Commentary

Front Line: Top 100 clean-up

Say goodbye to Spezza, Knuble, Hornqvist, Bertuzzi for now

Updated: December 20, 2010, 1:46 PM ET
By Sean Allen | Special to ESPN.com

You can work as hard as you like to keep a house in order, but there are always bound to be a few cobwebs that get overlooked. In the spirit of heading soon into a New Year, I took some time to do some solid cleaning of the Top 100 and found more than a few "cobwebs" hanging around in the corners I have since removed. However, since many of these players gave fantasy owners many a good time in the past, we'll take a minute to have a closer look at them, before we simply kick them to the curb.

[+] EnlargeJason Spezza
Michael Martin/NHLI/Getty ImagesJason Spezza has just nine goals and nine assists through 30 games.

Jason Spezza, Ottawa Senators (last ranked No. 65): Why did he sneak by the rankings for so long? Name value and potential. And because he did this last year and finished really strong. I still worry that he will do it again this season. Don't forget that Spezza was barely useful last season and about the same time I resolved to take him out of the Top 100, he turned around and finished with 34 points in his final 26 games. The difference this season is that the Sens were clipping away all year in 2009-10, with or without Spezza contributing. This season, they just seem deflated. Only the Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils have fewer goals per game than the Sens. Even when the Senators win, it's other lines coming through, while Spezza remains silent. Be aware of the lesson from last season, but it really doesn't look like it will be a repeat. Spezza is still worth owning, but he is not a starting fantasy player.

Mike Knuble, Washington Capitals (last ranked No. 90): Knuble didn't sneak by this season so much on his own name value, but rather his teammates'. Considering his linemates, Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, are top-10 fantasy assets, one would expect Knuble to maintain value simply from pucks that bounce off him while Ovechkin and Backstrom do their thing. Alas, Knuble has shown almost nil production this season (14 points), despite being paired with some of the best players in hockey. Even with Alexander Semin ailing and no one to challenge Knuble for the top-line spot, he hasn't performed during the past week. By the end of Sunday's game, however, Eric Fehr had claimed the top spot. Knuble may soon be pushed out of the Capitals' top six because of up-and-coming players like Mathieu Perreault or Fehr. The writing is on the wall and he serves as a good lesson that stars by association are not always born by a good situation.

Patric Hornqvist, Nashville Predators (last ranked No. 76): Hornqvist only gave fantasy owners one good fantasy campaign, but boy was it a good one last season. The Preds forward was one of the biggest 30-goal surprises last season, and he was expected to at least match his numbers this year. Currently on pace for just 20 goals, Hornqvist is barely fantasy relevant, let alone a top-100 player. The problem here is, like Spezza, Hornqvist may make me regret discounting him. He didn't start scoring too many goals before December last season, so just because he has had a slow start doesn't mean he can't do it again. Still, keeping a guy with 15 points and a minus-2 rating in the Top 100 is pretty hard to justify at this point. Hornqvist did have a two-goal game before suffering an upper-body injury last week, so maybe give him one more chance before outright cutting him. He should be back in the lineup within the week.

Top 100 Forwards

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 points, shots on goal, plus/minus, penalty minutes and average time on ice. Last week's ranking is indicated in parentheses.

