One of the biggest story lines of this Sabres season will be on the front end. Three Sabres, all with similar situations, contracts, and expectations, will be free agents come July 1st.
With a new crop of players on the rise in Portland and patience running out, it appears these three (Tim Connolly, Maxim Afinogenov, and Ales Kotalik) will be fighting each other for a new contract with the team. We will look at each player’s chances for success over the next few days.
Next up: Ales Kotalik.
Reasons Ales Kotalik will make “The Leap”
– Contract year. Last time Ales had a payday due he notched 62 points. It was his fourth year in the league and he had to prove something to get a new deal. His shot developed and he became a big time goal scorer, playing in all 82 games that year. We haven’t seen that Ales since.
– That shootout move, when done correctly, is absolutely deadly. Very few goaltenders can stop it, and only Brodeur comes to mind as anyone who has consistently made that save.
– His shot. When Ales shoots the puck he has the best shot on the team. When he shoots. He also has to make sure not to break his stick. Nike Bauer has made more money off his aborted shots than on Ernie Davis’ shoes. If he keeps his shot on target and his stick in one piece, he could have another big year just in time.
– Last year he scored 12 power play goals, a career high. For as mediocre as our power play performed, Ales made a good impact.
– Shots on goal. Last year his total shots rose above 200 for only the second time in his career. With the speed he has on that shot, it’s only a matter of time before it hits the twine. If he shoots, he scores.
– Leadership? The way I see it, if he stays on the team until March chances are he will have worn the “C”. Hey, they are going to run out of players at some point, right?
Reasons Ales won’t make “The Leap”
– Inconsistency. There are a lot of people that hate that term, but you have to use it when talking about Ales. There were times last year he completely dropped off the map. I remember one game I didn’t realize he was left off the roster with the flu. I was so used to barely noticing his shifts I just kind of forgot about it. Ales needs to have a steady presence on the team, not just a few good games.
– He may have already peaked. Over the last three years his average time on ice hasn’t changed, but his points have leveled off around 40. It’s a small sample size in a short career, but he won’t get another $2 million+ contract as a 40 point scorer, at least not on this team.
– Moving on may be for the best. A change of scenery may do him some good, and if he does start to light the lamp he may not finish the year on the Sabres. The Sabres have too many forwards to begin with, and if they are able to sell one high and shore up the defense or farm system, Ales may be the best candidate for it. They can’t get market value for Afinogenov, and injury problems are a red flag for Connolly. If a move is to be made, Ales may be their best option.
– Predictability. Teams know what will happen with Kotalik on the point with the man advantage. Many have adjusted to watch for his big shot and it has caused him to get more creative with his shot selection. His shootout move is also very well known, and if goaltenders can get over and he can’t develop another option, suddenly his two biggest weapons are rendered obsolete.
Any thoughts on Ales? After tomorrow’s final entry we will have a poll up, so gather your thoughts and let us know what you think.