Commentary

Front Line: Consistency is key

Updated: November 1, 2010, 1:03 PM ET
By Sean Allen | Special to ESPN.com

Assessing an NHL player's fantasy worth is a much easier task when there is stability to his situation. And I'm not looking for Daniel Alfredsson-type stability, as he has had the same offensive role and the same centerman for several seasons. I mean the type of stability such that you can count on ice time and depth-chart position not fluctuating wildly from one night to the next. The kind of changes that seem to happen from game to game or even from period to period for the Philadelphia Flyers and Phoenix Coyotes these days.

We'll start with the Flyers, where despite wholesale changes to the lineup on a period-by-period basis, some stability is there. First off, the line of Danny Briere, Scott Hartnell and Ville Leino isn't changing, and they remain a solid, fantasy-relevant trio. Secondly, the value of Jeff Carter and Mike Richards won't change too much no matter what happens with the lineup. They are two star players and, for the most part, they will stay that way.

After that, it's a crapshoot. Players like Richards and Carter have a tendency to impart some of their value to fellow linemates, but when a line can't stay together for five minutes, it's a different story. Claude Giroux, James van Riemsdyk and Nikolay Zherdev all have the talent to be fantasy assets but will need some consistent, talented linemates to achieve that. Darroll Powe and Andreas Nodl also seem to be in the mix for minutes with Richards and Carter, and would be fully fledged stars by association in the role.

Most recently, Zherdev has been in the press box, once again over concerns for his defensive responsibility. That's a very bad sign, and if he doesn't respond positively to the benching in his next outing, it will be time to look for another project. Giroux has been the most responsive, thanks to his slick hands and role on the second power-play unit. He will retain fantasy value throughout the season; the right linemates will be the difference from role player to stud. Although van Riemsdyk is still a bit of an unknown because we haven't seen him with his training wheels completely off, he is still worth considering on spec.

In contrast to the Flyers' deep talent pool, not a single Coyotes forward belongs in a fantasy starting lineup right now. Not one. Shane Doan has two assists and is minus-4 on the season. That's right, the offensive leader of the club barely has a point. Eric Belanger leads the way instead with six points in 10 games, and Lee Stempniak is next with five points. Wojtek Wolski has only four points and was most recently spotted in the press box during a two-game (so far) benching. Kyle Turris' ice time has been on a bit of a yo-yo, and Ray Whitney has failed to generate offense as an incoming veteran. All told, it's a sorry lot at the moment.

Coyotes coach Dave Tippett knows what he is doing, though. He will find the right line combinations and the right spark to get this offense going. Even though things look ugly now, Doan and Wolski are still two horses worth betting on. Turris and Whitney also are more than likely to fit into a role that is fantasy-relevant. Although those four players might be worth stashing on the bench depending on the size of your league, no one else is worth harboring at this point.

And don't get me started on assessing values when it comes to teams that have three-star players they constantly disassemble and reunite; I'm looking at you, San Jose Sharks and Washington Capitals.

Top 100 Forwards

Note: Sean Allen's top 100 forwards are ranked for their expected performance in ESPN.com standard leagues from this point on, not on the statistics that have already been accrued. ESPN standard stats include goals, assists, power-play points, shots on goal, plus/minus, penalty minutes and average time on ice. Last week's ranking is indicated in parentheses.

