$14 million over four years.
That's what it cost the Leafs to ink the 28-year-old defenseman coming into his third NHL campaign. Monster expectations for a relatively unknown to meet, especially in the media madhouse of Toronto.
Here it is, straight up.
Jeff Finger will never score more than 40 points in a year. That is nothing new to the Maple Leafs' Head Office. His job is to strengthen the defense, and what an addition he will be.
The Leafs have been criticized in the past for irrational spending on aging stars, poor drafting, and bad trades that saw young talent leave town (Brad Boyes, need I say more?). However, it looks as if Toronto has finally solved some management problems and appear to be on the right track.
Finger brings a defensive presence to the Leafs that is long overdue in the town. He's not going to wow you with his speed or score 100 points, but he will most often be in proper position to make a play and do the little things right. By little things, I mean making the chip off the glass to clear the zone, bumping forwards off the puck, and, of course, blocking shots.
Having Jeff on the blue line means a big cut down on goals against for a team that finished 27th in that category last year.
If Finger can stay healthy he should lead the Leafs in plus/minus and be among the team leaders in average time on ice, hits, and blocked shots. With coach Wilson's admiration of solid defensemen, Finger will easily log close to 20 minutes a night and play in most key situations.
With Finger in place, Toronto now has a shutdown defense on the back end that will play a lot of minutes against opposing teams top lines. This was a major asset they were without for the '07-'08 season.
Gone are the faces of Andy Wozniewski, Hal "Who's your pal" Gill, and Ian White (Soon enough). On to the stage walks a new crop of young defensemen, ready to change the mantra of this team and play D first.
Finger will act as both a player and as a coach to young Luke Schenn. Wilson used the two in the final moments of last Saturday's game; the first regular season game for Finger in months.
So, is Finger worth $3.5 million a year? That question remains to be answered. However, posting a plus-22 rating in 97 career games is a good stat to build on. Look for Finger to increase his +/- rating and play a key role on a club that will contend for the playoffs this year and Lord Stanley down the road.
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