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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    The West’s next round is now set (and wide-open)

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    Saturday was a great day for fans of brevity and revenge.

    Three of a possible three series ended on this day, with the Rangers dispatching the Canadiens, the Blues eliminating the “better” Wild, and the Oilers knocking off the Sharks in six.

    The Rangers await either the Bruins or Senators and the Penguins face the winner of the Leafs – Capitals series out East, but we now know how the West shakes out.

    St. Louis Blues vs. Nashville Predators

    Both teams provided some of the upsets of this young postseason. Each features a red-hot goalie in Jake Allen and Pekka Rinne. Interesting.

    Anaheim Ducks vs. Edmonton Oilers

    There will be a lot of orange. We may also see a ton of goals with Ryan Getzlaf on fire, Oscar Klefbom headlining the list of unhealthy players and Connor McDavid possibly able to really take off against a Ducks defense that is beat up in its own right.

    It’s already been a strange season out West, with the Kings missing the playoffs and first-round exits for the Sharks and Blackhawks. Get ready – and giddy – for things to get even weirder as the postseason goes along.

    Oilers win first series since 2006 after Sharks fall crossbar short of overtime

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    After making the playoffs for the first time since 2006, the Edmonton Oilers weren’t just “happy to be there.” They confirmed as much by eliminating the San Jose Sharks with a 3-1 victory in Game 6, winning the series 4-2.

    Yes, those young Oilers just eliminated the team that represented the West in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final. Wow.

    Ultimately, winning the breakaway battle in the second period indeed made the difference. Leon Draisaitl and Anton Slepyshev scored on their chances in the middle frame while Patrick Marleau could not; Slepyshev’s 2-0 goal ultimately became the series-clincher.

    Now, that’s not to say that Marleau was a drag on San Jose. If this is it for one of the faces of the franchise, he had a great 2016-17, including generating the Sharks’ final goal of the postseason.

    The Shark Tank was alive after Marleau reduced the Oilers’ lead to 2-1, and more than a few blood pressures rose – both in Edmonton and San Jose – after the Sharks got this close to tying things up.

    Wow.

    With this result, the West is set. The St. Louis Blues will take on the Nashville Predators while the Oilers face the Anaheim Ducks.

    As much as people try to put the training wheels on Connor McDavid & Co., the West is wide-open enough that it’s not so outrageous to imagine a big run for Edmonton.

    Beating the Sharks is a pretty nice way of adding an exclamation point to that statement win. And hey … they beat the Sharks last time around, too.

    Canadiens sound a lot like Wild after playoff exit (without ‘better team’ talk)

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    Much like the Minnesota Wild earlier on Saturday, the Montreal Canadiens are stunned to approach the golf courses so rapidly.

    Many of the responses after the New York Rangers eliminated them in Game 6 sound a lot like what the Wild uttered, though there’s no potential bulletin board material like Bruce Boudreau’s line about the better team failing to win four games.

    Max Pacioretty viewed this early exit as a “missed opportunity” and never really believed that an elimination was coming.

    Claude Julien provided parallel comments to Bruce Boudreau, believing that Montreal generated chances but lacked “finish.”

    Brendan Gallagher? He worries that this might have been the Canadiens’ best chance, something the Wild must also worry about with a difficult offseason ahead.

    Now, it’s likely that most teams speak about being shocked and expecting better after being booted from the postseason.

    Still, these reactions do shine a light on the staggering nature of some of these exits. Will the likes of the Blackhawks, Canadiens and Wild struggle to be in such prime positions in the future? With the Sharks needing a comeback against the Oilers, could the trend continue on Saturday?

    The bottom line is that, instead of preparing for a Game 7 after winning the Atlantic Division, the Canadiens are packing up their stuff and worrying about re-signing Carey Price. That’s a pretty stunning turnaround, regardless of the soundbytes available.

    Video: Draisaitl, Slepyshev score on breakaways, Talbot spurns Marleau

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    Some playoff games or even series come down to something as stupidly simple as one team taking advantage of their opportunities while the other fails to capitalize on chances.

    If Game 6 of the Oilers – Sharks series follows the story of the second period, then San Jose may join Saturday’s stream of eliminated teams.

    It’s not fair to boil it down to three breakaways, but some might feel that way.

    Leon Draisaitl looked like a gritty, strong veteran during his first career playoff goal, bulling his way to the net for 1-0 breakaway tally. About a minute later, Anton Slepyshev was even more alone against Martin Jones, and he scored his first postseason goal to make it 2-0.

    That stings for the Sharks, and it doesn’t help that they had a similar chance not long after. This time around, Patrick Marleau couldn’t beat Cam Talbot, so it remained 2-0 for Edmonton.

    That’s the same score as the game enters the third period, even with some dangerous late chances for the Sharks.

    If the Sharks don’t score at least two goals in the third, their push to return to the Stanley Cup Final could end in the first round.