The Toronto Maple Leafs: Turning Back The Clock With Cujo and Finger

xx yySenior Writer IJuly 1, 2008

In so many ways, today represents a lot that has gone on in the recent history of the Toronto Maple Leafs—and no I’m not talking about the non-playoff, post-lockout years.

With the opening of Free Agency, we saw the return home of a once-favorite son, the questionable contract given to an inexperienced defenseman, and players that seemed to be on their downward slopes in Toronto, head to places where the pastures may be greener.

Surprising could be a big understatement when you look at some of the moves that went down today—although word had been out on CuJo’s potential Toronto comeback for a while.

To say that Curtis Joseph is welcomed back to Toronto with open arms is questionable—in fact many fans don’t quite know how to feel.

Despite reports that say Joseph yearned to wear the Blue and White once more, some fans just can’t shake the feeling that this is a vain attempt by a former favorite to entertain a fan-base who felt slighted and jaded.

Like it or not though, CuJo is back for one more go around—like Steve Thomas, Doug Gilmour (albeit it was for half a game), Wendel Clark and Yanic Perrault before him.

Sidenote: Alright, so maybe Yanic isn’t the most prestigious name that should be on this list, but I mean he has worn the Leaf three times, and at least I didn’t mention Travis Green. 

Am I still mad that Curtis bolted for the Winged Wheel so many years ago? Yes—to be honest I was heart broken when it happened—but I also realize that the only way to survive in the world of sport is to have a short memory, and that beggars can’t be choosers.

If you wanted a cheap option at goalie who can show Justin Pogge the ropes of spending an extended period of time in the hockey hotbed that is Toronto, then Curtis is your best option.

You have to think, that as much as he is a stop-gap here in Toronto until Pogge is ready for the show, that at some point—in training camp or beyond—the Leafs’ future tender will pick the brain of the ‘Devil Dog’.

As much as I love him, Vesa has only played here one year, and as much as he seemed to be able to handle it you can never be too sure. Ed Belfour is probably one of the last guys you’d want talking to a young goalie about off-ice distractions, and Andrew Raycroft…well there’s a reason he’s gone.

Curtis went through the motions of the Toronto media and was still able to concentrate on stealing big games and playoff series. You can sign all the former-MVPs like Jose Theodore and playoff choke jobs like Patrick Lalime and Ty Conklin all you want, but aside from possibly Felix Potvin, Curtis is one of the only goalies who’s seen as much as you can in Toronto in the past forty-one years and knows how to play in the market, which could be beneficial to V-Tosk as well.

Besides, the $700,000 seems like peanuts to what some of the goalies were getting out there today.

Then on the back end, the Leafs added Jeff Finger—a big, strong kid who can hit and play defense.

They just added him for about $2 million too much.

To be honest, the words ‘Anders Eriksson’ (Not because of how he played, but because he became little more than a drain on the bank account based on what he provided) started flashing in my head at this point in time, but let’s take a closer look.

If you’re Pierre McGuire, then you call this kid a monster—he blocks shots like no other, but word out of Colorado seems to be that he’s a project-type player who could someday develop into a steady low-pairing defender.

How the Leafs ended up paying $3.5 million a season for the 28-year old Finger I’m not quite sure, but if this is the direction a bidding war took, I’m not sure that I would have stayed in long if I was Cliff Fletcher.

Perhaps there’s something that Ron Wilson saw in this kid in his time with San Jose though, or maybe Fletch saw enough improvement in his game last season to think that he’ll eventually warrant this kind of money and in a few years this will look like a steal—either way, I’m more than willing to give the kid a chance to help the Leafs improve defensively, as well as in the team toughness category.

The price tag is just a little tough to swallow.

Niklas Hagman’s contract though is a little more realistic.

A fast kid who can score goals, play the penalty kill, has seen some time on the power play, and isn’t afraid to go into corners to dig out pucks coming in at an average of $3 million a year?

Seems pretty fair to me.

Speaking of those goals, he posted 27 of them last year, following up the 16 he potted in 2006/07.

Although the hands may not always be there to fatten up those goal totals, Hagman’s speed and commitment to energized, consistent play at both ends of the ice could prove promising for a young Leafs team looking for direction.

But as the three newest Leafs came East, two former Leafs were heading west, as both Andrew Raycroft and Darcy Tucker landed with the Avalanche.

If Raycroft continues to bounce around the NHL, the question will always be asked if this is the place he will find his mojo.

But what if the Mile High City is the place he can regain some of the form that made him attractive enough for the Leafs to dump Tuuka Rask in favor of him just a few years ago? The $750,000 price tag could look like a steal to the rest of the league, and Leaf fans could be wondering why Raycroft couldn’t bring it like that in Toronto.

And what of Darcy Tucker? Could the former Leafs super-pest be a little more at home with a shorter term and less money with the Avs?

Granted his steps are slowing down, but maybe he can find the Fountain of Youth for a few years out there in Denver.

I mean it wouldn’t be the first time someone has salvaged a few former Leafs off the scrap heap, and it definitely won’t be the last.

But isn’t that what July 1st is all about?

Bryan Thiel is a Senior Writer and NHL Community Leader for Bleacher Report. If you need to get in contact with him, you can do so through his profile, and you can also check out his archives.


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