1. Alex Ovechkin, Was (1)
2. Sidney Crosby, Pit (2)
3. Steven Stamkos, TB (3)
4. Daniel Sedin, Van (4)
5. Nicklas Backstrom, Was (5)
6. Henrik Sedin, Van (6)
7. Dany Heatley, SJ (7)
8. Alexander Semin, Was (8)
9. Pavel Datsyuk, Det (11)
10. Evgeni Malkin, Pit (9)
11. Brad Richards, Dal (12)
12. Ryan Getzlaf, Ana (15)
13. Mike Richards, Phi (16)
14. Ilya Kovalchuk, NJ (14)
15. Jeff Carter, Phi (17)
16. Zach Parise, NJ (10)
17. Nathan Horton, Bos (18)
18. Jonathan Toews, Chi (19)
19. Eric Staal, Car (13)
20. Patrick Kane, Chi (20)
21. Joe Thornton, SJ (22)
22. Corey Perry, Ana (24)
23. Rick Nash, Cls (25)
24. Chris Stewart, Col (35)
25. Patrick Marleau, SJ (26)
26. Bobby Ryan, Ana (27)
27. Henrik Zetterberg, Det (28)
28. Johan Franzen, Det (29)
29. Martin St. Louis, TB (30)
30. Marian Hossa, Chi (21)
31. Paul Stastny, Col (33)
32. Jarome Iginla, Cgy (23)
33. Anze Kopitar, LA (31)
34. Daniel Alfredsson, Ott (32)
35. Mikko Koivu, Min (39)
36. John Tavares, NYI (36)
37. Phil Kessel, Tor (34)
38. Tomas Plekanec, Mon (37)
39. Alex Burrows, Van (49)
40. Marian Gaborik, NYR (43)
41. Danny Briere, Phi (47)
42. Mike Cammalleri, Mon (40)
43. Ryan Smyth, LA (41)
44. Patrick Sharp, Chi (42)
45. Loui Eriksson, Dal (44)
46. Jason Spezza, Ott (45)
47. Ryan Kesler, Van (38)
48. David Krejci, Bos (54)
49. Jordan Eberle, Edm (55)
50. Milan Lucic, Bos (51)
51. Travis Zajac, NJ (46)
52. Alex Tanguay, Cgy (48)
53. Scott Hartnell, Phi (57)
54. Tim Connolly, Buf (50)
55. Derek Roy, Buf (56)
56. Patric Hornqvist, Nsh (52)
57. Olli Jokinen, Cgy (53)
58. Steve Downie, TB (67)
59. Matt Duchene, Col (59)
60. Stephen Weiss, Fla (60)
61. Ales Hemsky, Edm (61)
62. Vincent Lecavalier, TB (62)
63. Thomas Vanek, Buf (64)
64. David Booth, Fla (65)
65. Brenden Morrow, Dal (66)
66. James Neal, Dal (73)
67. Patrik Elias, NJ (63)
68. Scott Gomez, Mon (68)
69. Mikael Samuelsson, Van (69)
70. David Backes, StL (70)
71. Matt Cullen, Min (80)
72. Andrei Kostitsyn, Mon (87)
73. Jason Arnott, NJ (74)
74. Claude Giroux, Phi (71)
75. Tomas Holmstrom, Det (76)
76. Steve Sullivan, Nsh (77)
77. Dustin Penner, Edm (58)
78. Teemu Selanne, Ana (78)
79. Shane Doan, Pho (72)
80. Jamie Langenbrunner, NJ (75)
81. Nik Antropov, Atl (81)
82. David Perron, StL (84)
83. Josh Bailey, NYI (79)
84. Evander Kane, Atl (88)
85. Drew Stafford, Buf (90)
86. Mike Knuble, Was (85)
87. Todd Bertuzzi, Det (91)
88. Mike Fisher, Ott (92)
89. Shawn Horcoff, Edm (93)
90. Ryane Clowe, SJ (94)
91. Niclas Bergfors, Atl (NR)
92. Rene Bourque, Cgy (95)
93. Taylor Hall, Edm (96)
94. Brooks Laich, Was (82)
95. T.J. Oshie, StL (99)
96. Joe Pavelski, SJ (NR)
97. Andrew Ladd, Atl (100)
98. Dustin Brown, LA (NR)
99. Derick Brassard, Cls (NR)
100. Milan Hejduk, Col (NR)

Rising and falling

Zach Parise, New Jersey Devils (down six spots): Until we hear more on the extent of a leg injury that Parise suffered this past weekend, let's not overreact. Dropping him six spots might even have been reasonable if he hadn't been injured given his play this season. There are suggestions that the Devils star has nursed the injury all season and aggravated it Saturday. If that is the case, Parise owners should be prepared for the worst. Since Parise only has six points this season, his owners already kind of know what it's like not to have him in the lineup. Patrik Elias took Parise's spot next to Travis Zajac and Jamie Langenbrunner, but because the Devils are a complete mess at the moment, it doesn't really matter.

