Front Line: Ranking the injured
Weekly news, notes and rankings on fantasy hockey forwards
I'll start things off here with a quick addition to Monday's Open Ice column in which I advocate for you to go out and trade for Eric Staal. Well, it turns out he is out for several games with an upper-body injury after being hurt on Sunday. At the risk of sounding uncouth: Good. Of course, I wish Staal a quick recovery and don't want to see anyone hurt, blah, blah, blah. But this is good news for fantasy owners as he will come even cheaper now. Nothing brings down value like a slow start followed by an injury.
Staal does drop eight spots in the rankings due simply to the fact fewer games played will mean other players can out-produce him. But, as the rankings are meant to indicate, I think if you traded Patrick Kane or Corey Perry for Staal right now, you would come out on top in the end.
That is definitely one of the more difficult tasks to ranking these players every week; trying to assess how much production an injured player will bring in his return and how that compares to players that are healthy now. Simon Gagne tanks right out of the rankings this week thanks to surgery that will keep him out up to two months. With that much time on a featured line, both Claude Giroux and James vanRiemsdyk will cement a role in the top six, and rookie David Laliberte -- who molds his game after Gagne -- had a goal and assist in his debut as Gagne's replacement. So even after two months, Gagne might not have a prime role to come back to.
Meantime, concussions are one of the more troubling injuries for hockey players, as the timetable for return is always subject to extreme changes. That's why David Booth's injury drops him 17 spots this week. He needs to return in the minimum amount of time and get on his scoring horse if he has any hopes of a 30-goal season. It doesn't appear likely at this point, though. Without good news about his recovery, he'll drop further.
Day-to-day injuries like the one Jason Spezza is dealing with sometimes don't influence the rankings, and sometimes they do. It depends on the player's history and production at the time of injury. In this case, I've dropped Spezza six spots because of his slow start and history of missing games. Spezza remains, for now, in the top 100 as I do think the Ottawa Senators eventually find their footing on offense (though one could make an argument for removing Spezza from the list completely).
Players returning from injury, on the other hand, get a clean slate. Remember that these rankings are from this point forward. Phil Kessel steps into the Toronto Maple Leafs' lineup for the first time tonight and immediately debuts on this top 100. The Leafs have the most potent power play in the NHL at the moment, and Kessel will no doubt be the team's best scorer. So what he will lack in plus/minus and penalty minutes, Kessel will more than make up for with his man-advantage production. The same can be said for Patrik Elias, who is slated to return within the week. Although Elias isn't on the New Jersey Devils' top line, he plays point on the power play and could be the catalyst to turn around the Devils' woeful power-play conversion to date. Even though Kessel and Elias haven't stepped on the ice as I write this, from this point forward they are top-100 players.
Top 100 Skaters Note: Sean Allen's top 100 forwards are ranked for their expected performance in ESPN standard leagues from this point on, not on the statistics that have already been accrued. ESPN standard stats include goals, assists, power-play goals, shots on goal, plus/minus, penalty minutes and average time on ice. Last week's ranking is indicated in parentheses.
1. Alex Ovechkin, LW, Was (1)
2. Sidney Crosby, C, Pit (3)
3. Evgeni Malkin, C, Pit (2)
4. Pavel Datsyuk, C, Det (4)
5. Dany Heatley, RW, SJ (5)
6. Rick Nash, LW, Cls (7)
7. Mike Richards, C, Phi (8)
8. Jeff Carter, C, Phi (6)
9. Marian Gaborik, RW, NYR (12)
10. Zach Parise, LW, NJ (9)
11. Joe Thornton, C, SJ (10)
12. Nicklas Backstrom, C, Was (15)