1. Sidney Crosby, Pit (1)
2. Alex Ovechkin, Was (2)
3. Steven Stamkos, TB (3)
4. Daniel Sedin, Van (4)
5. Alexander Semin, Was (5)
6. Nicklas Backstrom, Was (6)
7. Brad Richards, Dal (7)
8. Henrik Sedin, Van (8)
9. Dany Heatley, SJ (9)
10. Pavel Datsyuk, Det (10)
11. Mike Richards, Phi (11)
12. Corey Perry, Ana (14)
13. Evgeni Malkin, Pit (12)
14. Jeff Carter, Phi (13)
15. Jonathan Toews, Chi (16)
16. Martin St. Louis, TB (15)
17. Eric Staal, Car (17)
18. Ryan Getzlaf, Ana (18)
19. Bobby Ryan, Ana (19)
20. Anze Kopitar, LA (26)
21. Patrick Sharp, Chi (20)
22. Henrik Zetterberg, Det (21)
23. Danny Briere, Phi (22)
24. Rick Nash, Cls (27)
25. Ilya Kovalchuk, NJ (23)
26. Nathan Horton, Bos (24)
27. Jarome Iginla, Cgy (28)
28. Mikko Koivu, Min (25)
29. Paul Stastny, Col (29)
30. Marian Gaborik, NYR (30)
31. Joe Thornton, SJ (31)
32. Patrick Kane, Chi (32)
33. Scott Hartnell, Phi (33)
34. Claude Giroux, Phi (34)
35. James Neal, Dal (35)
36. Patrick Marleau, SJ (36)
37. Loui Eriksson, Dal (37)
38. Milan Lucic, Bos (38)
39. Derek Roy, Buf (39)
40. Tomas Plekanec, Mon (40)
41. Milan Hejduk, Col (41)
42. Alex Burrows, Van (42)
43. Johan Franzen, Det (43)
44. Chris Stewart, Col (45)
45. Andrew Ladd, Atl (46)
46. Ryan Kesler, Van (52)
47. Mike Cammalleri, Mon (50)
48. Matt Duchene, Col (53)
49. Ryan Smyth, LA (48)
50. Marian Hossa, Chi (49)
51. Thomas Vanek, Buf (51)
52. David Backes, StL (54)
53. Phil Kessel, Tor (44)
54. David Krejci, Bos (55)
55. Steve Downie, TB (58)
56. Brenden Morrow, Dal (59)
57. Dustin Brown, LA (67)
58. Daniel Alfredsson, Ott (47)
59. Martin Havlat, Min (60)
60. Teemu Selanne, Ana (61)
61. Logan Couture, SJ (89)
62. Andrei Kostitsyn, Mon (63)
63. Stephen Weiss, Fla (66)
64. Alex Tanguay, Cgy (57)
65. John Tavares, NYI (56)
66. Ryane Clowe, SJ (74)
67. Vincent Lecavalier, TB (94)
68. Brooks Laich, Was (68)
69. Shane Doan, Pho (81)
70. Mikael Samuelsson, Van (69)
71. Jordan Eberle, Edm (70)
72. Justin Williams, LA (75)
73. David Booth, Fla (71)
74. Joe Pavelski, SJ (72)
75. Ville Leino, Phi (82)
76. Evander Kane, Atl (86)
77. Matt Cullen, Min (64)
78. Scott Gomez, Mon (79)
79. Chris Kunitz, Pit (87)
80. Steve Sullivan, Nsh (77)
81. Brian Gionta, Mon (78)
82. Ryan Malone, TB (99)
83. Brandon Dubinsky, NYR (73)
84. Patrik Elias, NJ (80)
85. Travis Zajac, NJ (83)
86. Derick Brassard, Cls (85)
87. Daniel Cleary, Det (NR)
88. Jarret Stoll, LA (84)
89. Rich Peverley, Atl (98)
90. Mike Ribeiro, Dal (91)
91. Sam Gagner, Edm (92)
92. Bryan Little, Atl (93)
93. Jeff Skinner, Car (96)
94. Teddy Purcell, TB (NR)
95. Mason Raymond, Van (97)
96. Olli Jokinen, Cgy (NR)
97. Joffrey Lupul, Ana (NR)
98. Dustin Penner, Edm (NR)
99. Kristian Huselius, Cls (NR)
100. Alexander Steen, StL (100)

Todd Bertuzzi, Detroit Red Wings (last ranked No. 88): Has anyone had as many ups and downs as Big Bert? It looked like he was done after some seasons with the Florida Panthers Anaheim Ducks and Calgary Flames, but a move to the Red Wings reinvigorated his career (127 shots on goal in 2008-09 to 216 shots in 2009-10). Bertuzzi had a significant role with the Wings and was on fire earlier this season. Since Mike Modano was hurt, though, Bertuzzi has three points in 13 games. Modano, Bertuzzi and Daniel Cleary were showing great chemistry before the injury. With Modano not returning any time soon, it's time to accept that the delicate balance that was keeping Bertuzzi fantasy relevant has been interrupted. It might not be time to completely ditch Bertuzzi yet, as coach Mike Babcock is trying to rattle his players to life with some line changes. For instance, Bertuzzi is now with Cleary and Henrik Zetterberg. Give him a small chance with the new line before getting rid of him.