Jarome Iginla, Calgary Flames (down nine spots): Iginla wasn't so much moved down as much as other players were moved up, but it's still true that he is only fifth among forwards on his own team for points at the moment. Iggy has some issues to work out, and step one is to take some more shots on goal.

Dustin Penner, Edmonton Oilers (down 19 spots): From hero to zero, the Oilers' offense no longer requires Penner's presence to operate. One season ago, he was the sole catalyst for offense in the lineup thanks to Ales Hemsky's injury. Now, not only is Hemsky back, but the kids are alright: Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Magnus Paajarvi are top-six forwards for the Oilers right now. Penner is not. Welcome to the third line, Penner. We hope you enjoy your stay. He could fight his way back up the depth chart, and Gilbert Brule and Andrew Cogliano are still good linemates, but I have a sinking feeling that Penner might keep sliding.

Jordan Eberle, Edmonton Oilers (up six spots): Yes, Eberle has been a point-per-game player everywhere he has plied his trade, but no, it was not expected in the NHL. The rookie has eight points in nine games and is scoring some highlight-reel goals with Shawn Horcoff and Taylor Hall as his linemates. What's not to love?

Alex Burrows, Vancouver Canucks (up 10 spots): He'll be back next week from offseason shoulder surgery and more than likely will be back beside Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin. Burrows is top-20 material when he is playing with the twins, but hedge your bets until you see him playing.

Derick Brassard, Columbus Blue Jackets (back on at No. 99): As the Blue Jackets' ship seems to sink, Brassard has found his groove amid the chaos. A four-game point streak and a new role as the top-line center looks good on Brassard, even if the rest of the team looks terrible.

Scoring lines

Justin Williams, Los Angeles Kings: He might get hurt just from our talking about him, but so long as Williams remains healthy this season, he needs to be in your lineup. Skating with Ryan Smyth and Jarret Stoll on the Kings' second line (in name only), Williams has 11 points in 11 games, and the trio is one of the top-five lines in the league at the moment. Don't forget that he has flirted with near a point per game before in his career, so it likely will take an injury to end this ride.

David Jones, Colorado Avalanche: Even though the role hasn't paid off for him just yet, Jones is skating alongside Milan Hejduk and Matt Duchene on the Avs' second line. His stats aren't damaging to your bottom line, but they aren't valuable yet, either. It's simply worth knowing that Jones can pot a goal or two should Duchene finally heat up.

Brian Gionta, Montreal Canadiens: Gionta's 2.3 shooting percentage is so low, it is almost impressive. It's easily the lowest in the NHL among those who have scored at least one goal, and his 44 shots is also more than any of the players in the NHL who don't have a goal yet. (Dion Phaneuf's 36 shots is highest.) Something eventually has to give for a talented player who is still getting his chances on offense.

Ryan Callahan, New York Rangers: Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov have been red-hot as the Rangers' top line, and by all means, ride the streak. Callahan is the most talented and also the second-most available of the trio.

Power plays

Nik Antropov, Atlanta Thrashers: The Thrashers seemed to settle on a fivesome for their power play during recent games. Antropov joins a crew with Andrew Ladd, Rich Peverley, Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom. Antropov has three power-play points in his past two games.

Infirmary

Rob Schremp, New York Islanders: Schremp should be back with the Isles sooner than later and is on a conditioning assignment in the AHL. The stat I like to cite is his 20 points in his final 27 games last season before suffering a knee injury. It will be interesting to see where he fits on the depth chart, but it would very well be somewhere of prominence.

Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal, Pittsburgh Penguins: Malkin is day-to-day, but it is described as a minor knee bruise. More importantly, he may have a new winger when he is back, as Staal will return from a foot injury soon. There have been few opportunities for Staal to play anything more than a third-line role because he is so good defensively and it is exciting to hear all the talk of him playing as a top-six forward. If he is available in your league, he is worth a shot.

Antti Miettinen, Minnesota Wild: Miettinen is out with what might be a concussion from a hit by Dustin Brown on Oct. 25. As a member of the Wild's super power play and top line, there is a valuable role that opened up with his absence. And of all people, Chuck Kobasew is filling in both on and off the power play. No matter who it is, there is a short-term production spike for Kobasew as long as Miettinen remains out.

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

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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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