2003-04: Joe Finley scored 3 goals with 11 assists in 14 games for Edina HS in Minnesota as a junior.
2004-05: Finley joined the Sioux Falls Stampede in the USHL, foregoing his final season of high school hockey. He scored 3 goals with 10 assists and was -18 with a team-leading 181 PIM in 55 games. Two of his three goals came on the power play. He was a member of Team World in the 2005 USHL Prospects/All-Star game in February.
2005-06: As a freshman with the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux he quickly established himself as one of the team’s most reliable defenders. Finley made his NCAA debut on October 8 and appeared in 43 games. He had 3 assists and tied for fifth on the team with a +18 plus/minus with 96 PIM. Finley fractured his arm during a mid-season game and missed two games. The Fighting Sioux, after finishing fourth in the regular season, rolled through the WCHA tournament and beat St. Cloud State, 5-3, in the championship game and then advanced to the Frozen Four before falling to Boston College, 6-5.
2006-07: Finley topped the Fighting Sioux with a +19 plus/minus and played in 41 of 43 games in his sophomore season as North Dakota finished third in the WCHA. Finley's only goal of the season came on January 6 on the power play and was the game-winner in a 2-1 win at Colorado College. He had 3 assists in the Fighting Sioux's 7-2 win over St. Cloud State on March 3 in the final game of the regular season and finished with 1 goal and 6 assists with 72 PIM. North Dakota reached the championship game of the WCHA tournament, falling 3-2 in overtime to Minnesota. A week later, they defeated the Gophers in the NCAA West regional final by that same score, also in overtime. Boston College defeated North Dakota in a Frozen Four semifinal.
2007-08: Finley played in all 43 games as North Dakota finished second in the WCHA during the regular season and reached the NCAA Frozen Four for the third consecutive year. Finley was second to partner Chay Genoway among Sioux defensemen with four goals. He also had 11 assists and was +25 with 79 PIM. Finley was named to the WCHA All-Academic team.
2008-09: Finley missed over two months at the start of the year due to a concussion and finished with 2 goals and 8 assists and was +4 with 56 PIM in 27 games as the Fighting Sioux captured the WCHA regular season title. Finley scored a power play goal and had 3 assists in North Dakota's 8-3 win over eventual runner-up Denver on January 23. After losing just two games down the stretch following the Great Lakes Invitational holiday tournament, the Fighting Sioux lost three-straight in the post-season, falling to UM-D and Wisconsin in the WCHA semifinal and consolation games, respectively, and then dropping a 6-5 overtime contest to New Hampshire in the NCAA Northeast regional semifinals. Finley joined Washington's AHL affiliate Hersey following the NCAA tournament and made his pro debut on April 12. He was +1 for the game and got in his first pro fight with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton tough guy Paul Bissonnette. He was with the Bears but did not see any game action in their Calder Cup championship run.
2009-10: The Capitals experimented with converting Finley to a winger during camp before he was demoted to ECHL South Carolina, where he returned to his natural defense position. Finley appeared in just 15 games for the Stingrays before suffering a deep tissue hand injury that required season-ending surgery. Finley had an assist and also fought Wheeling's Thomas Harrison in his first ECHL game on October 16. Finley's first pro goal came in the third period against Gwinnett on October 24 to tie the game at three in a game the Stingrays would win, 4-3. Finley finished the season with 1 goal and 3 assists and was +1 with 43 PIM which included 3 fighting majors.
2010-11: Finley opened the season with AHL Hershey after attending camp with the Capitals. He was demoted to ECHL South Carolina after seven games; finishing plus-five with 1 assist and 15 penalty minutes during his time with the Bears. Finley missed the majority of the ECHL season with a lower body injury. In 26 games for South Carolina he scored 1 goal with 7 assists and was minus-three with 73 penalty minutes. Finley played in all four games in the Stingrays' first round playoff series with Wheeling and was plus-two with 10 penalty minutes.
2011-12: Invited to Buffalo's training camp after not being tendered an offer by the Capitals, Finley was assigned to the Sabres' AHL Rochester affiliate and in November signed a three-year contract with Buffalo. Finley made his NHL debut on December 2nd and skated in three games with the Sabres before returning to Rochester. He later appeared in two January games with Buffalo. In five NHL games he was minus-three with no points and 12 penalty minutes; averaging just under eight minutes of ice time per game. In 57 AHL games he led the Amerks with 143 penalty minutes and was plus-seven with 1 goal and 5 assists. Rochester finished second in the North Division. Finley was minus-three with no points or penalty minutes in the three-game playoff series with the Toronto Marlies.
At 6'8" and 250 pounds, Finley stands as one of the largest players in all of professional hockey. Although his skating was somewhat of an issue at the time he was drafted, he has improved in that area to the extent that he would be a capable skater in the NHL. Injuries have stunted Finley's development in recent seasons, with the Washington Capitals electing to pass on re-signing the big defenseman. Assuming his future is at defense, Finley is most likely to be effective as a defensive defenseman with some toughness.
Finley was claimed off of waivers by the New York Islanders following the end of the NHL lockout.