Front Line: Downie best of the pests


He can be a controversial player, and his route to the NHL was certainly paved with conflict, but Tampa Bay Lightning RW Steve Downie is fantasy gold no matter which way you look at him.

Maybe you don't remember why a guy like Downie can be so enticing because it has been a while since we actually had a true pest performance in the NHL. In 2005-06, Sean Avery and Chris Neil both put up more than 30 points and 200 penalty minutes. That is probably the last time we saw a really good pest season. Daniel Carcillo's 2007-08 with 324 PIMs was impressive, but he fell short of 30 points.

I'm not talking about power forwards here. David Backes, Scott Hartnell, Brenden Morrow and Alexandre Burrows are all 60-point, 150-PIM kind of guys. They are valuable in their own regard. I'm talking about the pests here. With Avery seemingly over the hill, Neil down the depth chart for the Ottawa Senators, and Carcillo on a team with too many cooks, Downie is possibly the only hope for a strong showing.

What makes him so valuable? Have a look at this chart of the ESPN Player Rater sorted by penalty minutes.

Notice that the majority of your top 10 sin-binners have serious issues with earning positive value anywhere. Only Downie has positive value in assists and power-play goals. Downie and Neil are the only ones with positive value in goals. Even though Downie is seventh in penalty minutes, his overall Player Rater total dwarfs that of the other PIM leaders. Downie is 70th among forwards, while Carcillo is 112th.

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

Downie is available in 97 percent of leagues, mainly because he had a slow but steady start to the season, and fantasy owners have been slow to notice his totals creeping up. He initially was handed a top-six role for the Lightning, but quickly lost it with little production and had to earn his way back onto the second line. He is there now with Vincent Lecavalier and Alex Tanguay, and he's also averaging more than two minutes of power-play time per game. Taking Downie's numbers only since Dec. 1, he would project to a 46-point, 191-PIM player. Clearly this is a guy who relishes playing an important role.

If you are still not convinced, sort the Player Rater by the 2010 season, past 30 days and then past 15, and look for Downie. You'll see him consistently appear in the 70-85 range. There is serious value here, and it's available in the vast majority of leagues. Go get Downie.

Rising and Falling

Tim Connolly, C, Buffalo Sabres (up 10 spots): Getting back to centering Jochen Hecht and Jason Pominville has lit a fire under Connolly. He currently has a six-game point streak, scoring nine points and a plus-7 in that span. This line has worked together in previous seasons, and it's paying off for Connolly. He now leads the Sabres in goals and points. Even Hecht is averaging a point per game over their past five. Connolly deserves more credit in the fantasy realm as he looks to finally shed his injury-prone tag.

Rich Peverley, C, Atlanta Thrashers (down eight spots): Going back eight games, Peverley is a minus-10 with just two points. It may just be a slump and he'll get things going again, but there is also the fear with such a Cinderella player that his bubble burst somewhere. Be very careful if you own him or are acquiring him, as it's quite clear there is no room on the Thrashers' top line at the moment, and Peverley may need to be there if he wishes to regain his fantasy value.

Milan Lucic, LW, Boston Bruins (up 10 spots): Mark it down: Thursday at home against the Chicago Blackhawks. That's when Lucic could make his return to the ice that, hopefully, lasts more than four games. Already sidelined with a shoulder injury earlier this season, Lucic came back for four games before hurting his ankle in late November. He's available in many leagues, but he probably shouldn't be. Remember that Lucic is a nice combination of points, plus/minus and penalty minutes when he is at full steam. Note that his return should also benefit linemates Marc Savard and Marco Sturm.

John Tavares, C, New York Islanders (down five spots): With just one goal in the past 11 games, Tavares is obviously going through the rookie doldrums. It's not that he was expected to avoid slumps completely, but I did think he was the type of player who could bust a slump within a game or two. The drop in rankings is actually conservative, in the hopes he can turn things around soon. Hopefully, Islanders coach Scott Gordon realizes Blake Comeau has little chemistry with Tavares and Kyle Okposo and reunites Matt Moulson with them soon.

Scoring Lines

" How's Corey Perry doing with Ryan Getzlaf on the shelf? Four games, zero points and a minus-5 rating. Ouch.

" Curtis Glencross and Daymond Langkow have picked up their play now on a line with Jarome Iginla. The trio has combined for 10 points in the past two games.

" It's no coincidence that Erik Christensen and Brandon Dubinsky each has four points in the past three games. They've been on a line together. The third member of their line: Marian Gaborik. Enough said.

" Trying to find a way to kick-start Phil Kessel, the Toronto Maple Leafs played Nikolai Kulemin on the left wing on the first line with Kessel and Matt Stajan. No drastic change, as Kessel had a minus-2 against the Edmonton Oilers to make him minus-8 over the past eight games.

Power Plays

" A reminder that Alexander Steen is now on the first power-play unit for the St. Louis Blues. Only Drew Doughty has more power-play points over the past two weeks.

" With eight points in eight games since returning from injury, Simon Gagne is also enjoying a role with Mike Richards and Claude Giroux on the first power-play unit. Three of his eight points since coming back have been on the man advantage.

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.