Did Maxim Afinogenov deserve another shot in the NHL?

maximafinogenov2.jpgThe news of Maxim Afinogenov leaving the NHL to sign a five-year deal with SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL was met with a resounding, “meh” from a lot of fans in the hockey world. It was the case of another talented player who had a hard time finding instant interest from NHL teams getting a lucrative offer from a league desperate to get big names to join their operation.

While it’s been a banner off-season for the KHL landing Afinogenov, Evgeni Nabokov and Denis Grebeshkov, is it possible that NHL teams in need of a scoring winger blew it by not grabbing Maxim Afinogenov? Jonathan Willis at Hockey Or Die breaks down Afinogenov’s numbers to see if they did. Warning, elaborate statistics right ahead.

One of the peculiarities of playing in Atlanta the last few years has been the tendency of players who spend time in close proximity to Ilya Kovalchuk to see their statistics improve dramatically. Thanks to Vic Ferrari’s Time On Ice, we can see that Afinogenov’s goals for/against at even-strength was much better with Kovalchuk than without Kovalchuk:

  • With: +20/-19 = +1
  • Without: +33/-45 = -12

It’s also interesting to look at Afinogenov’s totals when Kovalchuk was with the team versus when he was in New Jersey. I’ve taken those numbers and extrapolated them over 82 games to make them more readable; additionally, I’ve included the Thrashers’ team plus/minus over the same span and performed the same projection:

 

Situation GP G A PTS +/- Shots Team +/-
With Kovalchuk 82 25 40 65 -12 186 -15
Without Kovalchuk 82 21 30 51 -27 170 -30

 

It has to be kept in mind that Afinogenov was playing top opponents, and that the ‘without Kovalchuk’ column was based on a total of 27 games, but the numbers aren’t that impressive, particularly his plus/minus, something that I attribute to Afinogenov being in over his head in the role he was playing.

Afinogenov’s always been a player who required some special handling form his coaches to get the most out of him, but he probably would have been a good fit on a more sheltered line. Sadly, at the NHL level that kind of player isn’t worth a long-term big-money deal; as a general manager looking to fill that kind of role I might have offered him a two-year deal worth $1.3 to $1.5 million. His ups and downs in the past as while as his blemishes simply make it too risky to offer him much more than that.

Obviously the conclusions to make here about Afinogenov’s numbers being better with Kovalchuk than without are easy. Having a better player around him made him a better player by proxy because it allowed him to see more freedom on the ice to do what he could. Once Kovalchuk was gone from Atlanta, all of a sudden it was up to him to be the main goal-scoring threat for the Thrashers and, let’s face it, Maxim Afinogenov just isn’t as good as Ilya Kovalchuk. Having a great player make those around him better, even by proxy like this, is something that almost always happens wherever you go.

The easier thing to do concerning Afinogenov’s worth would be to point at what he did his last two seasons with the Buffalo Sabres and how he was a non-factor on teams that saw Thomas Vanek and Derek Roy as the major offensive weapons (Roy a 25-30 goal scorer, Vanek a  30-40 goal scorer) yet saw Afinogenov disappear completely scoring ten goals and six goals in back-to-back seasons.

While Afinogenov is getting a fantastic deal to go home to Russia and get paid big bucks to be at home, to say that he was deserving of getting a nice deal from an NHL team is a risky conclusion to draw. Afinogenov’s seeming fall from grace in Buffalo only to see him rebound the way he did last year in Atlanta scared teams off thinking (and wrongly applying the label) that he was an “enigmatic Russian” when the truth is that he was just a better fit as a pure offense-only second line winger.

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    Burns continued to build Hart argument in Sharks win last night

    NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 12:  San Jose Sharks defenseman Brent Burns #88 celebrates his goal against the New Jersey Devils during their game at the Prudential Center on February 12, 2017 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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    GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) The San Jose Sharks were facing a team that had been playing well in an arena buzzing with energy following a pregame ceremony.

    Once they handled the initial onrush, the Sharks struck first to subdue the crowd and their opponent.

    Brent Burns scored two goals, Aaron Dell had a career-high 36 saves and the Sharks beat the Arizona Coyotes for the first time this season, 4-1 on Saturday night.

