Jeff Finger will make his return to the ice this weekend, but it won’t be for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
After clearing waivers and being sent down to the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies earlier in the week, Finger will finally relinquish his spot in the Leafs’ press box and get back to doing what he gets paid for.
“It’s kind of like a new beginning,” Finger told the National Post Friday. “You just get a new energy to be able to play again. I could sit up in the press box for the rest of my career, or I could come down here and try to do something.
“So it’s a positive. Bottom line is I want to play.”
Although clearing the 30-year-old’s $3.5 million contract off the ledger is a shrewd business move by Leafs GM Brian Burke, head coach Ron Wilson believes the demotion is about more than dollars and cents.
“It’s not so much just a business move,” Wilson told reporters Tuesday. “We’ve got seven guys better than him right now. That’s what it came down to.”
It’s an unfortunate result for a player who wasn’t given much of a chance under Burke’s new regime.
Finger played in 39 games last season, compiling two goals and 10 points with a miserable minus-11 rating. But once again, numbers are only part of the equation, as the stay-at-home defenseman spent the year bouncing in and out of the lineup.
Finger’s longest stretch of games played was eight, which he did twice (Nov. 6-Nov. 21 and Mar. 4-Mar. 16).
Regardless of whether his ice time was warranted, it can’t be easy to get into a groove and gain the necessary confidence when yo-yoing up and down from the press box.
When the Marlies travel to Hamilton this Saturday to take on the Bulldogs, Finger officially begins his second stint as an AHLer, having spent the first four years of his professional career riding the bus in the minors.
“The only chance I got is to try to make something happen down here. That’s what this league is all about,” he said.
“It’s not a bad place to be.”
Not bad at all, considering he doesn’t have to leave the city he has called home for three years and still will reap the rewards of his lucrative contract.
He also escapes escrow payments—a percentage of a players’ salary that is collected in case the league suffers a financial meltdown—which is currently set at 17 per cent for the first quarter and not applicable in the AHL.
The Michigan native will join a team in search of its first win and should provide a good dose of leadership to a squad lacking a veteran presence on the back end.
And according to Wilson, if somebody on the big club is struggling or hit with injury, Finger is at the top of the call-up list.
“If Finger plays well and somebody on our team isn’t, we’ll recall him,” Wilson said. “He didn’t get a great opportunity in camp because of a couple of injuries, but clearly the other guys have performed very well.”