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.
Finally: Maxim Afinogenov
Reasons Maxim Afinogenov will make “The Leap”
– He’s done it before. Last season was about as disappointing as it gets for a lightning-fast winger with playmaking ability. He bounced up and down the lines, sometimes playing with well below average talent. He was erratic, frustrating, and disheveled on all accounts. To put it plainly, he was Maxim Afinogenov.
However, we have seen this from him before. When his game is off it is noticeable, and when it is on he is worth every penny of the $3.5 million we pay him. It was not long ago averaged over a point per game over a two year period and the arena roared every time he touched the puck.
If that version of Max is able to show its head early, who knows what he is capable of.
– Top Line Pairing. His troubles last year were multiplied by getting yanked from line pairing to line pairing. This team put the puck in a ton, but having solid lines will help the entire team settle down. Max seems to be one of the more… volatile members of the team. Keeping him locked into the lineup will help his confidence and hopefully give him some rhythm early.
– He is so physically gifted he has to do something with it. I know this isn’t much of an argument, but have you ever seen anyone with so much potential? To never even get close to making that talent work would be such a shame.
Reasons Max Won’t Make “The Leap”
– The Book. It seems like teams know how to make Max ineffective. Don’t let him get open ice. Divert him into the corner or against the half wall and let him turn the puck over. Last year this technique worked really, really well, with Max helping the opposition’s defense with this theory. He tried to do too much, didn’t pass well, and was at times completely out of whack. As a result he looked… wrong. As Rich put it once, “It’s like he knows exactly what he is doing for about ten seconds, then forgets how to play hockey.” Not a ringing endorsement.
– Not shooting. His shots on goal keeps going down, and ten goals last year on a team full of 20 goal scorers isn’t very good. Put it this way, Dan Paille scored nine more goals with only four more shots. If Max has lost his touch, it’s going to take a lot more than new lines to get him back.
Max on the bench isn’t going to produce. His time on ice has remained steady over the last three years, but with the few hundred forwards we have on the roster, he may see a dip in ice time until he proves his worth. When he isn’t using his crazy legs, he has no value. If he starts to get scratched for a few games, you better get a seam ripper out for your Max jersey.
– We may grow tired of it all. Darcy isn’t one to pull the trigger fast, but even he may be growing frustrated with his game. If he doesn’t get off to a good start, it may be over before it begins this year.
– I drafted him in two fantasy hockey leagues. They were both very late picks, and usually my sleepers work out well. Exactly why this should not work.