Allan Muir: Dull Sabre in my mailbag - Sports Illustrated

Sabres not mad about Max, a Stars fix and more reader mail

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Once again, it's time to haul out the overstuffed mailbag and address some of your more salient questions and missives.

There's been lots of talk locally about [the Sabres] moving Maxim Afinogenov. I would hate to see him go because I think he's just scratched the surface of his talent and could break out any time. I'd hate to see it happen with another team! What sort of return could they get for him? Would the Rangers be interested?-- Leslie Marcum, Rochester, NY

C'mon, Leslie. At 29, Afinogenov has done all the scratching he's going to do. The Sabres seem to realize that what they see is what they get -- a player with great wheels and remarkable puck skill, but without the jam to translate them consistently onto the scoreboard. He'll tease you with a burst of creativity then rip out your heart with a series of brain-dead turnovers. European leagues are filled with guys like that, proof that it takes more than talent to be a solid pro.

Problem is, every other team has figured out that there's more sizzle than steak to Afinogenov's game. They see a guy who has a career high of 23 goals and has put up at least 50 points just twice in his eight seasons. And $3.5 million may not buy much these days, but it should get you more than four goals, which is the furious pace Max has set for this season.

Remember: this is his contract year. If this is the best he can come up with when his financial future is on the line, what's Afinogenov going to produce when he's comfortable? All that said, you have to think there's some team out there that will regard Max like some brooding, misunderstood boy from the wrong side of the tracks who just needs someone to believe in him. It won't be the Rangers -- they aren't going to clear cap space for a distraction like this -- but it's possible that some offensively-challenged squad like the Panthers, Islanders or Hurricanes might dream of seeing what he could do with a fresh coat of paint.

If the Sabres do find a sucker, they might be looking at a mid-round draft pick in return. Whatever curb appeal Afinogenov still possesses is pretty much obliterated by that cap hit

I see that Vancouver has recalled Cory Schneider from the minors. He's really impressed in the AHL this year, but with Luongo there long term it seems like he's trade bait. Any chance of him being available? Philly sure needs a good young goalie! -- Rick, Cherry Hill, NJ

You're right about the Flyers needing a solid pro prospect in their system --neither Jakub Kovar or Jacob Deserres look to be anything more than potential backups, and they're still years away from that level. That said, I'm not sure Schneider's the answer for Philly or anyone else . . . at least, not yet.

Roberto Luongo certainly looks like the long-term solution in Vancouver, but he's eligible for unrestricted free agency at the end of the 2009-10 season. He may be perfectly happy to let the Canucks max him out. Luongo deserves that honor as much as anyone, and the Canucks won't lose him over money. But until he scribbles his signature on that extension, Vancouver can't afford to leave themselves exposed at the position. Schneider's more valuable to the organization as an ace in the hole than as trade bait, where he'd probably generate a mid-to-low first rounder in return.

Of course, he could up his eventual value over the next few days. With Luongo shelved for the next few weeks, the 2004 first-rounder is about to get his first shot at NHL action. Curtis Sanford looked pretty average in a Thursday night loss to the Flames, so Schneider will get his chance to start soon. When he does, you can bet several teams with a need for young NHL-ready goaltending (Ottawa and New Jersey come to mind) will be watching.

I'm a Stars fan, so I wasn't surprised to see them at the bottom of the Power Rankings this week. What do you think they really need to do to get out of this mess? A major shakeup in coach or team? What should be their next move? -- Peter Dunbar, Belfast, Northern Ireland

The Stars have been tinkering with the formula all season, but nothing yet has restored the confidence and cohesiveness that made them such a force last spring. Now their options are limited, especially within the constraints of the salary cap. That's not a happy scenario for co-GMs Brett Hull and Les Jackson, who are under the gun to make this next choice work, and pronto.

The most likely action? Shore up the goaltending. The team's lack of faith in Marty Turco and his Lane Bryant-size five-hole is the core of their crisis. With the veteran struggling to find his way, and the unwillingness of the coaching staff to trot out rookie Tobias Stephan, Dallas needs a reliable veteran option to push their starter. They need someone like former Star Johan Hedberg, a quality, team-first player who can step up in spot starts. The Thrashers aren't inclined to move him -- and I don't think they will -- but it's worth remembering that anyone is available for the right price. Would the Stars be willing to overpay? Probably not, but you never know.

A more likely option is Dwayne Roloson in Edmonton. The Oilers would love to clear up their logjam in net, and Roloson has proven his ability to get on a roll and carry a team.

