Free Agent Thoughts

Here are some of my thoughts on the free agent signings so far.

1. I want to give the finger tor all those who are outraged at the Jeff Finger signing and who have seen him play fewer than two games. Yes, that is pretty much everyone. As a Leaf fan I am a little skeptical of the Finger signing but I am going to reserve judgment until at least December when we will have seen him in action for a couple months and that is what all you Leaf fans should do. It astonishes me how many people will call it a bad signing without even knowing a thing about the player being signed.

2. Wade Redden for 6 years at $6.5 million has to be one of the worst signings of this off season. Redden has some skill but he has been pretty weak the past season or two and while a change of scenery might help him, I am almost certain he won’t come close to living up to that contract.

3. The best signing so far has been Brian Rolston by the New Jersey Devils. Not only will Rolston add some much needed offense to the Devil’s lineup, having played with the Devils previously and the Wild the past several seasons he will fit in perfectly to the Devils defensive system. Now if the Devils could just improve their defense crew they will be back to a Stanley Cup contending team.

4. Whatever happens with the Finger signing, I think Leaf fans will be pleased with the Hagman signing. He’ll add some much needed speed and defensive ability to the Leafs lineup. Just don’t expect 25 goals from him, but 15-20 is certainly possible. The Leafs won’t be as bad as everyone thinks/assumes.

5. The most active teams this off season have been Tampa, Edmonton and Columbus though I am not sure any of them are significantly better, particularly if Tampa goes and trades Dan Boyle. Columbus signing of Mike Commodore for 5 years at $3.75 million is a contender for worst signing this off season. It would not surprise me if all three missed the playoffs again.

6. Detroit is scary good, but you already knew that didn’t you.

7. Can everyone please stop asking “why did we have the lockout when we are seeing these crazy high salaries once again”. Whoever says that should immediate walk the stupidity plank because they don’t have a clue. First, the salary cap rising to $56.7 million only did so because the revenues are there. That is called linkage which the owners demanded and got. Second, pre-lockout players were getting up to $10-12 million contracts and second tier players like Bill Guerin and Bobby Holik were getting $9 million per season. The high end salaries now have not caught up to pre-lockout levels.

8. It might take another season but the Phoenix Coyotes are assembling a very good team with a mixture of size and skill.

This article has 24 Comments

  1. Who convinced feeble-minded Clifford to do anything more than look pretty and deal with Sundin (f@cked up that one too) – I blame them.

    Finger . . give me a few moments to draw a connection.

    . . .

    ah yes, it would seem that the Leafs scout who handled the NCAA may have particular pull with the Leafs brass. Finger joins the big Wos-niew and prospects Alex Foster and Tyler Ruegsegger as players from Michigan. Include Wos-niew’s teammate from Wisconsin, LA-born Robbie Earl and Stratford Conneticut’s Jamie Seifers and let’s not forget the ineffectual Johnny Pohl, and you have in effect an American youth movement sourced from the NCAA. (other less-known US/NCAA notables include Alex Berry, Jimmy Hayes and Pierce Norton).

    So who is holding this power?

    Dave Morrison.

    Dave Morrison USED to be in charge of Leafs scouting for the NCAA until he was promoted to director of amateur scouting June 2006 under JFJ. Hence the Finger deal. I can hear him already, “Clifford, I’ve had my finger on this Finger kid for awhile, he’s the real deal. Better than those other Americans I’ve been going on about.”

    Blame him.

  2. Finger has played in the NHL for more than a full season and is well removed from his NCAA days. The Leafs pro scouts are the reason for the Finger signing.

    Pohl was brought in by JFJ because JFJ was familiar with him from each of their tenures in the Blues organization and had nothing to do with any Leaf scout.

  3. Another thing, have you considered the pairings for next year. Sheesh. Add Ron Wildon, and you have boring defensive soul-sucking hockey.

    Blake / Antropov / Ponikarovsky
    Hagman / Steen / Tlusty
    Bell / Stajan / Mayers
    Newbury / Devereaux / Williams
    Earl / Pohl / Ruegsegger

    Kubina / Kaberle
    McCabe / Finger
    Strallman / Kronwall
    Coliacovo / White

    Toskala / Joseph / Pogge

  4. It is almost impossible to predict how the Leafs lines will unfold because of all the player changes they have/are making and a new coach. I also think there will still be another move or two made by Fletcher before the season begins and I really wouldn’t be surprised if Sundin returned as well.