13. Ryan Getzlaf, C, Anh (13)
14. Alexander Semin, LW, Was (17)
15. Bobby Ryan, RW, Anh (19)
16. Marc Savard, C, Bos (14)
17. Anze Kopitar, C, LA (22)
18. Henrik Zetterberg, C, Det (16)
19. Eric Staal, C, Car (11)
20. Corey Perry, RW, Anh (24)
21. Patrick Kane, RW, Chi (18)
22. Jarome Iginla, RW, Cgy (26)
23. Brenden Morrow, LW, Dal (23)
24. Steven Stamkos, C, TB (55)
25. Patrick Marleau, C, SJ (31)
26. Chris Kunitz, LW, Pit (52)
27. Alexandre Burrows, C, Van (20)
28. Henrik Sedin, C, Van (33)
29. Nathan Horton, RW, Fla (34)
30. Mike Knuble, RW, Was (25)
31. John Tavares, C, NYI (27)
32. Ilya Kovalchuk, LW, Atl (32)
33. Devin Setoguchi, RW, SJ (28)
34. Ryan Smyth, LW, LA (42)
35. Scott Hartnell, RW, Phi (29)
36. Travis Zajac, C, NJ (40)
37. Jonathan Toews, C, Chi (30)
38. Mike Cammalleri, LW, Mon (44)
39. Olli Jokinen, C, Cgy (21)
40. Daniel Alfredsson, RW, Ott (39)
41. Tomas Holmstrom, LW, Det (46)
42. Patrick Sharp, C, Chi (49)
43. Brooks Laich, C, Was (53)
44. Vaclav Prospal, C, NYR (62)
45. Vincent Lecavalier, C, TB (50)
46. Paul Stastny, C, Col (66)
47. Brad Richards, C, Dal (74)
48. Derick Brassard, C, Cls (58)
49. Shane Doan, RW, Pho (65)
50. Mikko Koivu, C, Min (61)
51. Alexei Kovalev, RW, Ott (48)
52. David Booth, LW, Fla (35)
53. David Clarkson, C, NJ (63)
54. Teemu Selanne, RW, Anh (43)
55. Martin Havlat, LW, Min (59)
56. Michael Ryder, RW, Bos (37)
57. Brian Gionta, RW, Mon (64)
58. Patrik Elias, LW, NJ (57)
59. Dustin Penner, LW, Edm (72)
60. Milan Lucic, LW, Bos (54)
61. Scott Gomez, C, Mon (56)
62. Martin St. Louis, RW, TB (71)
63. Mike Ribeiro, C, Dal (68)
64. Milan Hejduk, RW, Col (69)
65. Tomas Plekanec, C, Mon (83)
66. Jakub Voracek, RW, Cls (97)
67. Sean Avery, C, NYR (47)
68. Loui Eriksson, LW, Dal (92)
69. Jason Arnott, C, Nsh (73)
70. Thomas Vanek, LW, Buf (70)
71. Blake Wheeler, RW, Bos (76)
72. Ryan Kesler, C, Van (90)
73. Ryan Malone, LW, TB (84)
74. Ales Hemsky, RW, Edm (99)
75. Ryane Clowe, RW, SJ (87)
76. Wojtek Wolski, LW, Col (81)
77. Brad Boyes, RW, StL (51)
78. Bill Guerin, RW, Pit (NR)
79. Marian Hossa, RW, Chi (80)
80. David Perron, LW, StL (77)
81. Kyle Okposo, RW, NYI (86)
82. Rene Bourque, LW, Cgy (96)
83. Danny Briere, C, Phi (79)
84. David Backes, C, StL (60)
85. Daniel Sedin, LW, Van (85)
86. Andrew Brunette, LW, Min (94)
87. James Neal, LW, Dal (NR)
88. Jason Spezza, C, Ott (82)
89. Tim Connolly, C, Buf (NR)
90. Phil Kessel, RW, Tor (NR)
91. Mikael Samuelsson, RW, Van (93)
92. Dustin Brown, RW, LA (NR)
93. Sam Gagner, C, Edm (91)
94. Mike Fisher, C, Ott (NR)
95. Dustin Byfuglien, LW, Chi (98)
96. Matt Moulson, LW, NYI (NR)
97. Jason Pominville, RW, Buf (NR)
98. Kris Versteeg, RW, Chi (NR)
99. Brendan Morrison, C, Was (100)
100. Mason Raymond, LW, Van (NR)
Rising and Falling
David Backes, C & Brad Boyes, RW, Blues (down a combined 50 spots): That's it. I'm done. I'm throwing in the towel on the St. Louis Blues' offense. I loved the team coming into the season. How could you not? They showed a mix of youth and veterans, with nine forwards that are above-average hockey players, to go with two of the best young defensemen in the game and a goaltender who had the best statistics in the NHL after the calendar flipped to 2009 last season. So how do they rank offensively? Only three teams have scored fewer goals this season and only two teams have taken fewer shots (the only team worse than the Blues in both categories is the Nashville Predators). They have the fourth worst power-play conversion in the league and the third fewest chances on the power play. That adds up to the fewest power-play goals in the league. The entire Blues lineup has combined for 76 points, and only two teams combine for fewer. Besides the drop for Backes and Boyes, Patrik Berglund, T.J. Oshie and Andy McDonald fall off the list this week, following in the footsteps of previous dropouts Keith Tkachuk and Paul Kariya. Can we forget these guys completely? I wish. If history repeats itself, the Blues will start taking off after the All-Star break, so we can revisit some of these guys then.
