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Did Maxim Afinogenov deserve another shot in the NHL?

Aug 8, 2010, 1:51 PM EST

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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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