    The biggest question is who will fill the center ice positions. Stajan seems to be the only guy who is a lock to play center as every other possibility are players who have played center or wing in their careers and who ends up where is a guessing game. If Sundin doesn’t return I think Antropov gets the #1 center role but I wouldn’t rule out Steen getting an opportunity. Newly acquired Grabovsky will likely get a shot at second or third line center as well but may be better suited to a LW position. I believe Hagman has even played some center earlier in his career as well.

    Your lines are’t too bad though Kulemin will almost certainly make the lineup and Pohl is done as a Leaf.

  5. I agree that it’s hard to predict how the Leafs will do (and I agree that Cliff probably has a few more moves to make). The question I have is how much ice time will the yougsters actually get? Who will play on the power play? They look dramatically improved in the PK department but if the goals cannot be found they’ll be losing more than winning. Is Steen going to increase his point production? Can Bell and Tlusty find consistency? How will Kulemin and Finger adjust to playing in Toronto? Will Toskala make it the whole season without pulling his groin? Will McCabe actually suit up come October? Will Antropov and/or Poni still be on the team after the trade deadline?
    With all these (and many more) issues up in the air, estimating where the Leafs will land in the standings is quite a guessing game. Ottawa, Buff and Mtl have made few changes and it’s unkown whether Boston can surprise everyone again so we’ll just have to wait and see if Cliff’s makeover will have positive results.
    Any way you slice it, it looks like Vancouver, Atlanta and the Islanders will be fighting it out for Tavares. I can’t see the Leafs finishing as low as them.

  6. Just to play the antagonist. Why would it be fair to wait to judge the Finger signing on what might happen, but not fair to evaluate it on what has happened? I think, even if the deal proves to be a good one for the Leafs, it will be a bad one for all the teams, in that it effectively paid a player based purely on speculation, without past performance results to base this upon. Doesn’t any NHL player have potential? Yes. Therefore, shouldn’t they all be given the benefit of the doubt, as has been granted Finger? If I was a player agent, I’d certainly think so, wouldn’t you?

  7. My criticism is of people who criticize the signing without having seen Finger play a game of hockey. There has been a lot of piling on with respect to the Finger signing.

    I can’t say I have seen him play much but here is what I do know:

    1. He was second on the Avalanche in hits so it seems he plays a physical game.

    2. He had the 4th best +/- on the team at +12 which is always a good sign.

    3. Of Avalanche defensemen, only Scott Hannan had more even strength points than Finger who had 19 points (17 even strength) in 72 games so he isn’t completely offensively inept.

    4. In my player ratings Finger got a 1.27 offensive rating and a 0.96 defense rating for an overall rating of 1.11 which makes him an average or better defenseman (a 1.00 rating would be about average). Not bad for a guy in his first full NHL season.

    So if we looked at the signing in a less passionate and more analytical way the contract seems somewhat justified. Considering he has only played one full NHL season it is still a bit risky but based on that one season the contract isn’t completely out of whack and it may turn out to be a bargain if he improves any.

  8. The only thing that you missed is that he is 28 not 22. Everybody is a little mislead in the belief that we picked up this great young prospect with tremendous upside. He may have upside but he has also had a while to prove it. I thought he was a good player in Colorado and watched him quite a bit. But more like $2M good. They simply overpaid, like they always do.

  9. David, fair enough on the positive side, but, when evaluating a 28 yr old player, with 1 year of NHL experience, for a contract, I would think it would also be prudent to keep two other glaring issues is mind;
    1. He was a healthy scratch through-out the post season.
    2. His own team let him walk.
    Ultimately my concern with the signing is that the terms amount to what should be fair compensation to a proven journeyman Dman, or a promising Dman prospect, and to me, all things considered, Finger represents neither of those player profiles.
    Hey, maybe it will work out great, I’m certainly not saying it won’t, but I’m also glad, at this point, he wasn’t signed by the Sens to that contract. Maybe I’ll wish he had been in time, but not now.

