Commentary

Front Line: Zajac a star by association

Weekly news, notes and rankings on fantasy hockey forwards

Updated: December 29, 2009, 2:58 PM ET
By Sean Allen | Special to ESPN.com

It was only four games apart, but when New Jersey Devils coach Jacques Lemaire split up longtime linemates Travis Zajac and Zach Parise, it quickly became evident that only one can still thrive without the other.

Before we get too far, let me calm any Zajac owners by pointing out that the pair was back together in the Devils' Monday win over the Atlanta Thrashers. However, Zajac owners should be aware that without Parise at his side for those four games, Zajac had zero points and a minus-2.

Lemaire made the split trying to kick-start his slumping stars who, at the time, had scored only two goals in eight games between them (both Zajac's). During the four-game separation, Parise managed five assists and a plus-2, but he still didn't score, pushing his drought to a dozen contests. It wasn't until the pair's reunion against the Thrashers that Parise managed to pocket two goals.

So, if they are back together with rookie Niclas Bergfors on the other wing, why would I drop Zajac 19 spots in the ranking? Simply because the breakup, as brief as it may have been, served as a reminder that Zajac is one of our dreaded "Stars By Association," and that seemed to be lost as he climbed the rankings to a peak at No. 35. The drop the mid-50s is a reality check as, first, the split served notice that Lemaire is willing to separate them and, second, it served as a reminder that Zajac will need Parise to be a star fantasy asset.

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

Let me remind you of the poster boy for the SBA movement, a Mr. Jonathan Cheechoo. He managed to win a scoring title thanks to his association with star centerman Joe Thornton on the 2005-06 San Jose Sharks. Thornton is actually still producing stars by association, as Devin Setoguchi owners have learned this season. We've seen many such players come and go over the years and sometimes we need to be reminded of just how dangerous the drop-off can be when they are no longer propped up by their star.

Rising and Falling

Todd Bertuzzi, RW, Red Wings (debuts at No. 98): Just when it appeared Big Bert couldn't muster a revival as a Detroit Red Wing, he has stepped up and been the team's best forward for the past month. With eight goals in his past nine games and a plus-3 in that span, Bertuzzi easily ranks as one of the best fantasy forwards since Dec. 11. With Henrik Zetterberg on the shelf because of an injured shoulder, Bertuzzi is playing his role on a line with Pavel Datsyuk and Tomas Holmstrom, but Bertuzzi's streak began before Hank was injured, so we can't chalk the whole thing up to being an injury replacement. If there is one trend with Bertuzzi in the post-lockout years, it's that he is a slow starter even when he does manage to put in a valuable season, so go ahead and see if he is available. With his ownership in ESPN leagues at only 23.5 percent, he should be on many free-agent lists.

Rick Nash, LW, Blue Jackets (down two spots): As much as I had hoped for some improvement to Nash's overall standing in the league, his plus/minus is again trending toward his rookie and sophomore levels in the minus-30 range and he is on pace for fewer goals than he scored last season. While Nash is on pace to come close to last season's career-high assist total, the plus/minus is far too damaging to be mitigated by his production. The Columbus Blue Jackets have been on the road for much of December, so I'm not plummeting Nash down the rankings just yet, but if he doesn't start turning around the plus/minus very soon, he'll have to slide back to the second or third tier of forwards.

Teemu Selanne, RW, Ducks (up 16 spots): Selanne is skating again and could be on the ice as early as next week. The Ducks continue to score without him and Bobby Ryan has adjusted well to being on a superstar line with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, but Selanne will definitely return to his role as the power-play sniper. So even if Ryan remains on the top unit and Selanne skates with fellow Finn Saku Koivu, Selanne will still get his goals with the man advantage.

Scoring Lines

Eric Staal is finally doing what he does best, scoring 11 points in his past seven games, but he has not been on a line with his usual Carolina Hurricanes partners in crime. Staal has been skating with Matt Cullen and Jussi Jokinen, both underrated and practically unowned producers this season.

•While the point production by Troy Brouwer hasn't spiked to the heights of his two linemates, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, his plus/minus has. Brouwer is a plus-7 in his past eight games with no minus games in that entire span.

Shawn Horcoff, without Ales Hemsky, is not someone to own. In his past seven games, Horcoff is minus-11 and in his past 14 games, he is minus-16. The points aren't there either, so there is no reason for him to be owned in 23 percent of leagues at this point.

•With the new top line of Tomas Plekanec, Andrei Kostitsyn and Mike Cammalleri set in stone, Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta and Benoit Pouliot have emerged as the Montreal Canadiens' secondary threat. The line scored one of the Habs' two goals in its first game together on Monday.

Power Plays

•The revived New York Rangers power play is producing again, and Ryan Callahan has six points in seven games with the man advantage.

Sidney Crosby has started scoring on the power play, and he is bringing linemates Bill Guerin and Chris Kunitz with him. In the past six games, Crosby has five power-play points, while Guerin and Kunitz have four.

•While the scoring hasn't exactly been there lately, Jason Arnott, Martin Erat and Patric Hornqvist are the Nashville Predators' top power-play unit these days, and they have been scoring off the man advantage. The production will follow sooner than later.

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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