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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    One reason for Dallas Stars’ struggles? Shaky drafting

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    The narrative is becoming almost as much of a trope as the Capitals suffering playoff heartbreak or the Hurricanes not even getting to the postseason. Year after year, the Dallas Stars “win” the off-season, yet they frustrate as much as they titillate when the pucks drop.

    For years, mediocre-to-putrid goaltending has been tabbed as the culprit. There’s no denying that there have been disappointments in that area, especially since they keep spending big bucks hoping to cure those ills.

    [Once again, Stars’ hope hinge on Kari Lehtonen.]

    Checking all the boxes

    The thing with success in the NHL is that there is no “magic bullet.”

    Sure, the Penguins lucked out in being putrid at the right times to land Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and other key players with lottery picks. Even so, they’ve also unearthed some gems later in drafts (Kris Letang, Jake Guentzel) and made shrewd trades (Phil Kessel is the gift that keeps giving). They’ve also had a keen eye when it comes to who to keep or not keep in free agency, generally speaking.

    In other words, the best teams may stumble here or there, but they’re generally good-to-great in just about every area.

    The Stars hit a grand slam in the Tyler Seguin trade, made a shrewd signing in Alex Radulov, and enjoyed some nice wins in other moves. You can nitpick the style elements of bringing back Ken Hitchcock, but there are pluses to adding the Hall of Famer’s beautiful hockey mind.

    Beyond goaltending, the Stars’ struggles in drafting and/or developing players really seems to be holding them back.

    Not feeling the draft

    Now, that’s not to say that they never find nice players on draft weekend. After all, they unearthed Jamie Benn in the fifth round (129th overall) in 2007 and poached John Klingberg with a fifth-rounder, too (131st pick in 2010).

    Still, first-round picks have not been friendly to this franchise. When they’ve managed to make contact, they’ve managed some base hits, but no real homers. (Sorry, Radek Faksa.)

    The Athletic’s James Gordon (sub required) ranked the Stars at 28th of 30 NHL teams who’ve drafted from 2011-15, furthering the point:

    Imagine how great the Stars would be — what with Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov — had they managed to get another core piece or two with one of their many mid-first and second-round picks. Instead, they’ve nabbed mostly role players who don’t move the needle much.

    Actually, it’s quite staggering just how far back the Stars’ struggles with first-rounders really goes. Ignoring 2017 first-rounder Miro Heiskanen (third overall) and 2016 first-rounder Riley Tufte (25th) as they’re particularly early in their development curves, take a look at the Stars’ run of first-rounders:

    2015: Denis Gurianov, 12th overall, 1 NHL game
    2014: Julius Honka, 14th, 53 GP
    2013: Valeri Nichushkin, 10th, 166 GP; Jason Dickinson, 29th, 35 GP
    2012: Radek Faksa, 13th, 196 GP
    2011: Jamie Oleksiak, 14th, 179 GP
    2010: Jack Campbell, 11th, 6 GP
    2009: Scott Glennie, 8th, 1 GP
    2008: No first
    2007: No first
    2006: Ivan Vishnevskiy, 27th, 5 GP
    2005: Matt Niskanen, 28th, 792 GP

    Yikes. Even if Gurianov and Honka come along, that group leaves … a lot to be desired. (And those struggles go back past 2014 and beyond, honestly.)

    Blame scouting, development, or both, but the Stars aren’t supplementing high-end talent with the depth that often separates great from merely good.

    This isn’t a call for perfection, either. Even a team with some high-profile whiffs can also get big breaks. Sure, the Boston Bruins passed on Mathew Barzal three times, but they also got steals in Charlie McAvoy and David Pastrnak.



    If the Stars want to break through as more than a fringe playoff team, “winning the off-season” will need to start in late June instead of early July.

    And, hey, what better time to do that than when they’re hosting the next draft?

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

    NHL Playoff Push: Big bubble battles

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    On a busy Thursday in the NHL, there’s at least one big matchup in both the East and West. While there are cases where playoff teams merely need to take care of business against lottery fodder, the most fun could come in tests of might with considerable stakes.

    Western Conference

    The most intriguing contest could be Los Angeles Kings at Colorado Avalanche, a battle between the West’s two wild card teams.

    As you can see, the Avalanche currently hold the first wild-card spot, and they’re only two points behind the Wild for the Central’s third seed. The Kings could leap over the Ducks for the Pacific third seed, as Anaheim only holds one point over Los Angeles.

    The San Jose Sharks host the Vegas Golden Knights in another interesting contest, which airs on NBCSN at 10 p.m. ET as part of a doubleheader. Here’s the stream link.

    San Jose faces low odds in catching Vegas for the Pacific crown, but the Sharks are hot enough that a win tonight could strengthen such a drive. If nothing else, they hope to improve their chances of holding onto the second seed.

    With Auston Matthews likely to return tonight, the Maple Leafs visiting the Predators should be a lot of fun, even if the two teams seem fairly locked into their spots in respective playoff races.

    [The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

    Eastern Conference

    Alongside Kings – Avs, Florida Panthers at Columbus Blue Jackets is the other big game of the day.

    With two games in hand on the Devils and three on the Flyers/Blue Jackets, Florida could really climb the ranks. They do face a road-heavy haul, however, and that includes one of the toughest tests of that run tonight, when they face the red-hot Blue Jackets. Artemi Panarin is one of the driving forces of a squad riding a nine-game winning streak, and making the Metro races congested in the process.

