Front Line: 'Fantasy' hockey


This is one of those openings to a fantasy hockey column you may want to skip if you are just here for your rankings and tidbits. But I had to set aside some space to discuss the Guardian Project here.

I don't know if you've seen this yet, but if not have a look at what the NHL is doing. You have to see it for yourself, but to sum up briefly Stan Lee (arguably the most famous of superhero creators) has been commissioned to design a different superhero to represent each of the 30 NHL teams. This was announced a while ago, but in the past week we started getting glimpses of what has been cooking.

I really don't even know what to say about this. Should it be mocked? Probably. Should it be lauded for its creativity as a marketing ploy? Probably. Is it lame? Yes. But is it kind of cool, too? Yes it is.

As of this writing, The King represents the Los Angeles Kings, The Penguin protects the Pittsburgh Penguins and The Hurricane is the guardian of the Carolina Hurricanes, as the Guardian Project counts down to the NHL All-Star game by revealing one new character per day. And apparently, these Guardians will "come to life" at said All-Star game. I couldn't make this stuff up if I wanted to.

I don't know how many points I would hand out for originality, as The Penguin certainly recalls an image of Frozone from The Incredibles and The Hurricane reminds me of a male version of Storm from X-Men. Still, with only three of these characters out of the box, my curiosity is piqued, and I expect originality will play in strongly when trying to create a superhero for the Anaheim Ducks or the St. Louis Blues.

I guess my only fear is how far the NHL will take this. While I think the concept is fairly neat, I don't know that these "Guardians" (just what are they guarding against? Shouldn't they all be fighting each other?) have much staying power in the minds of most hockey fans. I doubt most of us want to rush out and buy the action figures or read about The King's latest adventure with his earthquake sword and force field shield. Right now, my hope is this is a one-off gimmick. Then again, I haven't seen what fear The Maple Leaf can instill with his superpower of wilting and falling off a tree, The Islander's ability to live in his own little world, cut off from reality, The Oiler's ability to dig himself into a deep hole from which he cannot emerge (turns out mockery was the way to go) or The Panther's ability to remain relatively unseen by anyone around him, ever.

I'll leave it to you to judge for yourself whether you pay any more attention to this, but any NHL fan should at least take a couple minutes to have a look.

Rising and Falling

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. Brad Richards, Dal (5)
6. Alexander Semin, Was (6)
7. Nicklas Backstrom, Was (7)
8. Henrik Sedin, Van (8)
9. Dany Heatley, SJ (9)
10. Corey Perry, Ana (10)
11. Martin St. Louis, TB (11)
12. Evgeni Malkin, Pit (12)
13. Jeff Carter, Phi (13)
14. Jonathan Toews, Chi (14)
15. Mike Richards, Phi (15)
16. Eric Staal, Car (16)
17. Anze Kopitar, LA (17)
18. Henrik Zetterberg, Det (20)
19. Ryan Getzlaf, Ana (18)
20. Bobby Ryan, Ana (19)
21. Danny Briere, Phi (21)
22. Patrick Sharp, Chi (22)
23. Jarome Iginla, Cgy (23)
24. Mikko Koivu, Min (24)
25. Paul Stastny, Col (25)
26. Marian Gaborik, NYR (26)
27. Ilya Kovalchuk, NJ (27)
28. Joe Thornton, SJ (28)
29. Pavel Datsyuk, Det (29)
30. Loui Eriksson, Dal (30)
31. Patrick Kane, Chi (31)
32. Ryan Kesler, Van (36)
33. Alex Burrows, Van (32)
34. Rick Nash, Cls (35)
35. Scott Hartnell, Phi (33)
36. Claude Giroux, Phi (34)
37. James Neal, Dal (37)
38. Milan Lucic, Bos (38)
39. Nathan Horton, Bos (39)
40. Chris Stewart, Col (40)
41. Tomas Plekanec, Mon (41)
42. Milan Hejduk, Col (42)
43. Andrew Ladd, Atl (43)
44. Johan Franzen, Det (45)
45. Mike Cammalleri, Mon (44)
46. David Backes, StL (48)
47. Dustin Brown, LA (49)
48. Matt Duchene, Col (50)
49. Marian Hossa, Chi (46)
50. Martin Havlat, Min (52)
51. Patrick Marleau, SJ (47)
52. Stephen Weiss, Fla (53)
53. Justin Williams, LA (62)
54. Ryane Clowe, SJ (54)
55. Ryan Smyth, LA (55)
56. Logan Couture, SJ (56)
57. John Tavares, NYI (64)
58. Evander Kane, Atl (67)
59. Teemu Selanne, Ana (58)
60. Brenden Morrow, Dal (59)
61. Thomas Vanek, Buf (51)
62. Phil Kessel, Tor (63)
63. Brooks Laich, Was (60)
64. Andrei Kostitsyn, Mon (61)
65. Shane Doan, Pho (68)
66. David Krejci, Bos (57)
67. Vincent Lecavalier, TB (66)
68. Scott Gomez, Mon (74)
69. Alex Tanguay, Cgy (69)
70. Joe Pavelski, SJ (70)
71. David Booth, Fla (73)
72. Brian Gionta, Mon (80)
73. Marc Savard, Bos (85)
74. Ville Leino, Phi (75)
75. Steve Downie, TB (76)
76. Mikael Samuelsson, Van (71)
77. Matt Cullen, Min (77)
78. Chris Kunitz, Pit (78)
79. Daniel Alfredsson, Ott (65)
80. Ryan Malone, TB (81)
81. Brandon Dubinsky, NYR (82)
82. Jason Pominville, Buf (NR)
83. Patrik Elias, NJ (83)
84. Travis Zajac, NJ (84)
85. Steve Sullivan, Nsh (79)
86. Alexander Steen, StL (88)
87. Rich Peverley, Atl (89)
88. Mike Ribeiro, Dal (90)
89. Sam Gagner, Edm (91)
90. Olli Jokinen, Cgy (97)
91. Bryan Little, Atl (92)
92. Sean Avery, NYR (93)
93. Jeff Skinner, Car (94)
94. Teddy Purcell, TB (95)
95. Drew Stafford, Buf (NR)
96. Tomas Fleischmann, Was (NR)
97. Sergei Kostitsyn, Nsh (NR)
98. Dustin Penner, Edm (99)
99. Kristian Huselius, Cls (100)
100. Tomas Holmstrom, Det (NR)
101. Rob Schremp, NYI (101)