Jakub Voracek, RW, Blue Jackets & Steven Stamkos, C, Lightning (each up 31 spots): A couple of sophomores have passed the season's early tests and have secured a new level of confidence from the fantasy world. Voracek is key to the secondary scoring the Blue Jackets needed to keep the opponents from focusing entirely on Rick Nash. He is not quite a point-per-game player, but should be awfully close this season as he and Derick Brassard build more chemistry. Forget becoming the secondary scoring for the Tampa Bay Lightning though, Stamkos is the primary offensive force for the team. His team-leading 11 goals and 16 points are one thing, but his plus-5 tells an even better story. Let me illustrate it this way; Vincent Lecavalier is minus-8. Enough said? Oh yeah, and for ESPN standard league players, Stamkos also leads the Lightning in shots on goal and power-play goals.
Sidney Crosby, C, Penguins (up 1 spot): Forget the two or three weeks Evgeni Malkin will miss with a shoulder strain in this argument. Last season we could point to every significant fantasy category and say "Look! Malkin has bested Crosby in every one of them." This season, the opposite is coming true. Goals: Crosby 9; Malkin 4. Points: Crosby 16; Malkin 14. Plus/minus: Crosby plus-10; Malkin plus-1. Shots: Crosby 56; Malkin 45. Ah ha! That's the key to the change in value. Crosby is on pace to better his shots on goal from last season by a margin of 90 and his career-high by 50. Don't get me wrong, Malkin is still clearly No. 3 in the overall debate, but Crosby has made the right moves to be No. 2. To be fair, though, Bill Guerin and Chris Kunitz as linemates does give him better odds than Malkin's pair of Pascal Dupuis and Ruslan Fedotenko. Meantime, despite the shoulder strain, Malkin remains at No. 3 as he may only miss another three or four games.
• Tim Connolly and Jason Pominville are developing chemistry on the Buffalo Sabres' second line. Read "second line" with air quotes as I would argue that it's better than the first line at the moment.
• It seems Shawn Horcoff will be the bane of Sam Gagner owners. After putting up huge numbers on a line with Ales Hemsky and Dustin Penner, coach Pat Quinn has replaced Gagner with Horcoff and Gagner has hit a dry spell over the past five games.
• The Florida Panthers finally found a line that works. Nathan Horton, Steve Reinprecht and Cory Stillman have combined for 14 points in the past three games and 20 points in the past six. Obviously, Reinprecht is the cheap option here.
• After missing five games, Justin Williams jumped right back onto the Los Angeles Kings' top line with Anze Kopitar and Ryan Smyth, scoring a goal. Wayne Simmonds loses value with his demotion to the third line.
• Doug Weight's arrival for the New York Islanders has meant a solid second scoring line has been created with Weight, Jeff Tambellini and Josh Bailey. In their past four games, the trio has 10 points and a combined plus-14.
• The Boston Bruins aren't scoring a whole lot of goals lately with the injuries at the top of the lineup, but the trio of Blake Wheeler, Vladimir Sobotka and newcomer Daniel Paille has looked solid for deep leaguers.
• The end has come for the promising Vancouver Canucks line of Mason Raymond, Ryan Kesler and Michael Grabner. Grabner hurt his ankle in practice and will miss "significant time." Mikael Samuelsson has moved to the line with Kesler and Raymond while Henrik Sedin is skating with Steve Bernier and Alexandre Burrows.
• I've always been a Keith Aucoin fan and have believed he deserved a shot in the NHL before now. He is up with the Washington Capitals and skating on the third line with Chris Clark and Tomas Fleischmann. Aucoin has five points in his past six games with two of them coming on the power play, despite the fact he is 13th on the team in power-play ice time in that span.
• It's hard to guess exactly who loses value with Phil Kessel set to skate for the Maple Leafs. He's expected to line up with Matt Stajan and Jason Blake at even strength, but his ultimate value will derive from his role on the Leafs' league-best power play. Lee Stempniak, Mikhail Grabovski and Niklas Hagman are all producing big numbers thanks solely to the man advantage, but Kessel will need to get his minutes at the expense of one, or all, of them. Watch for Kessel's role Tuesday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning and note who is out there with him.
Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com and the 2008 Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Hockey Writer of the Year. You can e-mail him here.