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Rambler's Top100

9 2007 . 
Time to dump Afinogenov has come // Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Tim Schmitt

BUFFALO I realize were only in the seasons second month, but something already leaves me queasy when watching the Sabres.

Its not just him, I realize, but just 15 games in Ive seen enough of Maxim Afinogenov.

Time to go in a new direction.

Afinogenov is the teams 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 thatll 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 hed already beaten.

Why?

Nobody knows. Max is simply the master of taking good scoring situations and turning them sour, all in the name of style. If Afinogenovs conversion rate on those plays approached the Mendoza Line, itd 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 hes helping these days. Through 15 games, hes got just six points three goals and three assists. And when Bryan McCabes shot rang past Miller late in the second period, Afinogenovs plus-minus dropped to minus-seven, tying him with rookie defenseman Andrej Sekera for the teams 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 isnt just Afinogenovs production, its 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 hell turn away when a check is coming, and he rarely sees the inner half of his own zone.

To be honest, and Ill apologize for stereotyping up front, Ive 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 hes no Mogilny. And he never will be. Yet hes 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 cant be a leader on a team begging for one.

Its been an entertaining ride, Max. But its time to hand over the keys.

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