If Maxim Afinogenov’s life were a Disney movie, things simply wouldn’t have gone this way.
Afinogenov was once one of the up-and-coming scorers in the National Hockey League, but after years of disappointing performances he came into his own after the NHL lockout, scoring 45 goals and adding 134 points in 133 games between 2005-07. That outburst was followed by two years of declining performances, and to stay in the NHL last season he was forced to sign a one year contract with Atlanta for the somewhat meagre (by NHL standards) pay of $800,000.
But Afinogenov’s willingness to take a cheap deal was rewarded; he scored 24 goals and 61 points for the Thrashers and appeared to have revitalized his NHL career. Despite that performance, however, Afinogenov couldn’t get an NHL deal that appealed to him (reports indicate that Atlanta offered him a one-year deal) and is now bound for Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League, reportedly inked to a five-year deal.
It’s difficult to blame Afinogenov for taking the money after sacrificing it a year earlier for another NHL chance, although this hasn’t stopped some people from trotting out the usual nonsense about how this shows Afinogenov simply wasn’t interested in playing in the world’s best league. At some point, the disparity between the dollars offered in Russia and those offered in North America matters, and it is to Afinogenov’s credit that he didn’t make this move last season. Obviously, he felt he deserved better after a resurgent offensive performance.
Did he, though?
Superficially, yes. Afinogenov played top-drawer competition last season, didn’t get an overly favourable zone start, and scored a remarkable 2.26 points for every 60 minutes of five-on-five ice-time he played. His Corsi number wasn’t bad (for the Thrashers) and he was a decent performer on the power play.
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:
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.
The Russian deal makes more sense for both parties: Afinogenov will be an impact player in Russia, and for the team that signs him he’s worth the commitment of dollars and term. It’s just a shame that we won’t be able to watch such an undeniably talented player in the NHL next season.