    “We kind of weathered their storm early; there was a lot of energy in the building,” Sharks center Joe Pavelski said. “We got to (Coyotes goalie Mike Smith) in the first period. When you get one or two on him early, it kind of breaks them down a little bit and play from behind. That was a big key.”

    The Sharks bounced back from a slow start in their last game by scoring two goals in the first period and another early in the second to quiet a crowd energized by a ceremony honoring the first Coyotes team in the desert. Dell was sharp in his 11th start of the season, and the Pacific Division-leading Sharks were good in front of him to avoid a season sweep (1-3-1) by the last-place Coyotes.

    Melker Karlsson had a goal and two assists, and Micheal Haley had a goal and an assist for San Jose.

    Burns, of course, was at the center of the offense from the blue line.

    The NHL’s third-leading scorer, he had a goal in the first period and his 27th of the season in the third to match the team record for goals by a defenseman that he set in 2015-16. It was his third two-goal game of the season and second in the last three games.

    “He’s having an MVP season. He’s been that good for us all year and it’s every night,” Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said. “I don’t know what else to say. In my mind, he’s the best player in the league right now.”

    The Coyotes could not capitalize on a rowdy, sellout crowd. Arizona peppered Dell with 29 shots in the first two periods but didn’t score until Martin Hanzal punched in a rebound in the third, when they were down 3-0.

    Hanzal scored his fifth goal in five games and Smith stopped 29 shots for Arizona.

    “We were pretty good in the period and I don’t want to say they were lucky goals, but they scored first and after that, it’s hard to chase a team like the Sharks,” Hanzal said.

    The Sharks trailed 3-1 in the first period and 6-3 in the third before rallying for a point against Florida on Wednesday. On Saturday, they took an early lead when Burns fired a shot through traffic to beat Smith to the stick side.

    Karlsson made it 2-0 late in the period, keeping the puck on a 2-on-1 and wristing one past Smith on the stick side again.

    San Jose kept the pressure up early in the second, making it a three-goal lead when Haley scored on a one-timer from between the circles for his first of the season.

    Burns stopped Arizona’s momentum late in the period, wristing a shot that slipped through Smith’s pads on a power play.

    “That wasn’t my best game. I thought our team did a good job tonight to give ourselves a chance to win,” Smith said. “They were opportunistic in the first period and we couldn’t capitalize on our chances and when that happens, you usually lose.”

    NOTES: Along with honoring their 1996-97 team – the first after the franchise moved from Winnipeg – in a ceremony before the game, Arizona also announced its all-time starting six, which included current players Smith, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and captain Shane Doan. … Haley’s goal was his first since March 5, 2016 against Vancouver. … Hanzal moved past Pat Elynuik for 13th on the franchise list with his 116th career goal.

    UP NEXT

    San Jose hosts Boston on Sunday before getting a five-day break from all hockey-related activities.

    Arizona hosts Anaheim on Monday before playing five of its next six games on the road.

    NBC and NBCSN have you covered for Hockey Day in America

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    With two games on NBC and then two more on NBCSN, your Sunday should be jam-packed with Hockey Day in America action. A look at the hockey hotbed of Warroad, Minnesota adds a delectable cherry on top, too.

    If you need a guide to this party of pucks and patriotism, look no further than this post.

    Washington Capitals at New York Rangers, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC

    John Carlson, T.J. Oshie and the dominant Capitals take on Ryan McDonagh and the Blueshirts. The Metropolitan Division represents some of the NHL’s upper crust, so don’t be fooled by the Rangers being the first wild card while the Caps are tops in the East; both of these teams can go. Kenny Albert and Brian Boucher will be there to call the action.

    MORE: For Oshie, ties to Warroad run deep

    Detroit Red Wings at Pittsburgh Penguins, 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC

    Mike “Doc” Emrick and Eddie Olczyk will be in the booth for this battle between teams that met in back-to-back Stanley Cup Final series in 2008 and 2009. Along with usual suspects like Sidney Crosby and Henrik Zetterberg, these teams feature American scorers such as Dylan Larkin and, of course, Phil Kessel.