  10. No doubt that there is risk in the signing and certainly some question marks. I have never denied that. My whole point is that it irks me when a bunch of people who have never seen Jeff Finger play more than 2 games criticize the deal outright without even considering the potential positives.

    But if you ask me who I would rather have in my lineup, Jeff Finger or Matt Carkner, I’ll choose Jeff Finger anytime. Stanley Cup contenders don’t have defense crews consisting of 27 year old rookies like Matt Carkner or even a 21 year old rookie like Brian Lee. They just don’t and maybe that is why Colorado didn’t play Finger. They went with experience.

  11. And how much do Carkner and Lee make again?
    Combined total @1.75M
    For this you have in Lee a Dman with as much or more potential then Finger, and an enforcer.
    Hey, not trying to start anything, but come on, the guy earned 3.5M after one season. That’s a curious move at best. That’s all I’m saying. People may not have watched him play, but at 3.5M, they expected to at least know his name, and when they checked him out, I’m sure many were exactly stocked to see he has one year of experience under his belt before earning that kind of money. Like I said, maybe I’ll be kicking Murray for not having signed him, who knows, but, if I had to bet, it’ll likely not be the case.
    As for NHL winning teams with rookies on D, there are plenty of them, Kent Huskins off the top of my head.

  12. No doubt as a Leaf fan I would trade Finger for Lee, but that is because Lee has more upside. But the Leafs are not intending to be Cup condenders this upcoming season while the Senators want to be or at least want their fans to think they are. But go back and check out how many cup winners have multiple rookies on their team let alone a rookie defenseman in their top 4. The Senators could have Lee, Foligno, Bass, Carkner, Winchester, and possibly Zubov or Nikulin in their lineup on a regular or semi-regular basis. That is far too many rookies/inexperienced players. That is the point I was trying to make with Lee.

    As for Huskins, he was the #5 or #6 defenseman behind a top 4 that played the majority of the game including 3 guys (Pronger, Niedermayer and Beauchemin) that played around 30 minutes a game. Ottawa is not in the position to have any of their defense play anywhere close to 30 minutes a game and while Huskins was only asked to play 11 minutes, Lee would probably be required to play 18+ minutes possibly on the second pairing. Ottawa doesn’t have a 30 minute defenseman, or even a 20 minute defenseman and Lee played 14:30 in last years playoffs. Next season the Senators have to make up Redden’s and Commodore’s approximately 20 minutes a piece and a lot of that will get placed on the shoulders of Lee. Stanley Cup winners with a rookie among the top 4 defensemen is very rare.

  13. Finger has yet to prove he is worth 3.5M, maybe he will. As such, for a team looking to do a virtual complete rebuild, it makes for a very odd signing, as by the time the contract expires, the team MAY be just entering into a competitive position. So, why pay the big contract? I honestly don’t get it. The player carried no marketing cache. The player has a very limited track record. The contract does not extend into the period it would be most valuable, if in fact the Leafs do believe he is a diamond in the rough. It just makes no sense…unless, they had to offer crazy money to get a player to sign in TO. That, I suspect, is the real truth of the matter. From that perspective (and why not just admit it as have other GM’s) it at least makes sense.
    As for the Sens looking to win a Cup this season, I agree, that would be a marketing ploy at best. The fact is last season was the year they were targeted to go over the top, and instead they stumbled badly, to say the least. This season is setting up to be a mini rebuild, as is common in a salary cap league. I suspect this plays a large part in why Murray has avoided making a big move on an aging UFA. After this season Murray will have a much better picture of what his team will look like, and can make far more effective choices in what types of players the team will need going forward. With the number of rookies looking to either make this team, or make regular appearances, it is too early to tell just what the Sens really have, apart from the known commodities already locked up.

  14. As such, for a team looking to do a virtual complete rebuild, it makes for a very odd signing, as by the time the contract expires, the team MAY be just entering into a competitive position.

