Thursday marks the midpoint of the Avalanche season and soon after that I'll be posting my grades on each of the Avs so far this year. In light of that, I thought I'd take the opportunity to check in on some players who wore the burgundy and blue uniprons last year and are now with different teams. I enlisted the help of the SB Nation blogger who covers each player's respective new team. I asked each of them what the expectations were when the player was acquired and how they have performed to date. To keep this manageable, I'm splitting it into a couple of parts. Today, we look at three defensemen.
#4 / Defenseman / Toronto Maple Leafs
Dec 18, 1979
Jeff Finger struck oil this offseason, signing with the Leafs for a whopping 4 year, $14 million contract ($3.5 million per year). Here's what our friend Pension Plan Puppets had to say about Jeff:
Jeff Finger (noun)
- Punchline to any joke about NHL Unrestricted Free Agent Signings
- Defenceman for the Toronto Maple Leafs (so a different kind of punchline)
- In need of a beard
Pity poor Jeff Finger because he never stood a chance. Nevermind that reaction to his signing ranged from the ridiculous (Fletcher meant to sign Sauer) to the ignorant (how can a rebuilding team sign a 28 year old?). The poor bastard was doomed from the moment the ink was dry on the contract because the mindset of the average hockey fan is pretty simple: dollars = points. Finger was never going to get the chance to put up points since the top PP pairing of Kaberle and Kubina play basically the entire two minutes every time. That's why his TOI with the man advantage is 0.55/60. The Two Wild and Crazy Guys also play with the top offensive units. So poor Jeff was behind the eightball from the outset.
So how is he doing? Well, he's playing the most minutes at even strength and plays the second most shorthanded. Considering that the Leafs usually find themselves in the 28-30 range in the league on the PK he might not be doing that good of a job. Then again, Vesa Toskala and Curtis Joseph have been horrific in net so that probably skews his results a bit. Once Burke has had a chance to move Kaberle and Kubina out it'll give Finger a chance to show off some more of his nascent offensive skills on the powerplay and give him a better chance to play with the Leafs' offensive forwards (aren't they all just a little bit offensive?).
For now, he has done what has been asked of him. He isn't the fleetest afoot but he is generally calm with the puck and moves it quite well. He has his rare howlers (he ruined Wendel Clark Night) but generally he has been ok which is saying a lot for the Leafs. He hasn't been worth $3.5M because of the transitory nature of the Leafs' defence but I trust Fletcher's judgment that he will be worth it going forward.
#44 / Defenseman / Phoenix Coyotes
Jan 16, 1981
|2008 - Kurt Sauer||40||0||4||4||4||32||0||0||0||0||19||0.0|
Sauer left via free agency this summer after signing a 4 year, $7 million contract ($1.75 million per season). Odin Mercer from Five For Howling offered the following take on Sauer:
Kurt has been a steal considering how much Dmen were going for this summer in Free Agency. After trading Keith Ballard and Nick Boynton to get Jokinen we had some pretty big holes to fill in terms of defense. We didn't need more offensive style D guys, We needed someone that could eat ice time and make sure that the opposition couldn't get anything going. That's exactly what Sauer has done. He's paired up with Zbynek Michalek and together they're some of the best shot blockers in the league. Sauer is 21st in the league in blocked shots to Z's 1st, but as a pair, I don't know if there's a better shot blocking tandem in the league. He's one of those players that quietly does his job and you're never yelling his name because of some goofy mistake.
I agree that Sauer is an absolute steal at that price. I know playing time was a primary reason for leaving, but it's too bad we couldn't get him to stick around.
#3 / Defenseman / Florida Panthers
Jul 09, 1974
|2008 - Karlis Skrastins||38||2||6||8||3||18||0||0||0||0||28||7.1|
Karlis Skrastins and a 2008 3rd round pick (Adam Comrie) were sent to Florida at last season's trade deadline to acquire Ruslan Salei. I asked frequent M Double H visitor and Florida Panther's blogger Whale4ever for his take on Skratch Boogie:
Generally the same age, Skrastins-for-Salei could be seen on the surface as a one-for-one swap of durable, stay-at-homers. In actuality, Salei was making a few dollars more, so a small-time salary dump was the order of the day for Panthers General Manager Jacques Martin.
Skrastins has of late been a key partner to soon-to-be UFA All-Star Jay Bouwmeester, thanks to the injury which has kept Bryan Allen out of all but a handful of minutes this year. This is the number-one pairing; even Bryan McCabe plays behind him. His 2-6-8 (plus-1) mirror his assignment, leaving the go-ahead, Paul Coffey-stuff to J-Bow as he hangs back in the defensive zone. Your classic defensive defenseman, who is steady as stone in all situations given him.
Rarely seeing significant power play time, thanks to the likes of McCabe and Keith Ballard, Skras is limited in his offensive specialty teams usage, though does see quite a few minutes on the penalty kill. He won't sell many jerseys, but his presence is felt where it counts.
He's the last man back during turnovers in the attacking zone, and is relied upon a lot more than the casual observer may see; playing second-fiddle to an offensive D-man such as Bouwmeester will have that effect.
As a Panther fan, I was pleased the deal was made. I liked the UFA-signing of Salei when it went down in July of 2006, but he never quite fit the mold JM had for him. Then again, it was Mike Keenan that signed him at the time, so all bets were off upon his departure. Skrastins has played a much more disciplined defensive game than his predecessor, taking far fewer penalties, and generally remaining in the background, allowing J-Bow to work his magic while auditioning for his future employer.
In summation, Skras has been the ultra-reliable backliner that new coach Pete DeBoer has so sorely needed in his transition to the big league.
All the best to Ruslan from South Florida!
By the way, I also asked Donny about this silly "Rusty" nickname for Salei. It's not a new thing:
Indeed..."Rusty" he was when we signed him from Anaheim. Not our fault.
I'd like to thank Pension Plan Puppets, Five For Howling and Litter Box Cats for taking time to help out with this. I've really enjoyed reading their takes on these former Avs (beloved and not-so-beloved). I've got a couple more of these in the works, so stay tuned for future installments.