Commentary

Front Line: Has Gaborik reached peak?

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Updated: December 8, 2009, 1:09 PM ET
By Sean Allen | Special to ESPN.com

Marian Gaborik
Bill Wippert/NHLI/Getty ImagesMarian Gaborik has avoided major injury so far in New York and enters Tuesday's action leading the league in goals.

The guy has too much baggage!

Marian Gaborik is easily the most valuable forward in ESPN fantasy hockey so far this season, but I don't think he can possibly climb any higher than No. 5 in my rankings. After quickly pushing Gaborik to the top 15 after it became apparent he was healthy and thriving with the New York Rangers, I've been moving Gabby steadily up as weeks go by.

This is likely the peak for me with Gaborik. I love the guy more than most, as his combination of pure breakaway speed and knack for finishing plays is rare, but given his injury history, how could you take him over the four players we still have ranked ahead of him?

Alexander Ovechkin is a no-brainer No. 1 if he can stop missing time with injuries and suspensions, while Sidney Crosby has dialed up his offensive game this season. Evgeni Malkin can go on ridiculous hot streaks at a moment's notice, and Dany Heatley seems more likely than not to score more than 50 goals any given season. Strong arguments can be made for those players, but using pure numbers, Gaborik's scoring has been more valuable this season. Still, could you part with Heatley for Gaborik? Crosby for Gaborik?

I don't think many people would make those trades, and the simple reason is that Gaborik has missed too much time with injury over the past few years. I don't mean to discriminate on the basis of muscle strength or conditioning, but Gaborik has little chance of being the top forward on my list even if he keeps up his pace this season.

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 (2)
3. Dany Heatley, RW, SJ (3)
4. Evgeni Malkin, C, Pit (4)
5. Marian Gaborik, RW, NYR (5)
6. Rick Nash, LW, Cls (7)
7. Zach Parise, LW, NJ (9)
8. Pavel Datsyuk, C, Det (6)
9. Mike Richards, C, Phi (8)
10. Joe Thornton, C, SJ (11)
11. Steven Stamkos, C, TB (12)
12. Anze Kopitar, C, LA (13)
13. Jarome Iginla, RW, Cgy (14)
14. Corey Perry, RW, Anh (17)
15. Ryan Getzlaf, C, Anh (15)
16. Jeff Carter, C, Phi (10)
17. Nicklas Backstrom, C, Was (18)
18. Bobby Ryan, RW, Anh (16)
19. Alexander Semin, LW, Was (19)
20. Patrick Marleau, C, SJ (21)
21. Henrik Zetterberg, C, Det (20)
22. Ilya Kovalchuk, LW, Atl (22)
23. Brenden Morrow, LW, Dal (23)
24. Henrik Sedin, C, Van (24)
25. Eric Staal, C, Car (25)
26. Marc Savard, C, Bos (26)
27. Mike Cammalleri, LW, Mon (32)
28. Scott Hartnell, RW, Phi (28)
29. Dustin Penner, LW, Edm (31)
30. Patrick Kane, RW, Chi (29)
31. Ryan Smyth, LW, LA (27)
32. Marian Hossa, RW, Chi (33)
33. Travis Zajac, C, NJ (34)
34. Brad Richards, C, Dal (35)
35. Nathan Horton, RW, Fla (36)
36. Ryan Malone, LW, TB (49)
37. Mike Knuble, RW, Was (41)
38. John Tavares, C, NYI (30)
39. Paul Stastny, C, Col (38)
40. Brooks Laich, C, Was (43)
41. Daniel Alfredsson, RW, Ott (39)
42. Olli Jokinen, C, Cgy (46)
43. Alexandre Burrows, C, Van (40)
44. Jonathan Toews, C, Chi (42)
45. Tomas Holmstrom, LW, Det (44)
46. Phil Kessel, RW, Tor (60)
47. Vaclav Prospal, C, NYR (37)
48. Vincent Lecavalier, C, TB (47)
49. Loui Eriksson, LW, Dal (48)
50. Milan Hejduk, RW, Col (54)
51. Patrik Elias, LW, NJ (50)
52. Mikko Koivu, C, Min (51)
53. Patrick Sharp, C, Chi (52)
54. Shane Doan, RW, Pho (53)
55. Tomas Plekanec, C, Mon (55)
56. Ryan Kesler, C, Van (58)
57. Rich Peverley, C, Atl (65)
58. Martin St. Louis, RW, TB (59)
59. Daniel Sedin, LW, Van (66)
60. Mike Ribeiro, C, Dal (61)
61. Jason Arnott, C, Nsh (64)
62. Teemu Selanne, RW, Anh (56)
63. Devin Setoguchi, RW, SJ (45)
64. Wojtek Wolski, LW, Col (67)
65. Maxim Afinogenov, RW, Atl (83)
66. Scott Gomez, C, Mon (63)
67. Thomas Vanek, LW, Buf (62)
68. David Clarkson, C, NJ (68)
69. James Neal, LW, Dal (70)
70. Mikael Samuelsson, RW, Van (76)
71. Brian Gionta, RW, Mon (71)
72. Andrew Brunette, LW, Min (82)
73. Ryane Clowe, RW, SJ (72)
74. David Perron, LW, StL (77)
75. Kyle Okposo, RW, NYI (78)
76. Matt Moulson, LW, NYI (84)
77. Joe Pavelski, C, SJ (79)
78. Jakub Voracek, RW, Cls (69)
79. Tim Connolly, C, Buf (80)
80. David Booth, LW, Fla (73)
81. J.P. Dumont, LW, Nsh (81)
82. Dustin Brown, RW, LA (74)
83. Brendan Morrison, C, Was (93)
84. Mike Fisher, C, Ott (88)
85. Martin Havlat, LW, Min (75)
86. Bill Guerin, RW, Pit (86)
87. Chris Kunitz, LW, Pit (57)
88. Danny Briere, C, Phi (87)
89. Kris Versteeg, RW, Chi (95)
90. Milan Michalek, RW, Ott (89)
91. Stephen Weiss, C, Fla (NR)
92. Milan Lucic, LW, Bos (90)
93. Blake Wheeler, RW, Bos (91)
94. Matt Duchene, C, Col (NR)
95. Niclas Bergfors, RW, NJ (100)
96. Mason Raymond, LW, Van (94)
97. James vanRiemsdyk, LW, Phi (96)
98. David Backes, C, StL (97)
99. Jason Pominville, RW, Buf (99)
100. Jason Spezza, C, Ott (92)

