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Jeff Finger

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Friends, we are gathered here today to honour the man and the legacy that is Jeff Finger. It’s hard to believe it’s been four years next Saturday, but Jeff Finger’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 couldn’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 Finger’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.

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Nick Kypreos has tweeted this little gem today:

#Leafs put Jeff Finger on #NHL waivers today.

This finally puts an end to the long period of speculation over the future of Jeff Finger. When he clears tomorrow, it will be interesting to see where he ends up playing. Renegotiating with another NHL team or even playing in Europe would perhaps be more entertaining to Finger but wouldn’t be the wise financial move as he’d have to opt out of his current contract by not reporting to the Marlies. While Wilson has been adamant that a return to the NHL this season isn’t an impossibility, it seems Finger will be left to lead a Marlies team that has started with a 0-2 record.

Where would you like to see Finger play?

After what seemed like a lifetime of waiting for fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the new look squad hit the ice Thursday night for their home opener against the arch rival Montreal Canadiens, and with it marked the true dawning of a new age in Leafs Nation.

While it’s true the hiring of Ron Wilson and Brian Burke will go down as the day the team began to turn the page on years of management misfortune, and the Dion Phaneuf day could very well end up being the trade that sparks the team forward much like the Doug Gilmour trade before it, Thursday night’s season premiere was really the first time since all this has taken place that it was truly a different roster.

Gone were the incumbents of past regimes, It was finally Brian Burke’s team.  Having flipped the entire roster (sans Tomas Kaberle and Jeff Finger) Burke’s vision of the team could finally be implemented, his stamp beginning to form.

And it was, for one game at least, as advertised.

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J-S Giguere

Jean-Sebastien Giguere

The wait is over. After yet another long off-season following a fifth consecutive year of missing out on the NHL post-season, the Toronto Maple Leafs are set to kick off the 2010-11 season against their oldest rival, the Montreal Canadiens.

Both teams have undergone an off-season where – despite the lack of a full-scale overhaul – crucial moves were made to bring in key players or (in Montreal’s case) provide a better opportunity for players already in the organization. Gone from the 2009-10 Toronto lineup are Viktor Stalberg, Rickard Wallin and Keith Primeau, replaced by Kris Versteeg, Colby Armstrong, and Brett Lebda. In Montreal, the most impactful move was the trade of playoff hero Jaroslav Halak to St Louis in exchange for Lars Eller, a move which paves the way for Carey Price to assert his standing among starting NHL netminders.

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It’ll probably be labeled as a “typical Leafs fan” debate given their status as lower roster players but there has been a number of questions arising out of yesterday’s demotion of Christian Hanson and Luca Caputi in favour of John Mitchell and Tim Brent… and rightfully so, in my opinion, given the “earn your spot mentality” conveyed by Leafs brass and that both followed the off-season regimens recommended to them and came into camp by storm looking bigger, faster, stronger and more dynamic offensively.

While it’s too early to judge, I am not saying the decisions to originally sign either player in John Mitchell or Brett Lebda were wise; in the cap sense and numerically, both signings have me wondering, particularly in Lebda’s case. It’s hard to see where Burke arrived at the need for someone of Lebda’s ilk and price tag unless better offers were assumed to be incoming for Tomas Kaberle. But the decision made by coach Wilson yesterday, forgetting arguments about the off-season decisions and shifting to training camp and preseason, can be understood:

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Here are tonight’s lines courtesy of Pension Plan Puppets:

Versteeg – Bozak - Kessel
MacArthur – Grabovski - Kulemin
Sjostrom – Brent - Armstrong
Orr – Zigomanis – Brown

Beauchemin – Phaneuf
Kaberle – Komisarek
Gunnarsson – Schenn

Giguere
Gustavsson

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Jeff Finger returns to the line-up tonight in Detroit in what many will suggest is his Maple Leafs swan song/final pit stop en route to the Marlies. Burke is saying the right things about Finger’s right to a “fair look” and the importance of respecting players acquired via free agency as it relates to organizational reputation. But the realities are this: the Leafs are sitting with both Brett Lebda and Finger on the outside of their top six, over the cap by around $300k and uncomfortably close even with Lashoff and his $550k assigned to the Marlies. And that’s assuming Nazem Kadri and his $1.7 million cap hit will not be a part of the roster come opening night. If it’s important to show respect to signed free agents, surely Lebda won’t be Marlie-bound after his first training camp as a Leaf. Simply, something has to give, and the $3.5 million Finger, a Leaf of two seasons now, seems the obvious candidate for demotion.

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The Leafs head to the capital tonight to take on their bitter provincial rivals, the Ottawa Senators, for the third time in seven preseason games.

Tonight’s game figures to be the last chance for players on the bubble, including highly-touted Nazem Kadri, to make a lasting impression. When asked about these players, head coach Ron Wilson was emphatic:

“When the puck drops on the first day, you better be ready to go. No tip-toeing around. No ‘oh, the water’s cold, I’ll wait until it warms up a bit’. Nope, you’re diving in and the guys who didn’t, as [Leafs' GM Brian Burke] said, they’re waiting by the bus stop. Well, they missed it, the bus already left. Now their job is running down the road hoping they can get on.” (via)

With the pre-season set to end with a home-and-home against Detroit to open the month of October, the general sentiment is the Leafs will use a roster for those games comprised of the players who are expected be with the NHL club on opening night. For Nazem Kadri, John Mitchell, Jay Rosehill and Mike Zigomanis, tonight (or by a slim chance the first of the two Detroit games) may be their last shot.

