Front Line: Moments of uncertainty
Forward rankings very much in flux after Olympics but before trade deadline
It's been three weeks since my previous rankings of forwards, but two factors make this week's rankings precarious, at best: the Olympics and the trade deadline.
It's debatable what impact the Olympic tournament will have. Does winning a medal of any color help give players an extra kick in their step? What about losing in the gold-medal game and "settling" for silver? Is there an advantage for players who rested for two weeks? What about players who played for different countries now returning to the same NHL team? Same line? There are too many questions to decide about the impact on individuals and teams moving forward.
Should I move Marian Gaborik down the ranks because he had a quiet tournament and lost in the bronze-medal game? I don't think so. He is back in the position that has made him one of this season's top goal scorers.
Should I give the Dallas Stars' Brenden Morrow a boost because he had chemistry on Team Canada with two players from the Anaheim Ducks? Well, maybe. He certainly showed some life in his game that hasn't been there for the past month.
You can see how it's tough to put too much stock into anyone's performance in Vancouver.
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. Patrick Marleau, C, SJ (5)
6. Evgeni Malkin, C, Pit (6)
7. Nicklas Backstrom, C, Was (10)
8. Zach Parise, LW, NJ (7)
9. Henrik Sedin, C, Van (8)
10. Ilya Kovalchuk, LW, Atl (9)
11. Mike Richards, C, Phi (11)
12. Joe Thornton, C, SJ (12)
13. Anze Kopitar, C, LA (13)
14. Daniel Sedin, LW, Van (14)
15. Steven Stamkos, C, TB (17)
16. Corey Perry, RW, Anh (15)
17. Jarome Iginla, RW, Cgy (16)
18. Rick Nash, LW, Cls (18)
19. Eric Staal, C, Car (19)
20. Alexander Semin, LW, Was (22)
21. Bobby Ryan, RW, Anh (20)
22. Patrick Kane, RW, Chi (21)
23. Jeff Carter, C, Phi (23)
24. Alex Burrows, C, Van (24)
25. Ryan Getzlaf, C, Anh (25)
26. Jonathan Toews, C, Chi (27)
27. Pavel Datsyuk, C, Det (26)
28. Ryan Kesler, C, Van (32)
29. Marian Hossa, RW, Chi (29)
30. Paul Stastny, C, Col (30)
31. Loui Eriksson, LW, Dal (33)
32. Brenden Morrow, LW, Dal (37)
33. Brad Richards, C, Dal (34)
34. Mikko Koivu, C, Min (35)
35. Henrik Zetterberg, C, Det (31)
36. Brooks Laich, C, Was (39)
37. Martin St. Louis, RW, TB (40)
38. Vincent Lecavalier, C, TB (36)
39. Ryan Malone, LW, TB (28)
40. Patrick Sharp, C, Chi (41)
41. Tim Connolly, C, Buf (42)
42. Olli Jokinen, C, Cgy (43)
43. Steve Downie, RW, TB (49)
44. Tomas Plekanec, C, Mon (44)
45. Scott Hartnell, RW, Phi (38)
46. Ryan Smyth, LW, LA (45)
47. Marc Savard, C, Bos (46)
48. Dustin Penner, LW, Edm (47)
49. Travis Zajac, C, NJ (48)
50. Mike Knuble, RW, Was (51)
51. Shane Doan, RW, Pho (50)
52. Daniel Alfredsson, RW, Ott (52)
53. Mike Fisher, C, Ott (53)
54. Nathan Horton, RW, Fla (54)
55. Martin Havlat, LW, Min (55)
56. Mason Raymond, LW, Van (56)
57. Bill Guerin, RW, Pit (60)
58. Phil Kessel, RW, Tor (57)
59. Jamie Langenbrunner, RW, NJ (64)
60. Stephen Weiss, C, Fla (59)
61. Chris Stewart, RW, Col (61)
62. Patrik Elias, LW, NJ (63)
63. Patric Hornqvist, RW, Nsh (65)
64. Wojtek Wolski, LW, Col (66)
65. Jason Arnott, C, Nsh (67)
66. Brian Gionta, RW, Mon (68)
67. Ryane Clowe, RW, SJ (69)
68. Joe Pavelski, C, SJ (58)
69. Vaclav Prospal, C, NYR (70)
70. Jason Spezza, C, Ott (72)
71. Mikael Samuelsson, RW, Van (78)
72. Andrew Brunette, LW, Min (73)
73. Thomas Vanek, LW, Buf (74)
74. Mike Cammalleri, LW, Mon (62)
75. Teemu Selanne, RW, Anh (75)
76. Jussi Jokinen, LW, Car (79)
77. David Backes, C, StL (76)
78. Kyle Okposo, RW, NYI (77)
79. John Tavares, C, NYI (71)
80. Alexei Kovalev, RW, Ott (88)
81. Guillaume Latendresse, RW, Min (80)
82. Rene Bourque, LW, Cgy (81)
83. Kris Versteeg, RW, Chi (82)
84. Jason Pominville, RW, Buf (85)
85. James Neal, LW, Dal (83)
86. Dustin Brown, RW, LA (84)
87. Nik Antropov, RW, Atl (91)
88. Ray Whitney, LW, Car (97)
89. Maxim Afinogenov, RW, Atl (86)
90. Troy Brouwer, RW, Chi (90)
91. Mike Ribeiro, C, Dal (NR)
92. Radim Vrbata, RW, Pho (NR)
93. Simon Gagne, LW, Phi (92)
94. Ryan Callahan, RW, NYR (93)
95. Wayne Simmonds, RW, LA (95)
96. Johan Franzen, C, Det (NR)
97. Matt Duchene, C, Col (96)
98. Jordan Staal, C, Pit (98)
99. Tomas Fleischmann, RW/C, Was (99)
100. Matt Stajan, C, Tor (100)
As far as the trade deadline is concerned, Thursday could really put a spin on these rankings. As some players are shipped out by the "sellers," other forwards will have more opportunities to gather points. The opposite is true for "buyers," as incoming players will have an impact on their current forwards' ice time. Depending on the magnitude and multitude of trades, changes could be significant for the next edition of Front Line.
