leafs as a 28 year old with just 94 NHL games - a season and a quarter - under his belt. Most of his professional career has been as a minor-leaguer. Now 30, turning 31 in December, Jeff is just one game away from his 200th NHL appearance, yet he may never see it.
His first season with the Leafs, Finger lost 16 games to injury but I don't believe he was a healthy scratch once on a defensive line-up that featured Kubina, Kaberle, White, rookie Luke Schenn for 70 games, Stralman for 38 games, Van Ryn for 27 games, and Frogren for 41 games, not to mention spotty appearances by Oreskovic and Sifers, and Colaiacovo for 10 games at the start of the year.

Last year, even long before the arrival of Dion Phaneuf, Finger found irregular work on the blue-line, platooning in and out of the 6th spot with Garnet Exelby. Rarely were the two in the line-up at the same time though usually one of them was. Despite the injury to Komisarek, Finger was never able to climb the depth chart, instead having the youngster Gunnarrson leapfrog over him into the number 4 spot. Finger appeared in just 39 games in the 2009-10 schedule and though he did miss 6 games at various points due to injury, he was listed as a healthy scratch 37 times. That's a lot of practices.

Over the last 4 weeks of the season, he appeared in just 2 of the Leafs final 13 games, both of them against the Rangers. Finger didn't have the worst plus/minus on the team at minus 11, just the 4th worst. Two of the other guys ahead of (behind?) him were Kaberle and Beachemin who'd both played full 82-game seasons, more then double Finger's games played, and with significantly higher minutes per game. Finger's personal Average-Time-On-Ice dropped from 20:29 in 2008-9, to just 13:47 last year.

(The other Leaf with a worse plus/minus was Stalberg, minus 13 after just 40 games. He has since been dealt to Chicago for Versteeg.)

In the 26 games after the Great January 31st Overhaul and the future-Captain Dion's coming aboard, Finger cracked the line-up just 9 times. Despite the constant trade rumours around Kaberle, despite the trading of White - and then Exelby's trade request, and despite the injury to Komisarek, and despite the tragically-shortened career of Van Ryn, Finger has never really been able to find a comfortable home on the Toronto blue line the way Beauchemin did.

Now, with Phaneuf taking over, Komisarek returning, the signing of Lebda, Kaberle still with the team, and Schenn and Gunnarrson no longer unknown commodities, there's simply no need nor room for the likes of Jeff Finger.

He threw a few hits and had a few scraps and after that there's not much to remember about him. And while the world is utterly captivated by the denials of any issues in the never-ending non-story that just wont go away because it isn't there, old number 4 quietly slips out the back door and into his waiting stretch-limo, pay cheque in hand, no questions asked, no pictures taken, just the way Jeff likes it.

Still, I'm gonna miss some of the silly jokes his name would inspire and for that reason alone I'm sorry to see him go. Best wishes and good luck with the Marlies, Jeff! While Finger's minor league and NHL experiences should certainly help, it's too bad there aren't four more guys just like him, 'cause they could really use a hand.

Did I mention Finger is scheduled to earn 3.5 million dollars this season with still another year left on his contract? Not sure if that's somehow relevant.


Navin Vaswani (@eyebleaf) said...

I read that quote from Burke today and thought the exact same thing you did. For a few fleeting moments, I felt bad for Jeff Finger. Then I remembered he was making $3.5 million. What a train-wreck of a signing. Nobody could have seen this coming.

general borschevsky said...

Hey eyebleaf. Feeling bad for a few fleeting moments sounds about right. His salary is totally out of whack with team structure.

Loser Domi said...

I really wish Finger was known for something other than his contract. I would have loved making hurricanes of Finger puns.

Oh well. You know who else was great at memes? Andy Wozniewski. Just saying...

blurr1974 said...

I don't hate Jeff Finger like most Leafs fans do. I also think that when it comes to hockey, he's a fairly half-decent defender.

Still, I'll never be able to figure out just how on earth his agent managed to get him such a huge contract...

general borschevsky said...

Hey LD! "hurricanes of Finger puns' would make a neat title for a coffee table memoir.

general borschevsky said...

Hey blurr! Fairly half-decent most nights, but I think he got outplayed by Exelby overall which isn't saying much.

Maybe he landed such a huge contract 'cause there was the expectation that years 3 and 4 would likely be as a minor leaguer? That's the only thing I can think of.

kidkawartha said...

"Still, I'll never be able to figure out just how on earth his agent managed to get him such a huge contract..."

I've heard that his agent makes excellent balloon animals.

SBurtch said...

I think saying he was outplayed by Exelby is a huge mis-statement.

Finger's GVT = 1.2
Exelby's GVT = -0.4

Finger's ATOI = 13:47
Exelby's ATOI = 10:05

Finger's Hits per game = 1.97
Exelby's Hits per game = 1.71

Finger's Blk Shts per game = 2.15
Exelby's Blk Shts per game = 1.06

Finger's Tka/Gva ratio = 0.421
Exelby's Tka/Gva ratio = 0.227
(higher is better)

Finger's Points = 2G, 8A, 10P (39GP)
Exelby's Points = 1G, 3A, 4P (51GP)

By virtually EVERY measure other than +/-, Finger was superior to Exelby last season when he was on the ice... I'm not going to sit by and let anyone think Exelby was a more useful player, because he wasn't.

general borschevsky said...

Dr. Steve! Always a pleasure. By the numbers, Finger might look better, but XLB dressed for 51 games, 12 more then Finger, so Wilson must have thought Garnet was somewhat more useful. Also, and curiously, despite Finger having better individual numbers (except plus/minus) the Leafs record reflects a different story. When Finger is in the line up, the Leafs were a pitiful 14-21-4 (.410) compared to a much more respectable 19-22-10 (.470) when XLB is in.

So it's based mostly on the fact that XLB was used more often and with more success that I said he outplayed Finger. I don't know how you measure intagibles, but XLB must have been adding something of greater benefit (intensity?) to the team's performance.

peteypuck said...

IMO, "blocked shots" is more like "giveaways" than "hits". It basically means you don't have puck possession in your own zone, and are scrambling so much you aren't trying to get it back. You are pulling out the last stop to negate a scoring chance that as part of team defence, you had a part in allowing.
Show me a low talent Dman with a high blocked shot number, and I'll show you a pylon that parks himself in the slot. Stay there and eventually somebody is gonna hit you with the puck.

general borschevsky said...

Hey peteypuck! Thanks for droppin' in. I admire the players who do block shots effectively, especially on the penalty kill, but a low blocked shot total could mean a player is already doing the other things that reduce scoring chances. On the other hand, and in Exelby's case I think, sometimes a player is never in position to block a shot cause he's running around too much in his own end. Sound positioning is not one of Exelby's strengths.

I honestly think Finger vs. Exelby is a toss-up for most people, the Good Doctor excluded. The main difference I see is XLB is a year and a half younger, brings more energy, and costs roughly 2 million dollars less.