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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    Video: Martin Jones robs Alex Galchenyuk with fancy glove save

    COLUMBUS, OH - OCTOBER 15:  Martin Jones #31 of the San Jose Sharks stops a shot by Cam Atkinson #13 of the Columbus Blue Jackets during the third period on October 15, 2016 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. San Jose defeated Columbus 3-2. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
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    Alex Galchenyuk has been one of the Montreal Canadiens best players this season and entered play on Friday night with nine goals in his first 23 games.

    In the first period against the San Jose Sharks he had himself in a great position to score goal No. 10 when he had a wide open look right in front of the net.

    Sharks goalie Martin Jones, however, had other ideas and absolutely robbed the Canadiens’ star forward.

    Have a look.

    Jones took over as the Sharks’ starting goaltender a year ago after he was acquired in an offseason trade with the Boston Bruins. He was a key piece in their run to the Stanley Cup Final.

    He has been on quite a run for the Sharks over the past couple of weeks and entered play on Friday having allowed just six goals in his past five starts.

    Senators will be without Bobby Ryan for at least next two games

    CALGARY, AB - OCTOBER 28: Bobby Ryan #9 of the Ottawa Senators in action against the Calgary Flames during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on October 28, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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    The Ottawa Senators were without forward Bobby Ryan during their 3-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday due to a hand injury that he aggravated on Tuesday against Buffalo. That injury resulted in him being placed on injured reserve by the team, which means he will miss at least the next two games, and potentially more.

    On Friday, Senators general manager Pierre Dorion said the team received some positive news regarding Ryan’s injury and that it is possible he could accompany the team on its upcoming four-game road trip that begins on Monday in Pittsburgh. But he will still not be eligible to return until Wednesday when the team visits the San Jose Sharks.

    That means he will be sidelined for Saturday’s home game against Florida as well as Monday’s game against the Penguins.

    Dorion said on Friday, via NHL.com, that there is a 50-50 chance he accompanies the team on the upcoming road trip that also includes games against the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks.

    “I’ve got to give Bobby a lot of credit. People don’t know how many injuries he’s played through here, getting his hand frozen and playing through pain,” Dorion said via NHL.com.

    Ryan initially injured his finger back on Nov. 17 against Nashville, forcing him to miss the next two games. After returning to the lineup he eventually had to leave Tuesday’s game against Buffalo.

    After scoring 24 goals for the Senators a year ago he has just three goals and five assists in 21 games this season.

    The Senators are 14-8-2 and in second place in the Atlantic Division, four points behind the Montreal Canadiens.

    With Gorges injured, Sabres call up Brendan Guhle from WHL

    SUNRISE, FL - JUNE 27:  51st overall pick Brendan Guhle poses for a portrait during the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center on June 27, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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    The Buffalo Sabres announced on Friday evening that they have called up defenseman Brendan Guhle from the Prince George Cougars of the WHL on an emergency basis.

    Guhle, a second-round pick (No. 51 overall) by the Sabres in 2015, had impressed in Sabres training camp the past two years but just missed out on making the roster each time. He missed making the team in 2015 in large part because of a concussion after he was hit by Dion Phaneuf.

    He did end up playing six games for the Rochester Americans in the American Hockey League a year ago, scoring a goal and adding three assists.

    Before his call-up on Friday he had spent the first part of the 2016-17 season playing in the WHL for Prince George as well as the Prince Albert Raiders (he was acquired by Prince George on Nov. 19).

    In 19 games between the two teams he has five goals and two assists.

    The Sabres needed to call up a defenseman because veteran Josh Gorges was injured on Thursday night in the team’s win over the New York Rangers when he was hit in the foot by a shot.

    He had x-rays on Friday and the team is expected to offer some sort of an update on his status on Saturday. In 23 games this season for the Sabres, Gorges has no goals and one assist.

    What really hurts for Sabres at the moment is they are already playing without defenseman Dmitry Kulikov and Zach Bogosian due to injury.

    The Sabres host the Boston Bruins on Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. ET.

    Report: NHLPA rejects proposal to extend CBA in exchange for Olympics

    TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 27:  NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman unveils the League's Centennial celebration plans for 2017 during a press conference at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 at Air Canada Centre on September 27, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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    The NHLPA has rejected a proposal from the National Hockey League to extend the current collective bargaining agreement by three years in exchange for participation in the 2018 Olympics, according to reports from the Associated Press and Canadian Press.v

    The NHL’s participation in the 2018 games in Pyeongchang remains in doubt, mostly due to the cost of insurance and other expenses that go with sending players. In the past, those expenses have been handled by the IOC and IIHF but they are reluctant to foot the bill for the 2018 games.

    In recent weeks the NHL presented the NHLPA with an opportunity to participate in the 2018 Olympics in exchange for extending the current CBA through the year 2025, while also eliminating an opt-out clause that exists in 2019.

    It was expected that the NHLPA would not be willing to accept that offer from the league.

    On Friday, IOC president Thomas Bach said it is in the best interest of all parties for NHL players to participate in the 2018 games, telling the Olympic Channel “all the rational arguments are speaking in favor of participation.”

    There is a January deadline set for participation in 2018.

    Back in September NHL deputy commissioner said it is possible the NHL could skip the 2018 games and then return for 2022 in Beijing.

    NHL players have participated in the past five Olympics dating back to the 1998 games in Nagano, Japan.

    There seems to be a desire among the players to participate. Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin, for example,  has repeatedly said he plans on playing whether the NHL goes or not.