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In part ten of his 12 burning questions series, Derek Harmsworth takes a look at the importance of a good early start, and if the Leafs can avoid another disastrous start.

There really isn’t any other way to put it.  No matter how you slice it, no matter how you try to spin it, or how you try to put a sugar coating on it, the cold hard fact still shines through.

The Toronto Maple Leafs were not a very good team last year.

Although their stats, and their general play, improved dramatically following the late January trades that saw them overturn nearly half their lineup, the fact remains that the 2009-2010 edition of the Maple Leafs fought inconsistency, as well as young inexperience that had them struggling most of the year.

But it could be argued that never were they worse, than in the first month of the season.

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    Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke, ridiculed in some circles, heralded in others, after the way the Tomas Kaberle deal went down, has not been hiding in the shadows after his inability, or unwillingness, to trade the Czech born blue liner.  Burke spoke to the media yesterday and made a variety of statements that should peak the interest of Leafs Nation.

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    A Comparison of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Defensemen

    By: Byron Nelson (aka: DefenseWinsChampionships)

    Bored at work on a Monday afternoon, I found myself wondering which current Maple Leafs’ defenseman had the best season in 2009/2010. While the obvious pick would be a flashy, high point-producing player like Tomas Kaberle or Dion Phaneuf, it seemed as if a greater deal of investigation would be required to come up with an informative answer. Needless to say, investigate is exactly what I did.

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    Leafs Preseason Synopsis Part 1  – Defense and Goaltending

    By: Michael Cuttell

    With free agency cooling off and countless free-agent and team roster questions floating around, it’s time for Leafs fans to look at what they have, what they can afford to lose , what they need, and what they can realistically get to fill those needs. This is a step by step speculative analysis of those questions.

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    When Brian Burke added Mike Komisarek and Francois Beauchemin to an established Leafs cast of Luke Schenn, Tomas Kaberle, Ian White and Jeff Finger it looked to all that the Toronto GM had built himself an enviable problem. A premium blueline, arguably one of the finest in the Eastern Conference, that also came with a premium price tag.

    Of course, what began an enviable problem on paper quickly devolved into an actual problem when the new additions failed to mesh into a cohesive unit with defensive and special team frailties more apparent than those of an comparatively budget offense.

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      We’ve partnered up with Pension Plan Puppets to bring to you a Player Review series, where we will be evaluating and grading the 2009-10 season for every Leaf who featured in a significant number of games for the Blue and White last season, with an eye towards 2010-11. Today we feature Jeff Finger, profiled by Alec Brownscombe.

      The Summary:

      A former 1999 eighth round pick, Jeff Finger came to the Leafs via unrestricted free agency as a 29-year-old who was skating in the ECHL the last time Toronto made the playoffs. After his first steady NHL season with Colorado in ’07-08, Cliff Fletcher rolled the dice on a $3 million-per-year raise for the journeyman that will cost the Leafs 3.5 million against the cap annually until 2012. Fletcher obviously thought there was a lot more to come from Finger in his late development as a two-way defenceman, but let’s just say on that fateful day in July, 2008, the optics weren’t good.

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      Lots of reading today: Gus chips in an  analogical look at the NHL playoff series; Alex has your links with a look at potential Leaf Jussi Rynnas.

      In what was Brian Burke’s first summer on the job with the Toronto Maple Leafs, it was clear from the get go that he put an onus on improving specialty teams, and also team defense.  The brash Toronto GM made a lot of moves as it related to improving these areas, and on paper they looked like a sure recipe for change and improvement.

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      Now that the Leafs’ most important pending free agent — goaltender Jonas Gustavsson — has been signed to a two-year contract extension, it is time to take a look at their remaining free agent players.

      Notably, the list of expiring contracts includes pending RFAs Nikolai Kulemin, Christian Hanson and John Mitchell. Pending UFAs on the Leafs’ roster include Wayne Primeau, Rickard Wallin, Jamie Lundmark, Garnet Exelby and Mike Van Ryn.

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      When Brian Burke became the new general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs in November of 2008, Leafs Nation embarked on a new journey.  A new beginning.  With Burke at the helm, the Leafs organization finally had a general manager who had credentials.  Who had a winning pedigree.  Who had the exact type of attitude the Toronto market needed.

      A man who wouldn’t take any nonsense from anyone, and a man who wasn’t afraid to pull the trigger on a big move that may set the team up for the better in the long term, a characteristic it seemed so many Leafs GM’s lacked in between the time of Fletcher’s first run, and Burke being christened as the new head of the front office.

      Finally, Leafs fans were able to legitimately talk about the “Big O”, and they weren’t faking it either.

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      With the final bell about to ring season most fans would be happy to forget – although the impending draft all but dictates they most assuredly will not – the Maple Leafs will officially enter the offseason five campaigns removed from the playoffs at the conclusion of Saturday night’s game in Montreal.

      Unlike previous years, however, this season has revealed to fans — amidst the rubble of far too many losses — a silver lining of sorts: the promise of youth.

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        Pride, youthful enthusiasm, new contracts and job opportunities for next season continue to provide more than enough hop in the Leaf step as they look to make it eight wins in their last ten and seven in their last eight at home when they play host to the Rangers at the ACC tonight.