With those two factors in mind, take the rankings with a grain of salt.
One quick note on the approaching deadline: For those of you in leagues with good communication among all owners, I want to remind you about "going long" ahead of the deadline.
There are a number of players whom pundits tab as "likely to be traded" every deadline. Many of those players do indeed end up getting dealt. If you are in a position to take risks with your team in order to move up the standings down the stretch and you can confirm a deal in the next 24 hours, targeting some of those players purported to be "on the block" is a respectable gamble.
You want to determine whom you think will be moved into a better situation and how likely those players are to be traded. Bear in mind that your trade partner will be aware of what you are doing, so it will take some good negotiation on your part. But if you offer fair value, it's a chance to buy a player just before their value goes up.
Remember the negative space law, as well. For example, if the Edmonton Oilers trade Sheldon Souray, it would open up a role for a power-play quarterback. That could mean Tom Gilbert becomes interesting.
Obviously the key to this timely tactic is to be able to phone, instant message or meet up with one of your fellow owners to ensure a quick turnaround on negotiations. Only some leagues will have luck with the strategy.
Don't forget to consider the other end of the spectrum, and short-sell any player who could dip in value. If you really think the New Jersey Devils might go after Souray or another puck-moving defenseman, Paul Martin doesn't have much value for the rest of the season.
Rising and Falling
Ray Whitney, LW, Carolina Hurricanes (up nine spots): Speaking of those players likely to be packing their belongings this week to move to greener pastures, Whitney is one such target. The veteran winger can score and keep up with young premium talent (Eric Staal), two qualities always in demand. Given the constant demand for scoring wingers across the NHL, Whitney is bound to end up on a team where he can work with a strong centerman. The nice part about targeting him is that the worst-case scenario is he keeps skating with Staal. Nothing wrong with that.
Ryan Malone, LW, Tampa Bay Lightning (down 11 spots): In late December, I decided to bring up the "Stars By Association" and highlighted my speech by moving Travis Zajac down the rankings after he and Zach Parise were broken up on the Devils' depth chart (a separation that lasted less than 24 hours after I wrote the article, but alas). The reason I bring up SBAs now is that somehow Malone has been sneaking through the cracks all season as a top-30 player, and it's starting to show that he can't maintain that value outside the Lightning top six. The Bolts have been experimenting with breaking up their talent to form three scoring lines, and it means Malone has found himself with linemates such as Jeff Halpern, Nate Thompson and Mark Parrish, instead of Vincent Lecavalier and Alex Tanguay. Malone's numbers have suffered as a result. Now that he has been branded an SBA, he loses some ground in the rankings he won't get back simply by reuniting with top-tier talent.
Alexei Kovalev, RW, Ottawa Senators (up eight spots): Kovalev, like the rest of the Senators, was on fire before the Olympic break. With everyone healthy, three scoring lines rolling and possible reinforcements on the way this week, there is no reason to suspect the trend won't continue. Kovalev has been a top-25 player for the past month with an outburst that has brought him to a respectable 47 points. Given that he is a big threat on the man advantage, standard-leagues owners should have even more appreciation for Kovalev and his power-play goals.
Nicklas Backstrom, C, Washington Capitals (up three spots): It's becoming increasingly difficult to justify any major juggling among the top 10 on my ranks, but it's also becoming increasingly impressive to see Alexander Ovechkin pull away from the pack. On the ESPN Player Rater, the difference between Ovechkin and No. 2 is the same as the difference between No. 2 and No. 22. As Ovechkin puts more miles between himself and everyone else, Backstrom rises to the top with him as his centerman. Need an example? Backstrom has 18 points over his past nine games, including six multiple-point contests. Ridiculous.
I'm actually going to leave Scoring Lines and Power Plays out for the week. Any line combinations I can list here would have last been seen together more than two weeks ago. It seems an exercise in futility to reach back that far for linemates when teams have been practicing and strategizing nonstop over the Olympic break. A lot can change in two days, let alone two weeks.
Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is the 2008 and 2009 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Hockey Writer of the Year. You can e-mail him here.