Maxim Afinogenov: A perfect KHL player, if there still is a KHL

During one of his delightfully sprawling blogs about the Colorado Avalanche and the NHL, Denver Post writer Adrian Dater offered this nugget about how the Avs might turn around their putrid offense (28th in the League) with a trade:

From the rumor mill: I think there's an outside chance the Avs might try to get Maxim Afinogenov from the Sabres. I do know for sure they've made some inquiries about him. He's having an awful season in Buffalo and is kind of the Arnie of the Sabres' message boards. But he's got skill, and people who know Maxim just think he needs a change of scenery. He's been in Buffalo a while now, and it's time for a change.

Afinogenov has one goal and eight assists in 21 games for the Buffalo Sabres, turning his slump from last season (28 points in 56 games) into a full-fledged career degradation. He certainly could use a change in scenery; but Lance Hornby of the Toronto Sun writes today that the change Max is looking for could be a tad more dramatic:

Maxim Afinogenov likely is headed for the KHL at his earliest opportunity, a big reason the Sabres can't move the disgruntled, one-dimensional winger this year.

Afinogenov is in the last year of his contract before UFA status, carrying a $3.333 million cap hit, and would appear to be a reasonable risk for an NHL team looking for a potentially explosive offensive player. His desire to play in the KHL is a curious stumbling block, unless the Sabres' current asking price is well beyond what a rental would realistically bring back. Perhaps that price changes as we get closer to the trade deadline.

Back to Afinogenov: Isn't he just the prototypical Russian player who flees for the KHL from the NHL, seeking fame and fortune and an easier level of competition on which to shine? It's nearly a perfect union ... provided someone in the KHL actually has the money to pay him. Or run a hockey franchise, for that matter.

Financial struggles for the KHL have been creeping into the news cycle lately (when there is KHL news ... anyone surprised by how off-the-radar that League's been outside of the Alexander Radulov flap?). Russian-language Sport-Express recently surveyed the League's franchises to see how they are coping with declining revenues from oil and sponsorship support.

James Mirtle writes that Metallurg Novokuznetsk's sponsor, steel producer Evraz Group, "has backed out of financing the team and there is the possibility the club will not play in the KHL after Jan. 1." Other teams in trouble are HC MVD, Khimik Voskresensk, Vityaz Chekhov and Metallurg Magnitogorsk, which played the New York Rangers in the Victoria Cup tournament. (Puck Daddy's official KHL team, Traktor Chelyabinsk, not only is financially stable but is eighth in the League. Woot!)

Mirtle chronicles some of the KHL's financial strife:

HC MVD's CEO said there have been delays in paying players and that the crisis has "really affected our team." He added that their sponsor, VTB Bank, will honour its obligations, however.

Khimik Voskresensk is behind on player payments. Vityaz Chekhov's CEO said the team's "new main task" is to save the team and meet its financial obligations to players and staff. Metallurg Magnitogorsk said it is paying its players on time, but all staff members have had their pay cut by about 30 per cent.

Twelve teams, half of the league, were reported to be in fine health, but there is talk among many teams of lowering the KHL's salary cap.

Now, this is a bit of doom and gloom for the fledgling league, and it's not like the NHL isn't going through its own recessionary correction. Andrew Meier, who authored that killer piece on Jaromir Jagr a few weeks back for Play magazine, offered his informed take on the Russian financial crisis with New York Times writer and KHL cheerleader Jeff Z. Klein:

Couple of things we have to remember when trying to gauge how hard the global financial crisis will hit Russian sports. First of all, Russia's stock market began to plummet much earlier - back in May. It then sank in most dramatic fashion in the aftermath of Russia's invasion of Georgia in August. It's down, way down, but still alive. (When trading gets too wild, they shut it down for the day.) Second: the Russian state has been saving up for this rainy day. The state oil reserve fund has at least $141 billion. Third: Putin and Medvedev have moved quickly to shore up the favored oligarchs, offering liquidity lifelines to a host of industrial and financial titans. Finally, even though Russia lives on oil and gas exports and the oil price has fallen in recent weeks, it's still higher than the price pegged (roughly $70/barrel) in the state budget.

So the KHL should make it through this rough patch in its inaugural season, and there should be enough teams that can meet the price for a player like Afinogenov.

But again: Isn't a one-dimensional, enigmatic player like Max simply perfect for the KHL? This is the kind of player we envisioned would bolt to the new Russian league: A homesick B-level star, overwhelmed by the NHL's demands and ready to return a conquering hero for some KHL franchise.

He can be like Michael Jordan playing against a rec league team over there, which is obviously appealing for a player who can't shake the label of chronic underachiever in the NHL. He'll no doubt find his goal totals soaring again once he starts firing at what passes for goaltending over there.

We get some grief for our characterization of the KHL's level of play as being slightly substandard. Here are the Top 10 KHL goals for the League's 11th week of play. Perhaps there aren't enough games televised to capture the really spectacular plays; otherwise, it appears a highlight-reel goal in the KHL is a slap shot from the circle.

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