    This is simply not true. Everyone assumes that the Leafs are 3-4 years away from competing but that is not the case. In the age of mass mediocrity there is a fine line between being 12th in your conference and being 4th. The Flyers made a major turn around in one season so the Leafs could certainly do it in 2 or three. Everyone assumes that the Leafs lack young talent and while it is probably true that they lack all-star forward level talent they don’t lack young talent. Jiri Tlusty is still a very good prospect. Nikolai Kulemin was one of the best players in Russia the past couple years and will likely make the Leafs this coming season. Grabovski has ample offensive upside. Stajan and Steen are just entering their prime and are ready for more prominant roles (particularly Steen). Stralman looks like a very good puck moving defenseman with a bright future and Luke Schenn is a top level shut down defensive defenseman in the making. If Colaiacovo could figure out how to stay healthy I think he could be a very good two-way defenseman as well. When he has been healthy he has been very good. Plus they have more second and third tier prospects like Earl, Newbury, Boyce, Foster, Mitchell, Didomenico, etc. that could develop into nice secondary players.

    Furthermore, the Leafs have depth to make trades and cap space to acquire and pay top talent. With some smart, bold moves the Leafs could be a solid playoff team as early as 2009-10 and a contender in 2010-11. It doesn’t take long to turn a team around in the new NHL.

    So, why pay the big contract? I honestly don’t get it. The player carried no marketing cache. The player has a very limited track record. The contract does not extend into the period it would be most valuable, if in fact the Leafs do believe he is a diamond in the rough. It just makes no sense…unless, they had to offer crazy money to get a player to sign in TO.

    The Leafs don’t care or need marketing cache, particularly this summer and even if we assume the contract won’t extend into the period of most value to the Leafs (though I disagree) if the Leafs do believe he will be a solid #3/4 defenseman and he turns out to be that then it is a good deal even if the only benefit is in 2-3 years you can trade him away for a very nice prospect or draft pick at the trade deadline.

    As for the Senators, they have lost their window of opportunity. Their true window of opportunity was the first two seasons after the lockout but they never made the big trade or free agent signing to put them over the top. Instead they went with inexperience or soft players on the third and fourth lines and it cost them. Their window is now closed and they can only hope that a new one opens up a few years down the road if/when Meszaros and Lee become a force on defense and they develop some more talent up front (though there isn’t a lot in the pipeline). My fear for Ottawa is that they will be a good but not great team for the duration of the Heatley and Spezza contracts because they don’t have the prospects in the pipeline nor will they have the cap space to fill out their roster with a quality support crew.

  15. I’ve heard the attempted comparisons to the Flyers before, and this is simply not a viable comparison, unless Toronto is able to leverage some talent from Kubina, Ponikarovski, and or McCabe.
    Neither Stajan nor Steen represent top 6 talent, nor does Tlusty or Kulemin, who still has to sign to a NA contract, and has yet to play a single game in the A or NHL. His last Russian contract paid him 6x his entry level deal with the Leafs, and I doubt this will change now, more likely to go up. As for his potential, sure, maybe, but he’s not projected to be a top six player and is still a long way off from proving he’s even an NHL calibre player.
    Schenn at the moment represents the only top prospect in the Leafs org, with the possible exception of Pogge, who has yet to develop into the prospect he was targeted to become when the Leafs moved Rask, who has proven to have the ability to test the NHL next season.
    As for Ottawa, I couldn’t disagree more. Unlike Toronto, they have a wealth of offensive talent in Spezza, and Heatley. This leaves them with having to acquire a top 2 offensive Dman, and one or 2 top six forwards. If Vermette signs, and Zubov or Foligno develop into this role, Sens would need only 1 top six forward to eventually replace the ageing Alfredsson.
    As it stands, along with Detroit and Pittsburgh, Ottawa has among the best long term rosters prospects.
    Because Toronto lacks this top offensive talent, and is burdened by current contracts and buy-out commitments, I believe their potential for being competitive is a minimum of 3 years out, and will rely on some very sound management, something the Leafs have yet to show in decades.
    Time will tell.

  16. Further to the above.
    How you can advance the contention that without top talent, the Leafs may quite possibly be able to develop into Cup contenders within 3 years, but the Sens, with a better cap situation then the Leafs, and a locked up top talent core will quite possibly not re-attain cup contention status within the nest 6 years is simply incomprehensible. It would appear to me a great deal of optimism on one hand, and a great deal of essimism on the other, with no clear correlation to actual roster depth.

