2010 NHL Free Agency: What about … Maxim Afinogenov?

1 Comment

happinessatafinosexpense.jpgAt this point in free agency, the focus shifts from the gems to flawed guys who can still bring some skill to the table. So, going forward, we’ll spotlight individual players who are flying under the radar.

Previous Entries: Slava Kozlov, Alex Frolov, Willie Mitchell, Lee Stempniak

Today’s entry: Maxim Afinogenov

Name: Maxim Afinogenov
Height: 6-0 Weight: 190
Position: RW
Speed, goal scoring
Weaknesses: Consistency, play without the puck, attitude, defensive indifference

It seems like we were here last year with Maxim Afinogenov, weren’t we? Well, sort of.

Let’s start with the similarities between July 2010 Afinogenov and the ’09 model. They’re both really fast. Each one featured a paltry plus/minus rating to go with a notable indifference to defensive play. Each version didn’t get a whiff of the playoffs. Finally, it looks like his previous club gives him little more than a shoulder shrug when he asks to return.

That being said, it’s the differences that make his dormant status a bit surprising. For all of his faults, Afinogenov had a bounce back year in the simplest numbers. Yes, his -17 rating is even worse than the -7 mark from his abysmal 08-09 campaign (and some would say that he would have had a lower rating that season if he was actually on the ice more often). You can’t teach this old dog the new trick of caring about play in his own zone.

Thumbnail image for Afinogenovintheopen.jpgStill, offensively, he rebounded pretty well. In fact, he scored a career-high 24 goals and his 61-point output tied the second best mark of his career (although he only played in 56 games during that 06-07 campaign). After sulking through a horrendous 2008-09 season (20 points in 48 games, a career-low 12:36 time on ice average), he seemed to be his normal self last year.

It’s unclear if the problem is a lack of suitors or – stop if you’ve read this one before – an inability for the player to realize how limited the market really is. Dmitry Chesnokov reported that Afinogenov was interested in staying in Atlanta but the former Buffalo Sabres winger said that the Thrashers offers were “not satisfactory.” Well, there you go.

Perhaps Afinogenov should latch on to a contender looking for some offensive punch and speed. He’d be an interesting (yet, chances are disastrous) fit in Washington since he’s Russian, occasionally explosive and would push the hellacious pace coach Bruce Boudreau craves. Unfortunately, he’s also the exact type of player who prompts hockey people to roll their eyes when the Capitals find themselves on the receiving end of a “shocking” playoff letdown. (It also seems that general manager George McPhee actually tends to add solid, “blue collar” players to fill out depth positions so the Afinogenov to DC angle probably doesn’t have much potency.)

Really, though, you could play out that pro and con exercise with many other teams and come up with an Afinogenov-like negative plus/minus. I guess that’s why he’s collecting metaphorical hockey player unemployment right now.

Hitchcock going to more aggressive attack for Blues

Ken Hitchcock
Leave a comment

ST. LOUIS (AP) After three straight first-round playoff exits, the St. Louis Blues have learned to temper expectations.

They have been consistently among the NHL’s best in the regular season and realize it is past time to build something for the long haul. The sting still lingers from the latest failure, against the Minnesota Wild last spring.

“We’re all disappointed, everybody can agree on that,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It’s never easy to kind of think about your failures, but we grow every time it happens.”

Management isn’t ready to tear it all down yet.

“We play, in my opinion, one of the toughest if not the toughest division in the NHL, and we’ve finished first or second in the last four years,” forward Alexander Steen said. “So we have an extremely powerful team.”

Maybe a change in strategy will be enough: Coach Ken Hitchcock is back with a mandate for a more aggressive, even reckless, style of play from a roster that hasn’t changed appreciably.

“We’re coming hard from the back and we’re coming hard to see how close we can get to the attack,” Hitchcock said. “I think it’s where the game’s at; I think it’s where the game’s going to go.”

The 63-year-old Hitchcock is pushing forward, too, unwilling to dwell on the flameouts. Coach and players agree that would be “wasted energy.”

“My opinion is when you sit and think about the past, you do yourself no good,” Hitchcock said. “If you learn from the past, that’s when you do yourself a whole bunch of good.”

There were only two major roster casualties. Forward Troy Brouwer came from Washington in a trade for fan favorite T.J. Oshie. Defenseman Barret Jackman, the franchise career leader in games, wasn’t re-signed.

“If you were expecting 23 new faces to be on the roster this year, I don’t think that was realistic,” captain David Backes said. “We’re going to miss those guys in the room and on the ice, but there has been some changeover and I think it’s pretty significant.”

Things to watch for with the Blues:

GOALIE SHUFFLE: Just like last year, there’s no true No. 1 with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen sharing duties. The 25-year-old Allen missed a chance to seize the job last spring when he failed to raise his level in the playoffs.

TOP THREAT: Vladimir Tarasenko had a breakout season with 37 goals and was rewarded with an eight-year, $60 million contract. The 23-year-old winger is by far the Blues’ most dangerous scoring option and said he won’t let the money affect his play. “I never worry about it,” Tarasenko said. “If you play good, you play good.”

NEW FACES: Brouwer and center Kyle Brodziak add a physical element that was perhaps lacking a bit last season. Brouwer has three 20-plus goal seasons and Brodziak, acquired from Minnesota, fills a checking role. Veteran forward Scottie Upshall got a one-year, two-way deal after being coming to camp as a tryout. Rookie forward Robby Fabbri, a first-round pick last year, will get an early look. Another promising youngster, forward Ty Rattie, begins the year at Chicago of the AHL.

RECOVERY WARD: Forward Jori Lehteri bounced back quickly from ankle surgery and opens the season without restrictions. Another forward, Patrik Berglund, could miss half of the season following shoulder surgery.

TRACK RECORD: The Blues won the Central Division last season and Hitchcock, fourth on the career list with 708 regular-season wins, has consistently had the team near the top of the standings. “He is our coach, tough cookies if you don’t like it,” Backes said. “From my experience, he puts together one heck of a game plan.”

It looks like Havlat won’t make Panthers

Martin Havlat

As PHT’s mentioned before, the Florida Panthers stand as a fascinating contrast between youth and experience.

Let’s not kid ourselves, though; fresh faces usually beat out gray beards, at least when it comes to teams that are still trying to build toward contender status.

While it’s by no means official, two Panthers beat writers – the Miami Herald’s George Richards and the Florida Sun-Sentinel’s Harvey Fialkov – report that the Panthers are likely to pass on Martin Havlat.

It wasn’t just about the likes of Jonathan Huberdeau and Nick Bjugstad leading the charge. Other young Panthers (maybe most notably Quinton Howden and Connor Brickley) made the team, thus making Havlat less necessary.

One would assume that it might be tough for the 34-year-old to find work, at least if he insists upon only an NHL deal.

Health issues continue to dog him, but he’s no longer one of those guys who tantalizes with talent when he is healthy enough to play.

Havlat also doesn’t really bring much to the table defensively. While other veterans can kill penalties and show a little more verstaility, Havlat’s greatest selling point is scoring.

Could this be it for a solid career that may nonetheless end with a “What if?” or two?