Shane Doan, Phoenix Coyotes (up three spots): It appears coach Dave Tippett has finally found the right combination to wake up Doan from his slumber. In the past four games, Doan has eight points. In his past 13 games, he has 17 points. Scottie Upshall and Eric Belanger have been his linemates through most of his hot streak. Don't expect that to change, and you can start putting some more stock into Doan as a fantasy asset. The other lines are still being tweaked as the Yotes seek consistent secondary scoring. If another unit can take some of the pressure of Doan's line, things will improve. This may be the time to buy low before Doan breaks into the top 50.

Evander Kane, Atlanta Thrashers (up nine spots): If there was an NHL award for sophomore of the season, Kane would be a prime challenger. Overshadowed by fellow 2009 draft classmates Matt Duchene and John Tavares, Kane is topping Tavares' output this season (Duchene is still running away from the pack). With 13 goals and 13 assists through 39 games, Kane has decent points to go with his strong shots on goal totals. Though the Thrashers have been toying with the line combinations lately, Kane found his best success with Anthony Stewart and Bryan Little by his side. If coach Craig Ramsay sees fit to reunite the trio soon, expect a continued march up the rankings for Kane.

Daniel Alfredsson, Ottawa Senators (down 14 spots): A minus-10 is just too heavy for most forwards to carry and still be a top fantasy asset. Alfredsson hasn't been able to get his scoring going this season. Usually a safe bet for close to a point per game, Alfie has but 24 points in 40 games. If there was a chance Jason Spezza could help Alfredsson snap out of the scoring slump, there would be reason to be optimistic, but Spezza is out with injury for the foreseeable future and there isn't anyone else on the Sens who can really shoulder an offense. Can we take Alfredsson out of the top 100, even though he hasn't scored fewer than 70 points in more than a decade? If he doesn't wake up soon, the answer is yes.

Scoring Lines

Colin Wilson, Nashville Predators: The Preds offense was the focus of last week's Forecaster, but Wilson was mentioned only in passing as a player who needed to step up and secure a top-six role for the club. Well, in his past three games, Wilson has played more minutes than in any other three consecutive matchups this season, and he has four points to show for it. The injury problems the team is facing were made worse when Cal O'Reilly broke his leg on Sunday, meaning Wilson's role will be even more important going forward. Wilson quickly mastered the AHL (34 points in 40 games) after being drafted by the Predators last season and caught on to the NHL game late in the season with 13 points in his final 24 games. The combination isn't there yet, but looking at the Predators offense (even without the injured O'Reilly, Steve Sullivan and Martin Erat) you get the sense Wilson will fit in somewhere as a young playmaker. He hasn't had a chance to skate with Marek Svatos since his acquisition, and on paper Wilson's passing and Svatos' speed make a good combo. Watch what coach Barry Trotz does with his lines as he continues to struggle with his ailing depth chart. Wilson, and others, could benefit yet.