    If Columbus wins, they would really push the idle Penguins and even the Capitals, who hope to maintain or increase their lead for the Metro title as they face the Red Wings in Detroit. You can watch those teams, and maybe see Alex Ovechkin increase his Maurice Richard Trophy lead, in an NBCSN game. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. ET, while you can also catch the stream here.

    There are also two “take care of business” games. The Lightning could really fatten their Atlantic title edge by beating the Islanders, while the Flyers hope to increase their margin of error over the Panthers/Blue Jackets if they can win against the Rangers.

    The rest of the night features games between teams who are either eliminated from the playoffs or hurtling toward that fate.

    If the playoffs started today

    Tampa Bay Lightning vs. New Jersey Devils
    Washington Capitals vs. Philadelphia Flyers
    Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
    Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

    Nashville Predators vs. Los Angeles Kings
    Vegas Golden Knights vs. Colorado Avalanche
    Winnipeg Jets vs. Minnesota Wild
    San Jose Sharks vs. Anaheim Ducks

    Noteworthy games

    Tampa Bay Lightning at New York Islanders, 7 p.m. ET
    New York Rangers at Philadelphia Flyers, 7 p.m. ET
    Florida Panthers at Columbus Blue Jackets, 7 p.m. ET
    Washington Capitals at Detroit Red Wings, 7:30 p.m. ET
    Toronto Maple Leafs at Nashville Predators, 8 p.m. ET
    Los Angeles Kings at Colorado Avalanche, 9 p.m. ET
    Vegas Golden Knights at San Jose Sharks, 10 p.m. ET

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

    Rocket Richard race: Jets’ Patrik Laine to miss time with bruised foot

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    The Winnipeg Jets received some good news about Patrik Laine on Thursday. After leaving Tuesday’s win over the Los Angeles Kings after blocking an Alec Martinez shot, the 19-year-old Finnish sniper could miss only between four and 14 days, according to head coach Paul Maurice.

    “There’s nothing broken and he’s got a bruise,” he said. “When he gets his foot in the boot and feels comfortable, he’ll be back playing.”

    That Laine isn’t expected to miss any time once the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin next month is great news for the Jets, who are pretty much locked into that No. 2 seed in the Central Division. What’s a shame is that this injury could derail his chances at the Rocket Richard Trophy.

    With nine games to go in the regular season, Laine is one goal back (44-43) of Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals, who have also played 73 games. The Jets forward began a scoring surge in the middle of February that’s resulted in 18 goals in his last 16 games, vaulting him up the list of the NHL’s top goal scorers and right on the heels of Ovechkin.

    [The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

    Maurice emphasized that they’re going to take their time in letting Laine heal. He’s not only a huge threat at even strength but also on a third-ranked power play (23.3 percent) that has seen him score 19 times with the extra man. No use rushing him back until he’s 100 percent ready to go and can continue to be dangerous once the playoffs begin.

    “We don’t know how quick these things drain. It’s not really about pain tolerance. We’ll give it a few days,” he said. “We want him to be able to skate, we want him to be able to play and in the situation that we’re in, we don’t want him hobbling around the ice. We want him to be able to move pretty comfortably, so we’ll take as much time as we need until we get to that point. I just can’t give you the day.”

    With files from Scott Billeck


    Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

    Stoneman Douglas hockey team now aiming for national title

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    The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School hockey team begin their quest for a national title on Friday afternoon at the USA Hockey High School Nationals in Plymouth, Minnesota.

    In February, 11 days after a gunman killed 17 and injured 14 others on the Parkland, Florida campus, the team went out and won the Statewide Amateur Hockey of Florida High School State Championship tournament, earning their place at nationals.

    The Eagles get started Friday afternoon where they’ll play three round-robin games against teams from Colorado, Minnesota and Indiana, with the top two from their division advancing to the quarterfinals.

    The team flew to Plymouth in style, thanks to the Florida Panthers, who arranged for a charter flight to take them to Minnesota. It was another gesture from the NHL club who earlier this month invited the Eagles to practice at BB&T Center and spend some time with the players in the locker room. They also got to hang out with the Stanley Cup.

    The hockey community rallied around the Stoneman Douglas kids in the wake of the tragedy. In the Panthers’ first home game after the Feb. 14 shooting, goaltender Roberto Luongo, who has children in the Parkland school system, delivered an emotional pre-game speech to the crowd. A few days later, Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, who attended the school for two years, met with the team after a game. Craig Anderson, a Parkland resident, invited them to be his guests last week when the Ottawa Senators were in town.

    In the days following the shooting, the Stoneman Douglas players discussed whether they should continue their season. They met and decided to keep playing to honor of the fallen 17.

    “I don’t think anyone had in mind that they didn’t want to go,” said freshman Adam Hauptman via Red Line Editorial. “Every kid felt pretty much the same. It was either going to be that everyone said yes or no. Everyone wanted to get out and bring something back to celebrate with.”

    Before they played in the state title game last month, there was a moment when the players realized there were 17 of them on the roster. And when they won the championship, they decided to take their medals back to Stoneman Douglas High School and place them around each of the 17 memorials.

    Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

    Win or lose this weekend, the Stoneman Douglas team has made their community proud and helped in a healing process that will go on for some time.

    “That tournament wasn’t for us, it was all for them,” said senior forward Joey Zenobi in a TSN Original released this week. “That’s what we had to play for — for our school, for our community, for the victims, for the families, for everyone.”


    Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.