Many times fans of a team cannot recognize the negatives of the team they cheer for. Hey, I guess that's what makes them fans. Of course, almost every fan will claim to view his or her favourite team through unbiased eyes.
I read my fair share of articles on the Toronto Maple Leafs. Many of the articles are of the season prediction variety. In some of these articles, the writers mention the addition of Jeff Finger, acquired almost as soon as the NHL lifted the free-agent signing freeze on July 1.
The Maple Leafs and Finger agreed on a four-year, $14 million deal. Even Jeff Finger had to be surprised when he got that phone call from his agent.
Many fans in the city of Toronto were completely unaware of Jeff Finger's existence—let alone how he could be worth $3.5 million per season.
Considering his 94 NHL games of experience thus far, I find it somewhat humorous that the Maple Leafs signed him after the NHL received a lot of flack over scheduling that did not see all teams play each other last season. Two of those teams? Colorado and Toronto.
One wonders who amongst the Leafs' executive brass saw enough of Jeff Finger to offer him not only a contract, but quite a lofty and lengthy one.
Local papers did their research to figure out who this character was and what attributes he possessed. Turns out he's a gritty, tough, stay-at-home defenseman. If that description is correct, you can certainly see why Toronto would be interested. They need all the help they can get in their own zone.
However, the 94 games of NHL experience makes me wonder just how effective a stay-at-home defenseman he is right now. I guess time will tell.
Over the few months in which Jeff Finger has been property of the Maple Leafs, I have heard and read rumblings from the fans about the club's new asset. This boggles my mind. The season has yet to begin—and for all those fans that saying "Jeff who?" there is no way to yet determine his worth, whether positive or negative (for the record, most references to Finger have been positive).
Maybe trusting the judgement of a franchise that has awarded giant contracts to players like Pavel Kubina, Bryan McCabe, and Jason Blake is enough to convince the loyal following that Finger must be worth the money and will be a major player in the re-building process. Did I mention he is 28 years old?
Since no games have yet been played, I'm here to try and explain how this UFA signing is not at all a positive or intelligent move for this organization. Finger's play could prove me wrong, but I've watched enough Avalanche games over the last couple of years to be quite confident in my opinion.
Using the recent re-signing of Marc-Edouard Vlasic with the San Jose Sharks as an example may make my point a tad clearer to the "unbiased" Toronto Maple Leaf fan.
I will preface my comparison of the two signings by San Jose and Toronto by pointing out I understand that is it usually easier to re-sign than acquire an UFA, and that these two players are very different in terms of skill sets.
The Sharks and Leafs are two teams in completely different situations. San Jose is hoping to yet again contend with the league's elite, while the Maple Leafs are admittedly in a rebuilding stage.
But this only makes the two signings more bizarre. San Jose locked up a 21-year-old with 163 games of NHL experience for four years and $12.4 million. Vlasic will receive an annual average of $3.1 million—$400,000 less than Jeff Finger will earn each season of his contract.
San Jose has locked up a quality defender on their roster for four seasons, and at the end of his contract, he will be 25 years of age. Jeff Finger will be 32 in the last season of his contract.
San Jose signs a young defenseman long-term, despite not trying to rebuild. Toronto, currently rebuilding, will pay a 28-year-old "veteran" well over $3 million for the next four seasons.
Vlasic has already played 69 more games in the NHL than Finger. Vlasic's smooth skating makes him a prototypical defenseman for the new NHL. One of Finger's drawbacks is his skating.
In recap, it appears we have two teams in different situations—but only one is making a proper move, remaining as an elite team while looking to the future. The other is simply dealing in band-aid solutions—and expensive band-aids at that. It's almost as if the Leafs grossly overpaid Finger to give him the appearance of a star defenseman.
Including McCabe's contract, the Leafs will have used up approximately $21,361,000 of their cap space on seven defensemen. San Jose is curently using $22,482,000 on defenseman contracts. A difference off $1,121,000—and it's obvious which team has the better defensive unit.
When assessing transactions made by your favourite team, it is always good practice to compare the move to transactions made by other teams. The re-signing of Vlasic shows quite clearly how poor the move by Fletcher appears to be as of right now.
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