Jannik Hansen, Vancouver Canucks: Mikael Samuelsson is healthy and playing, and Mason Raymond made his return to the Canucks lineup, but there is Hansen still playing the second line with Ryan Kesler. In Raymond's absence, Hansen and fellow winger Jeff Tambellini staked their claim as top-six forwards for the Canucks, and it appears they have an opportunity to hold on to the role so long as they perform. As long as Hansen keeps scoring every other game and Tambellini still fires as many as nine shots on goal in a game (as he did last week), look for this pair to continue in a fantasy-friendly role.

The Zac(h)s of the Carolina Hurricanes: While Eric Staal, Tuomo Ruutu, Sergei Samsonov and other Canes have picked up their play, it's the additions of Zach Boychuk and some other young players that has bolstered the team's offensive output. Boychuk has been combined on a line with Patrick Dwyer and Brandon Sutter for a little more than a week and has four points in four games with 12 shots on goal. Dwyer has four points of his own in that span (Sutter has not been credited with any points, but is an integral part of the line). Then there is Zac Dalpe, up from the AHL to cover fourth-line minutes (fewer than 10 minutes per game). With 23 points in 23 games this season for the Charlotte Checkers, Dalpe has carried his pace with him for his second chance with the Hurricanes this season. He has two goals in two games and a plus-3. While Dalpe isn't getting enough ice time to be worth a recommendation (and he would be the first to go when a healthy Jussi Jokinen returns), Boychuk is actually getting enough ice time to be worth a second look at the moment. He has the pedigree as a scorer in the WHL with the Lethbridge Hurricanes and has mastered the AHL level with 32 points in 28 games this season. File the Zac(h)s of the Hurricanes under your "watch" file for now.

Power Plays

Montreal Canadiens: So, James Wisniewski was a pretty good grab by the Habs, eh? In three games, he has 2 goals, 3 assists, 9 shots and 3 power-play points. This is not a defenseman column though, so the concern here is what he is doing for Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta. Already shaking off a slow start, the former New Jersey Devils teammates that were reunited by the Canadiens last season have played the most minutes on the man advantage since Wisniewski's arrival and have a combined six points and four power-play points in those contests. While Gionta has had love all season from ESPN owners, Gomez watched his ownership slip quite low before his recent hot streak. He is still available in a third of leagues.

Carolina Hurricanes: We spent some time discussing younger Hurricanes in a previous paragraph, but some older dogs are learning new tricks in recent week. Tuomo Ruutu has eight points in five games (three of them on the power play), and while Sergei Samsonov has only three points in that same span, all of them are on the power play. Here are the new lines that are getting results: Ruutu is at even strength with Chad LaRose and rookie Jeff Skinner and on the power play with Skinner and Eric Staal. Samsonov is at even strength with Staal and Erik Cole and on the power play's second unit with Cole and Boychuk. The common denominator is, of course, Staal, and as the star of the team any player spending time with him in any situation is worth a look. I don't want to point fingers here, but the power play has been at its strongest since defenseman Joni Pitkanen was injured and Jamie McBain assumed his role on the point. Ruutu is probably worth a pickup in your league based on how hot he is, and from there you can just keep an extra eye on the Canes power play.


Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks: Toews made an early return from a shoulder injury that was expected to keep him out until the middle of the month. He had a goal, an assist and six shots on Tuesday night. He's just fine.

Jordan Eberle, Edmonton Oilers: The further down the top 100 you go, the tighter the pack is for positioning. A busted up ankle, even without a timetable yet, is enough to knock Eberle out from the 70s. If you have some depth to absorb his roster spot, he'll be worth hanging on to, but if you play in a tight or shallow league it is safe to let him go.

Jordan Staal, Pittsburgh Penguins: Staal's season debut was a minor storyline for the Winter Classic, but he is back and immediately playing on a scoring line with Evgeni Malkin and Matt Cooke. He'll need some time to round into form, but it looks like he'll get the opportunity to strut his offense more than in the past. He's worth grabbing in any league right now to stay ahead of the curve. Just don't ditch a contributing asset for him. I'd rank him around the 125 mark if we went that far among forwards.

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.