  17. And lastly…I suspect, as fans of the Sens and the Leafs, we could continue this debate ad nauseum, to absolutely no resolution, lol! I’m more then willing to agree to disagree, as honestly, I doubt either of us are likely to be swayed to the others point of view.

  18. I really think the Leafs have got a decent prospect in Tyler Ruegsegger. I covered the ‘Gold Pan’ between Denver University and Colorado College and Tyler played quite well. Sure, WCHA is different than the bigtime, but he put some goals togther this past year that were spectacular and added some pretty solid numbers too. Team USA came calling and a trip to the Marlies soon seems imminent.

    Finger is a decent player and you always pay more at this time of year.

    I love seeing the Senators fans’ point-of-view too!

    I am on board for that Phoenix asssesment. Holy crap! Jared Staal AND Viktor Tikhonov?!! Other teams should be ashamed to have let Wayne do that….Coupled with Brzygalov, Hanzal, Mueller, Jokinen, Doan, Carcillo, Jovo Cop. Man o’ man. You add in McGrattan, Michalek on D and this team is headed up in the standings.

  19. Agreed wordbird, he has great hands and vision, but his size…seriously undersized, especially if facing fast mobile checking forwards. With his lack of foot speed he could get run over like a turtle crossing the freeway. But, if he adds some bulk, and really buckles down, he could develop into a decent PP specialist.

  20. Kulemin signed an entry level 3 year contract with the Leafs last year. He had to finish off his deal with Metallurg Magnitogorsk to avoid having to buy out of the last year of his deal. He’s also been one of the top 10-15 forwards in the RSL for the past few years, and was a key player, and top goal scorer for the RSL championship team 2 seasons ago. He’s a former regular line mate of Ovechkin and Malkin, and should be considered a top tier prospect.

    Tlusty led the Czech Junior team in scoring with 7 points in 7 games at the 2005-06 World Juniors. He also made it to the Czech men’s league as a 17 year old, before coming over to play in North America following his draft year. He suited up for the Soo Greyhounds and produced 51 points in 50 regular season and playoff games, while adjusting very briefly to a new country and culture. He should develop into a top flight talent in the future.

    If you toss in Anton Stralman, Justin Pogge, Tyler Ruegsegger, Luke Schenn, Mikhail Grabovski, Jimmy Hayes, Mikhail Stefanovich, and Dmitri Vorobiev (if they ever get him to cross the pond), and the Leafs really aren’t as bare in the cupboard as some people might think.

    They have skilled young players… they just have to develop them appropriately.

  21. Steve, you’re absolutely right, I should have said, Kulemin had yet to play under a NA contract, if you read further in my post you would see I acknowledged he had signed an entry level deal, my bad.
    Reports have it the Kulemin will be at the Leafs DC, beginning tomorrow, but, when faced with laying in the A, for an entry level salary, well, time will tell. He may very well be coming on board with the intention of playing in the NHL, and, like Kaigorodov, not be prepared to stay if not on the big club. Remember, Kaigorodov was a star on Metal, and was not able to perform at the NHL level when he came over.
    The Leafs aren’t bare, per se, but apart from Schen and possibly Pogge, they are lacking in top level talent, which is the hardest to buy.
    As for Tlusty, I think he’ll be a decent forward, that may earn a top 6 spot eventually, but more likely will remain a career third line player, IMO.

  22. Fletcher has pretty much said that Kulemin will make the team. Of course he has to come in and perform but he basically has a spot to lose. The difference between Kaigorodov and Kulemin is Kaigorodov was skilled but soft while Kulemin is possibly not quite as skilled (at playmaking especially) but is not afraid to going into the corners or driving to the net. He shouldn’t be intimidated by the more physical NHL. He still has to come here and execute but he has to be considered a very good prospect with a fairly high upside.

    As for Tlusty, at times last year he looked a little lost and overwhelmed but at other times he showed the abundance of skill he has (like when he scored 5 goals in a 7 game span in March). It’ll be interesting to watching his progress this season when he should get a more prominent role with more ice time and more PP time.

  23. . . . almost forgot 26 year old, 5’6″ 150lbs Timmy Stapleton. another product of Dave Morrison’s mind. Will most likely toil in the AHL.

    Where do these guys come from?

    I know where they are going . . .

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