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Time to dump Afinogenov has come // Greater Niagara Newspapers
By Tim Schmitt
BUFFALO — I realize we’re only in the season’s second month, but something already leaves me queasy when watching the Sabres.
It’s not just him, I realize, but just 15 games in I’ve seen enough of Maxim Afinogenov.
Time to go in a new direction.
Afinogenov is the team’s senior member, yet he makes the same mindnumbingly dumb decisions he did four years ago, when he befuddled coaches and fans by finishing 73 games with just 31 points. He peaked a year later, finishing with 73 points in 77 games, and you had to assume he was trending up.
But as this season — and an incredibly bold move by his coach to bench him the playoffs last year — has shown,
On Friday, he started in typical Max fashion, tossing a puck in front of his own net that nearly turned into a goal.
But later in the first, while on an odd-man break, Afinogenov pulled the move that’ll wind up his Buffalo legacy. With a three-on-two, streaking down the wing, Afinogenov cut back to the middle and shot the puck squarely into a defenseman he’d already beaten.
Nobody knows. Max is simply the master of taking good scoring situations and turning them sour, all in the name of style. If Afinogenov’s conversion rate on those plays approached the Mendoza Line, it’d make them tolerable.
It got worse in the second, when cruising through the neutral zone, he tried the patented flip, only to have it stolen by Alexei Ponikarovsky. The Leafs ended up with three glorious chances, including a semi-breakaway from Ponikarovsky that Ryan Miller had to make a big save on.
As evidenced by his plus-minus, Afinogenov is hurting the Sabres more than he’s helping these days. Through 15 games, he’s got just six points— three goals and three assists. And when Bryan McCabe’s shot rang past Miller late in the second period, Afinogenov’s plus-minus dropped to minus-seven, tying him with rookie defenseman Andrej Sekera for the team’s worst in that stat.
On the Leafs second goal, Afinogenov first failed to keep the puck in, then stumbled, giving Toronto an odd-man break. Mats Sundin finished the Sabres off.
The problem isn’t just Afinogenov’s production, it’s his unwillingness to do things he once did. Never a tremendous goal scorer by nature, he did often show grit. But now the norm is he’ll turn away when a check is coming, and he rarely sees the inner half of his own zone.
To be honest, and I’ll apologize for stereotyping up front, I’ve always been against moving Afinogenov strictly because I saw his progression on a similar slope as fellow Russian Alexander Mogilny. It took years for Mogilny to turn breakaways, or other cleancut opportunities into goals.
But Afinogenov has clearly proven he’s no Mogilny. And he never will be. Yet he’s the third-highest paid Sabre.
As a fringe player capable of breaking open a tight game, Afinogenov has shown value. But at 28 years old and with his best hockey behind him, he continues to prove he can’t be a leader on a team begging for one.
It’s been an entertaining ride, Max. But it’s time to hand over the keys.