The Buried Life

By Chris

It’s tough to feel bad for guys who make millions of dollars playing a game. It’s tougher to feel bad for them when it doesn’t sound like they feel very bad for themselves.

This week’s issue of the Hockey News featured a story about Wade Redden and Jeff Finger, two former NHL defensemen, who have been sent down to the minors because, in one way or another, they haven’t lived up to their contracts.

NHL contracts are guaranteed, so under normal circumstances, the player is going to get paid whatever it is he signs for. Front offices signing players to unrealistic contracts is one of the reasons why the NHL locked out in 2004. Players’ salaries spiraled out of control and the league had to reset itself by instituting a salary cap.

The Rangers and the Maple Leafs were two teams who continued to spend large amounts of money on marginal talents.

Toronto is paying Finger $3.5 million to play for the Marlies because, frankly, a sixth defenseman shouldn’t make $3.5 million. Instead of eating up cap space in the NHL, he’s an extra expense that doesn’t count against the salary cap.

Is it Finger’s fault he signed a deal he couldn’t live up to? Maybe he felt like he was actually worth the money. Should have he gone up to the Leafs and said, “I’ll just take less money?” And ownership probably should have been more responsible as to not put a player in a situation where they’re essentially set up to fail. But that’s the system.

This debate is nothing new and it’s brought up whenever a questionable contract is signed. Finger is one of the best examples we’ve seen in a long time.

And it looks as if Finger will play out this contract (he’s got one more year left) in the AHL.

As he told the Hockey News:

“I’ve already played in the NHL, so it’s not a matter of being able to get there. You might have wanted to accomplish more when you were there, but…it was a matter of setting myself and also my family [for life].”

He sounds like a guy eager to play for his next contract, a contract that will most likely be closer to the league minimum. He’s been through the unglamorous trek that is the minors before. It sounds like he’s just going through the motions this time around.

Finger is unapologetic about taking Toronto’s money and he probably has little reason to be. It’s a deal both sides agreed to.

For Finger, it’s not about making it back to the NHL. I’m sure he’d love to get back there if he could, but for now, it’s like he’d rather make sure he’s still able to play — if only to collect that paycheck.

He might as well have said, “Yeah, I signed a gigantic contract, but my family will no longer have a worry in the world. I rode the bus for x-number-of-years before this, and if my wife and kids being set for life means I have to ride it for two more, then so be it.”

And while being able to bury these bad signings in the minors is a flaw in the system, it’s refreshing to see a player so candid and honest about the finances of the league. Finger was the type of player who really suffered when players rolled back their salaries 24 percent during the lockout.

Suffered, of course, is a relative term in this instance. The guy still gets the chance to live out his dream every day and make a living doing it. Go figure.

Email: chris@thegoosesroost.com

3 Comments

  1. It’s been interesting reading the tweets of Mike Commodore @commie22 on this. If you don’t follow him, give his timeline a read.

  2. dean

    great article. I follow you on twitter too, @goranites. love reading your stuff during the sabres games.

  3. It’s similar to Vanek….should he be harassed by fans when he isn’t producing like similar players making what he makes? When he was being paid the salary because the Sabres couldn’t sign Briere and/or Drury? (Drury being proven to have been a good release, Briere debatable) He is going to sign for the most he can and he was in a good negotiating position, at the table with a team desperate to keep some of the escaping talent.

    The Sabres are good about not signing too many massive contracts which result in highly paid players sitting on their 3rd and 4th lines and keeps us from looking like the teams named above. But it is a risk-reward system: take a risk on some potential talent and get a bigger payoff.