One of the biggest questions on the Sabres roster is the status of RW Maxim Afinogenov. Since putting up team-leading numbers in the 2006-2007 season, the performance of Mad Max has dropped to a point that is utterly shameful.
There is no denying that Afinogenov is one of the fastest and shiftiest skates in the NHL. In the past, that earned him goals and star power paralleled only by what Thomas Vanek has accomplished this year.
However, his performance has dropped to pitiful standards. At the moment, even Daniel Paille has more goals than Afinogenov this season. So the question must be raised: Is he really worth keeping on the roster?
Although Afinogenov's performance is lacking, now is not the time to try to deal him for several reasons, the most obvious being that there isn't much to gain from it as no one really wants him.
However, I don't believe his downturn is entirely his fault. Since dealing Daniel Briere and Chris Drury, the entire Sabres organization had been dealing with a lack of scoring ability until Thomas Vanek emerged this year.
Afinogenov has consistently been put on a line with two "grinders" who, for those of you who aren't aware, tend to be skaters that are much better at checking and giving the big guns time to rest than at scoring themselves.
Every team has them and every team needs them, but by putting Afinogenov on a line with them, Lindy Ruff is basically saying, "Okay, go out there and score with absolutely no help and do it in a way that makes you worth my time."
Afinogenov is much faster than any of his line mates, and because of that often ends up offsides because the others just cannot keep up and Max only really has one speed. If he is not offsides, then he is the only one in the zone and finds himself cornered by three opposing players with no choice but to try and force his way through.
If you gave the poor guy some help with Roy, Connolly, or even Kotalik you would see his numbers go back up.
This is not to say, however, that his performance is no fault of his own. I have often found myself saying things like, "Did they put vodka in his water bottle or is he just that stupid?"
He has been known to try to force a play when there isn't one, and it can result in the wrong kind of points put on the board, but that is just how he plays the game.
In the end, there is nothing to gain by dealing him at the deadline. Since the injury to Vanek, the Sabres need him. Like it or not, he seems to be the only one left who can come off the injury list and recharge this team.
I hate to say it, but we need Max or the whole place will fall apart faster than he can skate. We need him, and we need him to be Max again.