ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun floated out over twitter last night the possibility of Leaf interest in winger Maxim Afinogenov. One’s initial reaction might be to dismiss the Russian enigma as the anti-Burke. Looking at the list of remaining UFAs, there are also a few scoring wingers that could be considered safer, comparable alternatives (i.e. Alexander Frolov). But in the salary capped hockey world we live in, where a player’s on-ice ability is ever tempered by his dollar value against the cap, Afinogenov’s services could actually comprise a niche market of sorts for clubs looking for a Plan B scoring option with fewer strings attached.
The terms Afinogenov is seeking after a 61-point rebound season with Atlanta is a subject of much speculation in itself. A wizard with the puck who can skate like the wind, Afinogenov’s inconsistent reputation often proceeds him and it’s not hard to see why. Afinogenov’s post-lockout production takes the pattern of a yo-yo: he posted 45 goals and 124 points in 123 games from 2005-2007 before following that up with 48 points in his next 114 games from 2007-2009. He was then cut loose in Buffalo as he slowly but surely wore out his welcome. An 82-game season in Atlanta in ’09-10 – the first full season of his career – was a semi-resurgence back to 60-point form. I say “semi-resurgence” because this is a player capable of point-a-game hockey, though you certainly have to wonder if he’ll ever reach those heights of ’05-06 and ’06-07 again in his NHL career. His 24 goals last season did technically represent career-high, though he notched 23 in only 56 games played in ’06-07.
Important to mention is that LeBrun described Burke’s interest as “tire-kicking” at this stage of the game. Additionally, shortly after tweeting the rumour, LeBrun was quick to qualify that it’s by no means a guarantee as he was simply noting the reported conversation between the sides. The sense I get from reading between the lines is that Afinogenov is a fallback option should certain trade possibilities fail to come to fruition.Â A source I spoke to described the possibility that Brian Burke trade for one if not two top six forwards in the coming weeks as “very conceivable,” before adding Burke may have to “part with a very important part(s) of the roster and he’s not sure about that. Â He is hoping that in time the desperation of other teams will allow him to offer up less or they offer up more.”
Where Alexander Frolov is likely to command upward of $4 million on a more considerable term, Afinogenov figures to be a player Burke may be able to ink at a cheaper price and on a shorter commitment. In kicking the tires, Burke is likely finding out the specifics of the Afinogenov party’s demands. Those who watched the Russian side at the World Championships can attest to the chemistry Afinogenov and Nikolai Kulemin quickly formed on a line together in Germany. Kulemin’s efforts on the forecheck and defensive accountability seemed to nicely complement the uglies of Afinogenov’s game. Any team that considers targeting Afinogenov must put extensive thought into ways to position the Moscow native for success. Perhaps on a line with Kulemin the Leafs have the right situation.
At a safe price and term and without alternative trade options to sufficiently bolster the top six, Afinogenov could pose as a worthwhile low-risk, high-reward experiment. But if the demands prove steeper than what is comfortable, one’s better senses say to walk away.