Finger eager to make 'special' return

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:38 AM ET

DENVER -- Jeff Finger figured he would get a raise, not win the lottery.

Having earned the league minimum $450,000 US with the Colorado Avalanche last season, imagine how he was caught off-guard when then-Maple Leafs general manager Cliff Fletcher waived a juicy four-year, $14-million free-agent offer under his nose last summer.

"I didn't really expect that much (money) but I certainly was happy when my agent told me about it," said Finger, who will face his former team for the first time tonight since inking that huge contract.

He was not the only one who was broadsided by the news of the Leafs' generosity last July. While Toronto talk show callers were asking themselves "Who is this guy?" his former Colorado teammates were left smiling upon learning of his winfall.

"Yes, I was a bit surprised at the amount of money he got," Avs forward Ian Laperierre said yesterday. "At the same time I was happy for him. He does the little things out there that people don't realize. He always seemed to line up against the other team's best player and he always looks to hit someone when the opportunity presents itself.

"I'm glad he's still playing that way. I'm glad he that, even though he got that money, he isn't suddenly trying to be Tomas Kaberle out there."

Finger understands that his salary will be a public issue for the duration of his Leafs career. He accepts that as being a part of hockey life in Toronto, especially given the fact that he had played just 94 career NHL games at the time of the signing.

"Actually (the fuss over the contract) has died down a little bit," he said. "But it probably will never go away. I know that. Every guy in this room is always going to be asked about his value."

While critics acknowledge he is overpaid, coach Ron Wilson and general manager Brian Burke love Finger's competitive spirit, a trait they would dearly like to see from some of the other Leafs who seem to be going through the motions at times.

The injury bug has been his biggest nemesis this season, including an upper body injury that Wilson revealed yesterday as being a torn triceps. Fortunately, it has completely healed, leaving Finger to return to action against his former team tonight after about a three-week absence from the lineup.

"I'll always have a soft spot for this place," Finger said. "(The Avs) organization gave me the opportunity to play in the NHL. I still stay in touch with guys like Cody McCormick, my former roommate over there.

"I'm looking forward to the game. It will be special. It's just nice to be playing again. I've missed my fair share of time with injuries, and I'm not used to that."


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