Friends, we are gathered here today to honour the man and the legacy that is Jeff Finger. Itâ€™s hard to believe itâ€™s been four years next Saturday, but Jeff Fingerâ€™s contract is finally coming to a close. It might have been easy to forget this momentous occasion, but luckily about three and half years ago I put a reminder in my Outlook calendar so I couldnâ€™t let this day pass without celebrating it.
Way back in the summer of 2008, Jeff Finger joined the Leafs on the strength of a breakout season with the Colorado Avalanche. A season that saw him average over 19 minutes of ice time, and as Cliff Fletcher said play over 23 minutes down the stretch (in fact he did this once in his final 10 regular season games.) Jeff Fingerâ€™s breakout season would also see him pinball between 19-24 minutes of ice time, and more often than not be a healthy scratch in the Avs two playoff rounds. Four of the five games he dressed for were losses.
Questionable success aside, Jeff Finger was rewarded with a four year deal paying him three point five million dollars a season for the Leafs. Some believe this was a contract meant for Kurt Sauer, and the good news is four years of Kurt Sauer is equally awful in comparison to Finger.
On that glorious summer day that was meant to mark the turnaround from the John Ferguson Jr. era, many of us were sent scrambling to our laptops to look up who exactly Jeff Finger was. When our searches yielded very little information, we turned to our Avalanche fan friends who offered little hope for him and seemed to be stymied by this acquisition.
Of course at this point Leafs fans wanted to believe in Cliff Fletcher, after all this is the man who brought Gilmour to Toronto, and righted the ship once already. You had to believe he saw something in Finger (and Frogren and Hagman and Stempniak and a 41 year old Curtis Joseph, FUCK!)
In hindsight, the first year of Jeff Finger in Toronto wasnâ€™t that bad. He had 23 points in 66 games and was playing an average of 20 minutes a night. Almost identical numbers just landed concussed 31 year old John-Michael Liles a four year deal paying him $3.875 million a season (and you thought the Finger deal was bad.) In fact, most of Fingers numbers from that season were good enough to put him the top four for the Leafs this season (how sad is that?)
Naturally, we saw Finger as a bust, because four years ago a $3.5 million a season deal would be insanity (it still kind of is considering Barrett Jackman re-signed for less,) but now that deal just equates to second pairing guy. If his first season â€œsuccessâ€ had been maintained it might have been a different story for Finger in Toronto, but…
Season Two brought the return of the player who was only two full seasons removed from the AHL. The season would see Fingerâ€™s icetime slashed down to below 14 minutes and he found himself on the losing side of a platoon situation with Garnet Exelby for the final defensive spot in the lineup.
On April 7, 2010 against the New York Rangers, Jeff Finger played his final regular season game in a Toronto Maple Leafs uniform. In aÂ 5-1 loss Finger was a -1, with one shot on net, and a two minute roughing minor for a skirmish with Brandon Dubinsky behind the Leafs net. The battle occurred after Finger landed a sizeable hit that Dubinsky took exception to. At least Jeff Finger could hit.
Last season is perhaps the source of Fingers greatest fame in Toronto. He became the living proof that Brian Burke was willing to bury sizeable contracts in the minors. While this may have seemed like a harsh thing to do, it is noteworthy that the previous season Finger himself suggested that heâ€™d prefer to be on the Marlies so that he didnâ€™t need to lose money to escrow. Also a fun fact, Jeff Finger was sent down in favour of noted Leaf favourite, Brett Lebda (yes, in two years time Finger managed to lose his job to both Exelby and Lebda.)
The past two years for the Marlies have been injury plagued and therefore also a disappointment for Jeff and the organization. At the same time he has been able to add some value in mentoring the young defensemen on their way up to the big club, and hopefully has some cautionary words about signing contracts you canâ€™t hope to live up to.
Here are a few of the fondest memories of Jeff Finger from the Leafs fans who knew him best:
â€œI liked making all the finger puns (finger bang, finger sandwich, etc)â€-@loser_domi
â€œMy favourite moment has been every time the Finger contract has made me feel *slightly* better about Komi’s.â€-@HailGrabovski
â€œWhen he was sent to the Marlies.â€-@MattFHarris
â€œRemember that time Jeff Finger was playing for the Marlies instead of the Leafs? Good times..good times…â€-@Just_Peachy_13
â€œI have two, this hitÂ http://youtu.be/FC_NT4BC9iM and a goal I canâ€™t seem to find where he is on a 2 on 1 and snipes it.â€-@jaredlondon
â€œRight after we signed him all the rumours that Fletcher thought he was signing a different Colorado D.â€-@goddtill
â€œFinger walked right by me after aÂ Marlies game and wouldn’t sign my jersey.â€-@DWKeoughan
â€œMy favourite Jeff Finger memory is when he wasn’t being paid by the Leafs.â€-@TVsBrent
The Jeff Finger contract may be coming to an end, but Iâ€™d like to believe it will live on in every Komisarek healthy scratch, the inevitable Colby Armstrong waiving, and every time we say â€œFuck! We have how many more years of Liles?!â€ Truly it has been a memorable four years.