Rising and Falling

Shane Doan, Phoenix Coyotes (up 12 spots): Simply put, Doan has 12 points in 12 games since coming back from a two-week injury break. With Eric Belanger and Wojtek Wolski as linemates, Doan is only doing OK. But when he gets on the power play with Martin Hanzal, Radim Vrbata and Ray Whitney, he really starts doing damage. Five of his past seven points have come on the man advantage. Doan is not going away and he still has the extra gear to be a fantasy contributor. The right line combination will be found at some point and Doan has the power play in the meantime.

Brandon Dubinsky, New York Rangers (down 10 spots): With Ryan Callahan on the sideline for the next 6-8 weeks with a broken hand, Dubinsky will be left in fantasy limbo. The Rangers' strongest fantasy forward to date, Dubinsky has gone missing without Callahan as a linemate. Stuck now with Artem Anisimov and Alex Frolov, the next six weeks (or longer) do not look promising for Dubinsky. He gets a bit of reprieve in the Top 100 just in case he is shifted on to a line with Marian Gaborik. If that doesn't happen soon, he should drop off the list until well into the New Year, when Callahan returns.

Tampa Bay Lightning (up all around): Teddy Purcell makes his debut in the Top 100, while Ryan Malone and Vincent Lecavalier are among the biggest movers of the week. It's been good to be a Bolt this season. Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis are staples near the top of the list, while Steve Downie is good enough when healthy he can stay on the list with a broken ankle. Lecavalier has eight shots in two games since returning from his own injury and deserves to be back among the second tier of fantasy options. Malone continues to skyrocket thanks with his play of late and remains on the power play with Purcell, St. Louis and Stamkos. Malone still had five shots on goal during the most recent game, even though Lecavalier was back in the lineup as another offensive option.

Scoring Lines

Mikhail Grabovski, Toronto Maple Leafs: With Clarke MacArthur and Nikolai Kulemin, Grabovski has managed to score one goal in six of his past seven games. That is what we call a hot streak. Then realize that Grabosvki had 16 points in 25 games previous and you realize that while he can be a modest fantasy contributor most of the time, he isn't worth breaking the bank to get. At some point, Phil Kessel has to take back the lead for this Maple Leafs offense if they want to get anywhere. Ride Grabovski while he is hot, though.

Nikolay Zherdev, Philadelphia Flyers: Zherdev played almost 17 minutes of hockey Saturday. Not a monumental amount, but put into context it means coach Peter Laviolette felt comfortable enough to let Zherdev play in most situations, which has not always been the case this season, as his ice time would sometimes creep below 10 minutes, and he looks comfortable with Jeff Carter and James vanRiemsdyk as linemates. We always talk about Zherdev as a potential 30-goal guy, and he is on pace for exactly that this season. Better yet, a guy with a career minus-41 rating is on pace to be plus-12. It may only be one game, but I get the feeling Zherdev has found the right groove. He is motivated to do well in the NHL, Carter is as reliable a linemate as they come, and Van Riemsdyk has been hitting his stride lately. With ownership in only 50 percent of ESPN leagues, now is the time to pounce.

Power Plays

Jussi Jokinen and Tuomo Ruutu, Carolina Hurricanes: Both guys are widely available and both guys have picked up their play with Eric Staal on the power play. Staal had a hat trick Saturday, with Jokinen helping on the first two goals on the power play. Many people naturally think Jokinen is the better grab, but Ruutu has nine points in his past 12 games while Jokinen has six over that same time frame.

Ilya Kovalchuk, New Jersey Devils: Who has the most power play points in the NHL over the past two weeks? Kovalchuk does, racking up six power play points in his past six games. Of course, away from the power play, Kovalchuk is a minus-6 with one point. But hey, it's a start.

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.

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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