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30 2008 . 
Afinogenov is still not ready for prime time // Buffalo News

Mark Mulville/Buffalo News

Maxim Afinogenov looks no better in Season Eight than he did in Game Eight of his career.

I twas easy to look the other way when he was a 20-year-old rookie from Russia, just a wide-eyed newbie loaded with speed and talent and promise. But thats no longer the case with Maxim Afinogenov, who has been with the Sabres for eight seasons and is the longest-tenured player on the roster. 

Every year, you think this is The Year. 

This is the year his productivity matches his ability. This is the year he scores 25 goals and shows up in the playoffs. This is the year he ceases the maddening practice of flying down the wing, stopping on a dime, exchanging it for two nickels and either drawing his teammates offside or coughing up the puck. 

How long will it take before the Sabres conclude that this is the year they finally unload the enigmatic winger? For the most part, he looks no better in Season Eight than he did in Game Eight of his NHL career, when fans envisioned the next Pavel Bure but instead found a player who was closer to Valeri Bure. At some point, enough is enough. 

You would think Afinogenov would have evolved into a leader by now, but that hasnt happened. He makes you long for Pierre Turgeon. Hell make $3.5 million and become an unrestricted free agent after next season for a team looking to get younger (see: cheaper). Gee, maybe they placed their bets on the wrong guy. 

Why keep him? Well, he sells jerseys. 

If the Sabres think hes a source of entertainment, theyre kidding themselves and insulting the intelligence of their fans. The only people he entertains are youngsters who are enamored with his style and cant see his flaws. Anyone with an ounce of hockey sense can see he needs a change in scenery. 

Afinogenov has 10 goals and 27 points and a team-worst minus- 13 in 52 games this season. The Sabres had a 12-8-6 record without him in the lineup this season and are 24-22-6 with him. He had zero points and was minus-4 during a recent three-game winning streak in which Buffalo scored 20 goals. 

Folks, thats an accomplishment. 

If it makes them feel better, the Sabres can rationalize he had an off year after recording 134 points in 133 games over his previous two seasons. Of course, the spike in production, which came while opposing teams concentrated on stopping Daniel Briere and Chris Drurys lines, was the exception rather than the rule. 

Afinogenov had 152 points in his first 332 NHL games, prior to the lockout. He has 10 goals and 23 points in 49 career postseason games. He is what he is at this stage in his career, the most overrated player in the league. 

For all the grief Briere took in the playoffs last season while leading the Sabres with 16 points in 15 games, Afinogenov had nine points. And that was an improvement. He had eight points in 18 games during the 2005-06 postseason, but his absence was largely overlooked amid the Sabres injuries on defense. 

Sabres coach Lindy Ruff gave him a place on the top line this year. The reward: three goals, eight points, minus-8 and a splitting headache in the first 23 games. Afinogenov was bumped down to the fourth line before Ruff energized him last week against Ottawa. Why he remains on the power play is a mystery. He has one power-play goal. 

And to think hes still a commodity, one who should get the Sabres a healthy return if they can strike the right deal. Buffalo shouldnt have a problem shopping him during the draft or sometime this summer. He remains an intriguing player, the kind coaches always believe they can fix. 

The Sabres have two choices: They can trade him or continue looking the other way.

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