What if they pick up a goalie and continue to struggle? I think Dave Tippett and his staff have a bit of rope left, but I think his tenure could be on the line if they're playing like this at Christmas. Not to say he hasn't done a good job or that he can't be the guy to right the ship, but there comes a time when firing the coach becomes the only option. With crowds dwindling at the AAC and the Stars' playoff chances rapidly slipping away, you have to think something's going to happen soon.

On the plus side, this isn't a bad year to go into the tank, especially for a team that could use some high-end talent up front. Even if John Tavares is gone when the Stars make their pick, a player like Matt Duchene, Jordan Schroeder or Nazem Kadri would look awfully good in green and black.

It's not too early to start talking World Juniors, is it? Seems like Canada's goaltending situation is wide open. Any thoughts on who gets the nod?-- Nancy Sullivan, London, Ontario

You kidding? 'Round these parts, we're stoking the WJC hot stove 50 weeks a year, and the absence of a clear cut starter for the defending champs is prime fuel for the fire.

I like Tampa Bay prospect Dustin Tokarski to get one of the spots. The 19-year-old, a fifth-round pick by the Bolts last summer, leads the WHL with a .943 save percentage and is second with a 1.79 GAA. He was named Memorial Cup MVP last spring after going 4-0 for Spokane with a 1.72 GAA, a .953 save percentage and, most memorably, a 52-save performance in the title match. He's used to playing in games where his side has a significant edge in shots, and the ability to stay sharp during long lulls while the puck is in the other end has been a hallmark of successful Canadian goalies.

The backup job could go to either Chet Pickard, a first-round pick by the Predators in 2008, or Jake Allen, who played for Team Canada coach Pat Quinn at last summer's Under-18 tournament. The Canucks won gold at the tournament, and considering Allen's eligible to return next year, he's probably got a leg up for the job. He'll still have to earn it, though, when the Canadians hold camp from Dec. 11 to 15.

And don't be surprised if London's Trevor Cann is the fourth goalie invited to camp.

You mentioned recently that Phoenix might release Kyle Turris to Team Canada for the World Juniors. Any update on that? -- Lisa Peete, Ontario

The next couple weeks will tell. The Coyotes lost No. 1 center Olli Jokinen for two tp four weeks after he injured his shoulder in Wednesday's game against Columbus. That creates a window for the struggling Turris to step up his game. If he responds to the challenge, the Coyotes have no motivation to ship him out, but if he continues to look like a boy among men, then the chance to excel against his own age group might be exactly what he needs to restore his confidence.

For that to happen, Jokinen has to be back in the lineup by the Canadian roster deadline of Dec. 10. He's a tough guy (the injury broke a 397 consecutive game streak), so returning early is a possibility. Still, at this point, the odds are against Turris returning to defend the gold medal he helped win last year in the Czech Republic.

I read that both Randy Jones and Ryan Parent are skating again with the Flyers and will be returning to action soon. Considering how well the blueline has performed lately, what's going to happen when these guys return?--Philip Rooney, Philadelphia

Doesn't seem like that long ago that all letters from Philly asked what was going to happen with their sucktastic defense. All of a sudden, Philly's blueliners are being talked up like the 1973 Canadiens. Give credit to GM Paul Holmgren, who addressed the early losses of Parent and Jones by making savvy deals for Matt Carle and Andrew Alberts. Carle, on his third team in six months, has regained the poise he displayed during his rookie season with the Sharks and has been chewing up the minutes. Alberts has been a rock on the penalty kill and a decent third pairing option. Both have solidified a unit that's given up just 11 goals during the recent six-game winning streak.

In fact, both have played so well that neither Jones nor Parent will be handed a job upon getting a clean bill of health. Jones, who hopes to return by Dec. 6, will be eased back into the lineup, giving Alberts the bird's-eye view from the press box. There's some thought Jones could be dealt to clear some cap room (the Flyers are just $200,000 under right now), but it says here he'll stay in Philly.

Parent, penciled in to return later in the month, is likely to be assigned to the AHL. The 21-year-old would benefit from the development time. Rookie Luca Sbisa hasn't done anything to lose his job, leaving veteran Lasse Kukkonen without a chair when the music stops. The Flyers might be able to flip him for a late-round draft pick (there's no shortage of teams coveting defensive depth), but it's more likely he'll be waived and demoted to the Phantoms.

When and where will Brendan Shanahan play again? Will we see him on the Flyers? -- Shanny Fanny, Philadelphia

Well Shanny Fanny -- if that is your real name, you have my sympathy -- I don't expect to see him wearing black and orange. Despite his preference to stay on the East Coast, I think St. Louis is his only real option. They've got the cap room and a real interest in welcoming him back. The Flyers have neither. Sorry.