Maxim Afinogenov Exits NHL On A High Note

Maxim Afinogenov’s life features all of the ingredients for a superb film script: self-confidence, extravagant ambition, success, failure, resurrection and a relationship with beautiful Russian tennis starlet Elena Dementieva. Monetary scenes are clearly presented in this player’s story, the latest being a five-year contract signing with SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL. 

There, the 31-year-old will be at home in the country of his birthplace while teaming up with fellow national comrades Denis Grebeshkov and Evgeni Nabokov, both of which sealed their transfers this summer too. Former Ottawa and Long Island center Alexei Yashin has some familiar faces to warm up to in the dressing room.

Gone after ten seasons in the league, Afinogenov didn’t leave a shortage of memories in nine years with the Buffalo Sabres and one in Atlanta. A fleet-footed mover, Afinogenov could skate circles around the competition and use his trusty stick-handling for a sudden attack. But his ignorance towards his responsibilities and frustrating displays got under the skin of people, which is where the enigmatic speedster was a nuisance on the ice.

Inconsistent, but equipped with a dazzling package of talent, Afinogenov wasn't exactly a safe bet or prediction. Out of respect for someone who was seen as the next version of Pavel Bure, we observe the defining moments of the Russian’s National Hockey League tenure.

May 2001Delivering A Signature Deke

With the Sabres battling the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round of the postseason, the sixth game is awaiting a goal. Stepping out of the penalty box to find a misplaced pass, Afinogenov takes off on a break-away chance.

By faking to the backhand, he gets Johan Hedberg to fully commit himself before stopping smoothly and placing the puck into an empty net. This maneuver quickly grew on Afinogenov as he’d continuously utilize it in situations where the only thing standing between him and a tally was the goaltender. 

April 2002Slight Progression

Depositing over 20 goals for the first time in his short career, Afinogenov improves his offensive numbers for the third year running. Starting with 16 goals and 18 assists as a rookie in 2000, he built off that by reaching 36 points during a quiet sophomore year. By the time 2002 rolled around, he was shooting the puck far more and rewarded with a 21-goal, 40-point closure.

Slowly but surely, the young man from Moscow was building his image in Buffalo and becoming a reliable secondary contributor. Afinogenov’s maturation was going exceptionally well...for now.

April 2003Slight Decline

After being submerged with injuries that kept him down to 35 games, Afinogenov musters just 11 points in a forgettable calendar. Buffalo ends the year as the 12th ranked squad in the Eastern Conference, quickly deteriorating without legendary netminder Dominik Hasek.

Offensively, Miroslav Satan leads the team with 75 points, but the next closest contributor is Chris Gratton with 44 points. Afinogenov’s struggles are one in a long list for the Sabres.

November 2003Taking Dan Boyle For A Spin

If ever there was a consolation goal to be proud of in defeat, this was it. Trailing the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-0, Afinogenov pulls off one of the most unique goals in the history of the game. Appearing to have lost possession of the puck at Dan Boyle’s feet, the persistent Russian regained it with his back pointed squarely at the net.

Somehow, he kept controlling it without slowing down as he spun around in a 360 degree rotation. To get the puck on his forehand, he dragged it between his legs leaving John Grahame helpless and bewildered. Such a moment may not occur again under the same circumstances and the slow motion does it no justice.

December 2003A Trick Up His Sleeve

Afinogenov couldn’t put a foot wrong on this evening and went into the New Year knowing he’d completed his best single-match performance. A break-away finish (guess which move he used), a slap shot and a rebound goal capped off a 7-1 rout of the Washington Capitals.

Missing the playoffs for a third straight campaign, Buffalo is still searching for a new identity; one that Afinogenov factors into heavily following the lock-out.

April 2006 Lending A Helping Hand

Finding himself as the club’s leading producer, Afinogenov shipped out a personal best 51 assists and 73 points to help guide Buffalo back into the postseason where they’d embark on a terrific quest that fell one game short in the Conference Finals.

Distributing the puck amazingly well, he added a new dimension to his game and didn’t seem to mind allowing others to score. Although his dossier in the playoffs wasn’t quite as inspiring, he was a major influence for the Sabres’ massive resurgence that propelled them into a stand-out organization again.