Rising and falling

Devin Setoguchi, RW, San Jose Sharks (down 18 spots): The Dany Heatley-Patrick Marleau-Joe Thornton line has been quite prolific for the Sharks, and they certainly deserve all the attention they get. Unfortunately, that leaves Setoguchi in the slow lane. There is nothing worse than to give a winger one of the premier setup men in the game (Thornton) for a year and a half and then take him away. I don't think we'll be seeing nearly as much out of Setoguchi as a winger with Joe Pavelski. It's just not the same.

Phil Kessel, RW, Toronto Maple Leafs (up 14 spots): Kessel's pace just keeps getting more impressive. There was no slow startup curve to his production after missing the start of the season, and he's maintained a point-per-game pace since making his Maple Leafs debut. But this ranking isn't all about "what have you done for me lately." Quite the opposite, in fact, and that accounts more for Kessel's jump. He has been managing his totals while barely performing at all on the power play, recording just three assists on the man advantage. If he can turn on that key facet of his game, he'll get even better for fantasy owners.

Pavel Datsyuk, C, Detroit Red Wings (down two spots): The numbers just aren't there with Datsyuk this season. His slipping two spots in the rankings is obviously not huge numerically, but dropping someone so reliable out of the top 5 is a big deal symbolically. Datsyuk is supposed to be the poster boy for consistency. He finished with 97 points each of the past two seasons and 87 points for each of the two seasons prior to that. His elite plus/minus stayed better than plus-26 for those four seasons. Even his insignificant penalty minute totals for those years -- 22, 20, 20, 22 -- scream consistency. Clearly something isn't right this season, as he's on pace for his worst campaign since 2002-03. I'm only dropping him two spots because it's not yet time to pull the chute, but it's time to start double-checking your emergency backup chute. Can you win this fantasy season without Datsyuk turning things around? If the answer is no, you may need to make a big move soon.

Maxim Afinogenov, RW, Atlanta Thrashers (up 18 spots): How can I not move Afinogenov up rapidly? He is scoring at a point-per-game pace, and there is no reason to believe it is going to stop so long as Ilya Kovalchuk remains his linemate. It's not like we haven't seen it from him before either, and once you display a skill (73 points in 77 games, 2005-06), you own it. The Thrashers are a scoring machine this season, with Afinogenov one of several players most responsible for it. He may be a trade target for those owners who can feel their season beginning to circle the drain. Since his owners likely came into his numbers off the waiver wire, they may be willing to part with him at a discount, thinking they are selling high.

Martin Havlat, LW, Minnesota Wild (down 10 spots): Stick a fork in him. Andrew Brunette, Mikko Koivu and Antti Miettinen are clicking as the Wild's top line, making Havlat an afterthought. He's slipped to No. 85 in the rankings and has one more week left to prove he has something in the tank, or else he's off the list. It was good to see him take a few games off to rest his hamstring, but unless we see his production start to crank up, I will have my doubts about how healthy he is.

Scoring lines

• Every chance I get, I have to point out that Chris Stewart and Matt Duchene are now featured parts of the Colorado Avalanche attack and available in many fantasy leagues.

Joffrey Lupul has been enjoying a promotion to the Anaheim Ducks' first line with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. This is obvious a kick in the pants to Bobby Ryan owners, but you may be able to console yourself by grabbing Lupul, who is available in 58 percent of leagues.

Eric Staal, Erik Cole and Ray Whitney are just starting to produce again. This may be your last chance to pick up any Carolina Hurricanes on the cheap.

• Back from a concussion, Robert Nilsson is making the most of limited ice time with the Edmonton Oilers. He has three points in three games with a plus-3.

Jeff Halpern has two goals and an assist in four games as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning top 6. He doesn't get to work the power play much, but ice time with Vincent Lecavalier and Alex Tanguay is still a positive thing at even strength.

Power plays

• The Washington Capitals' power play has been impressive of late, and while their first unit is likely owned in most leagues, Brendan Morrison and Chris Clark could provide some cheap value.

Jarret Stoll is two things: streaky and a power-play specialist. That means now would be a good time to slot him into your lineup (five points in four games, three on the power play).

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.

Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He was the 2008 and 2009 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Hockey Writer of the Year. You can tweet him @seanard.

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