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I can't understand why they have struggled...

I really have no axe to grind against the Toronto Maple Leafs. I have no vested interest in seeing them perpetually mired in mediocrity. I'm sure the management is trying really hard and all, but I read something today that really has me scratching my head.

As for his work in Day 1 of the open market, Fletcher claimed he was happy to sign a "shutdown" defenseman, and a "versatile winger" that can also score. "A lot of people in Toronto are asking me, 'Who the hell is Jeff Finger?' simply because they haven't seen him play," Fletcher scoffed. "But, [former Colorado coach] Joel Quennville told me he was one of the five best defensemen in the Western Conference last year. He played against the best players on every other team. [Leafs' coach] Ron Wilson told me he was always on the ice in San Jose games against Joe Thornton. Same thing with Jarome Iginla in Calgary, or the Sedin twins [Henrik and Daniel] in Vancouver. Quennville said [Finger] was his best defenseman in the last half of the year."

Man, where to begin, where to begin...

First of all, the following has nothing to do with Jeff Finger. I am a fan and will try to watch him the two or three times next year that Hockey Night in Canada broadcasts a Leafs game. I do think the Leafs overpaid for him, but a lot of teams overpaid for far bigger stiffs yesterday.

Jeff Finger is a lot of things. "Shutdown defensemen" is not one of them. I find it amusing that Cliff Fletcher takes fans to task for not having seen Finger, but then seems to imply that he hasn't seen him either. Instead, he's relying on the word of a currently-unemployed coach. It's okay, Cliff. As long as Joel Quenneville says he's one of the top 5 defensemen, you'll be fine. If there's anything Quenneville showed us in Colorado, it's that he's a suberb judge of talent. I'm sure the fact that he benched Finger for a while in the playoffs after he misplayed a puck was just because that top 5 D-man needed a little break. And in the Detroit series, when the cameras seemed to catch a red-faced Quenneville screaming "what the fuck are you doing", what he really was saying was "you're doing a hell of a job, Brownie". Maybe I'm just not all that good at reading lips.

Here's the sentence that really threw me: "[Leafs' coach] Ron Wilson told me he was always on the ice in San Jose games against Joe Thornton". Which begs the following question: was Ron Wilson watching any of those games?

Vic Ferrari runs a cool site that generates NHL shift charts (since the NHL can no longer be bothered to do such remedial taks). Here's the 4 games this year between Colorado and San Jose:

You can drag and drop players around to line Finger and Thornton up to show just how often Finger was matched up against Thornton. In the first game, the two each took 19 shifts. How many times were they on the ice together? Zip. Nada. Zilch. Maybe Wilson was counting the warmups? The 2nd matchup was the only real significant time that Finger was used against Thornton - 14 shifts (out of 28 for Finger and 30 for Thornton). That worked so well that when the clubs faced each other a few days later, Finger was only used 6 times against Thornton. Ditto for the final matchup. A decent number of these shifts were PP shifts for Thornton (which makes sense, as Finger was one of our regular penalty killers) and a significant number were shifts were Finger was already on the ice when Wilson sent Thornton on - not exactly the same was "always on the ice".

I'm not going to waste my time with the Iginla and Sedin games. It's true that Finger spent some time against Iginla (and had some success, including Iggy into taking some really stupid penalties), but I don't think he saw a ton of the Sedins. Simply put, the Avalanche generally had other guys - Brett Clark, Scott Hannan and, eventually, Adam Foote - out there against the opponents' top forwards. That's not to say he couldn't have done well in that role, but, again, that's not really the point.

Toronto fans, my heart goes out to you. You've got a GM who apparently is using an ex-coach who can't judge talent as a scout and you've got a coach who seemed to be watching a different game than the one he was coaching. Uh, good luck with that.

EDIT: Just minutes after finishing this, I see that someone else has already covered it and did a much better job.