    Chicago Blackhawks at Buffalo Sabres, 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN

    The action shifts to NBCSN as Patrick Kane and the Blackhawks hope to teach Jack Eichel and the upstart Sabres a lesson or two. The Blackhawks are in playoff position, as usual, while Buffalo is rallying to try to make a push of its own. Gord Miller and Joe Micheletti will be your guides.

    MORE: Islanders forward Brock Nelson’s journey from Warroad to the NHL

    Boston Bruins at San Jose Sharks, 8:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN

    Hockey Day in America’s coverage closes off with this matchup between David Backes‘ Bruins and Joe Pavelski‘s Sharks. Randy Hahn, Andy Brickley and Bret Hedican will take you through this match between the Pacific Division’s top team and a Bruins team fighting to stick in the East playoff picture.

    Barkov’s beautiful goal pushes Panthers into playoff position

    SUNRISE, FL - NOVEMBER 26: Aleksander Barkov #16 of the Florida Panthers circles the net with the puck against the Columbus Blue Jackets at the BB&T Center on November 26, 2016 in Sunrise, Florida. The Panthers defeated the Blue Jackets 2-1 in a shoot out. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
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    The Florida Panthers just won’t be denied as they end the night in the East’s top eight.

    It’s fitting, then, that Aleksander Barkov wouldn’t be denied on his game-winner against Los Angeles on Saturday.

    Barkov bursts beyond multiple Kings, fights off what would have been an obstruction penalty and then beats Peter Budaj by the narrowest of margins to give the Panthers a 3-2 lead 15 seconds into the third period. They would never relinquish that edge to Los Angeles, winning their fourth game in a row.

    In the process, the Panthers – a team that seemed to be fledgling when it fired Gerard Gallant – now find themselves in the East’s top eight. Heck, they’re actually above the wild card fray by a hair.

    Before we get to that … just bask in the glow of this Barkov goal:

    Again, it was such a small window to beat Budaj, too:

    (If the Panthers’ place in the standings doesn’t sway you into taking them seriously, maybe note plays like that and the fact that Barkov has 20 points in his last 17 games.)

    OK, so with this win, the Panthers did some serious leapfrogging. They now rank third in the Atlantic Division (thanks to a game in hand on Boston) and have more points than Toronto as far as wild card concerns go, anyway.

    Atlantic Division rankings

    1. Canadiens – 70 points in 59 games
    2. Senators – 68 points in 56 games
    3. Panthers – 64 points in 57 games

    Bruins – 64 in 58
    Maple Leafs – 63 in 47
    Sabres – 62 in 59
    Lightning – 58 in 57
    Red Wings – 56 in 58

    From a wild card perspective

    Third in Atlantic – Panthers – 64 points in 57 games
    Second wild card – Bruins – 64 in 58

    Maple Leafs – 63 in 47
    Islanders – 62 in 57
    Sabres – 62 in 59
    Flyers – 61 in 58
    Devils – 60 in 58
    Lightning – 58 in 57
    Hurricanes – 56 in 54
    Red Wings – 56 in 58

    Everything’s so close that the Panthers can’t pop champagne bottles, but they’re also very much in control over their hopes. While it never hurts to see your competitors stumble, the Panthers can take care of business. They “control their own destiny,” to use silly sports parlance.

    And considering how they’ve been playing lately, they might be as tough to handle in the playoffs as Barkov was to stop on that outstanding 3-2 goal.

    Stars made Dave Strader’s return to the booth special

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    It was a special night as the Dallas Stars beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-3 in overtime, but the most memorable moment wasn’t the win or Antoine Roussel‘s hat trick.

    Instead, it was how the team embraced Dave Strader’s return to the broadcasting booth as he continues to fight cancer.

    Don’t be ashamed if his comments to the Dallas Morning News leave you emotional:

    “This is the first time, to be honest with you, that for four hours I didn’t feel like I was sick at all,” Strader said after the game. “Maybe it was the adrenaline high, but I really, really feel great right now.”

    Again, the team really did some great things to welcome him back, but the highlight was saluting him after the game. Incredible stuff.

    “What a gesture by the boys … meant so much to me and my wife! Thank you.” Strader tweeted after the game.

    As this post notes, Strader is expected to do play-by-play for four more Stars games.