October 2006Me Against The World

In front of the Buffalo faithful, the team Lindy Ruff put out demonstrated their credentials by administering a nine-goal effort, much to the dismay of the Philadelphia Flyers. With the man-advantage, No.61 accepted the disc in his own end and never looked back.

Afinogenov, who knew exactly what he had in store for the much slower Derian Hatcher, zips around the defenseman and despite a slash on the arm, fools Robert Esche with ease. All that went wrong was the ensuing celebration.

May 2007Zero Today, Hero Tomorrow

Ruff opts to scratch Afinogenov in the fourth game of the second round (a 2-1 loss to the New York Rangers), stating that his dynamic forward is forcing the issue and creating more turnovers than chances. Returning for the next contest in a 2-2 series, he turns frowns into smiles as he so often does.

A late equalizer from Chris Drury delivers sudden death and Afinogenov sees his time to make amends. Unleashing a slap shot on the powerplay, it sneaks through Henrik Lundqvist’s legs and the jubilant dive across center ice said it all.

"I just wanted to celebrate and nothing was coming in my head, so I just dove," Afinogenov said.

February 2008Wear And Tear

A golden opportunity for Afinogenov to surpass his 73 points went away in 2007 after a broken wrist sidelines him while he averages more than a point per game. Groin issues take their toll on his condition and for the second straight season, his absence is 26 games and counting.

A 33-point plummet adds to a disappointing overall experience for the Sabres as they search for new leaders to replace Daniel Briere and Chris Drury.

April 2008A Rare Treat

Buffalo would eventually let the playoffs escape from their clutches but for one evening, Afinogenov shook off his extensive struggles by depending on his regular shoot-out trick and letting the Sabres live in hope a little longer.

This had to be his largest donation of the year, as the positive moments were few and far between for Afinogenov. Much more trouble was just around the corner.

April 2009Inevitable Demise

Chalk it up as another sour campaign for Afinogenov, who spent sufficient time on the treatment table and as a healthy scratch; not nearly enough competing. Six goals (none on the powerplay) and 20 points guide him into free agency, erasing his status as the longest-serving Sabre currently.

Darcy Regier and the organization part ways with Afinogenov, allowing him to experiment in the open market.

September 2009Minimum Wage

Desperate periods call for desperate measures. Afinogenov arrives to the Atlanta Thrashers training camp on a try-out basis seeking a clean inception. Swallowing his pride, he signs on the dotted line of a one-year contract for a paltry $800,000.

A sketchy physical past coupled with inconsistency perhaps had warning bells ringing in Atlanta, but the terms developed minimal risk for general manager Don Waddell.

October 2009 First Time For Everything

A visit to Buffalo was the perfect setting for Afinogenov to open his scoring account with Atlanta, and the manner he executed it in was very familiar. Wisely targeting freshman Tyler Myers, he cuts inside abruptly, evades Tallinder’s outstretched stick and tucks it beyond Patrick Lalime’s shoulder mere inches below the crossbar.

Typical Maxim Afinogenov; full of surprises when least expected.

November 2009Sweet November

Bonding amiably with his teammates – particularly Ilya Kovalchuk and Nik Antropov – helps Afinogenov pile up five-star games as if there’s no tomorrow. Atlanta plays 14 games in the month of November, and only twice does their bargain buy fire blanks, delivering 18 points.

It’s customary for excitement to stir up with the Thrashers’ form as the postseason suddenly becomes a possibility, not a pipe dream.

April 2010One For The Road

An awful December record coupled with Kovalchuk’s desire to leave ultimately hindered Atlanta from their second postseason breakthrough. Afinogenov accumulates what would be his final goal with the Thrashers and in the National Hockey League – for now anyway – at the Mellon Arena versus Pittsburgh.

Handed a second chance to verify his belonging in the league, the 24 goals and 61 points from the Moscow native were a fantastic return on his price tag. Many of Afinogenov’s markers were of the highlight-reel variety and he’ll presently be SKA St. Petersburg’s pleasure or pain.

For all the suitable words chosen to narrate Afinogenov’s career to date, his pundits can agree that ‘boring’ was never one of them.

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