Commentary

Front Line: Flying low

Updated: March 7, 2011, 9:15 PM ET
By Sean Allen | Special to ESPN.com

The Philadelphia Flyers need to find their wings again, and quickly, if they don't want to fall out of the first-place stranglehold they've had on the Eastern Conference this season. And the offensive drought has begun amongst what is supposed to be one of the more elite group of fantasy forwards.

When looking at the season as a whole, there are no fewer than five forwards from the Flyers in the top 50 on the ESPN Player Rater, which evaluates the fantasy performance of all NHL players. During the past 30 days on the Player Rater, Jeff Carter is the highest-ranked Flyers forward at No. 119. Since the All-Star break, this team's offense has gone completely dry. No one on the team has more than two power-play points during the past 30 days and the team is 3-for-35 with the man advantage during the past 10 games. Mike Richards has two goals in 17 games. Danny Briere has two goals in 15 games. Ville Leino has three points in 11 games. Even Claude Giroux's respectable 10 points in 12 games is dragged down by a minus-3.

What has the problem been? No long-term injuries to speak of, no line shuffles, no discernable increase in toughness of opponents; in fact, there is no cause that comes to mind for the team's struggles.

That is perhaps the biggest concern. With no real cause to address, there is no real fix. With only 17 games remaining, how do we know the Flyers won't slump into the playoffs? What should you do with someone like Briere, who is actively hurting your team during recent weeks? This may well carry through much of the remaining regular season and many of the Flyers forwards should be riding your bench until further notice.

Aha. I said may and should in the previous sentence. Here is where I turn things. This is a Flyers team that has led the East almost right from the opening bell this season and the Flyers are very self-aware of what has been transpiring. Coach Peter Laviolette and Briere have even called the slump "good" to happen now instead of during the playoffs. It will take one snap event and this talented group will be scoring like it's January again.

What's that? Something jarring happened on Sunday? The Flyers got their much-needed wake-up call on Sunday thanks to a 7-0 shellacking by the New York Rangers. This is exactly what is needed to jostle this offense back into a state of scoring. The Edmonton Oilers, Toronto Maple Leafs and Atlanta Thrashers are on the docket this week, and that should make for a good recipe to score some goals if you consider that those teams rank 29th, 25th and 27th in goals against.

While I have dropped many of the Flyers a few ranks in the top 100 during recent weeks, I do believe they are going to bust out of this funk hard and fast this week. As a fantasy owner, you have little choice but to believe it as well. No one is going to give you proper value for your Flyers in a trade (if your league hasn't passed an imposed deadline already) and you don't want to try to replace the Flyers who used to give you a point per game with whatever flotsam is available in the free-agent pool. No, you simply need this slump to end.

It will. And soon. You don't put together a team that can dominate the way the Flyers have and suddenly have it disappear as a competitor unless something crazy happens, like the top center gets a concussion and the other tears his knee. And hey, that can't possibly happen to two clubs in the same state in the same season, right?

Fantasywise, owners have held on tight to Richards, Carter, Giroux, Briere, Leino and Scott Hartnell through this cold spell. So it's not easy to capitalize off the waiver wire. I will point out that Kris Versteeg is available and has actually been one of the few bright spots lately for the Flyers. Imagine how well he could do with the team firing on all cylinders? James van Riemsdyk has also been a consistent contributor in recent weeks. His ownership numbers are way down and he will play with either Richards or Carter in better times.

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. Daniel Sedin, Van (1)
2. Alex Ovechkin, Was (3)
3. Steven Stamkos, TB (2)
4. Henrik Sedin, Van (5)
5. Pavel Datsyuk, Det (6)
6. Corey Perry, Ana (4)
7. Jonathan Toews, Chi (10)
8. Martin St. Louis, TB (7)
9. Anze Kopitar, LA (8)
10. Nicklas Backstrom, Was (11)
11. Alexander Semin, Was (12)
12. Patrick Kane, Chi (24)
13. Jeff Carter, Phi (9)
14. Dany Heatley, SJ (13)
15. Eric Staal, Car (14)
16. Rick Nash, Cls (17)
17. Jarome Iginla, Cgy (20)
18. Ilya Kovalchuk, NJ (21)
19. Henrik Zetterberg, Det (22)
20. Claude Giroux, Phi (18)
21. John Tavares, NYI (27)
22. Ryan Kesler, Van (16)
23. Alex Burrows, Van (15)
24. Ryan Getzlaf, Ana (23)
25. Tomas Plekanec, Mon (26)
26. Brad Richards, Dal (19)
27. Joe Thornton, SJ (28)
28. Bobby Ryan, Ana (25)
29. Teemu Selanne, Ana (33)
30. Milan Lucic, Bos (42)
31. Patrick Sharp, Chi (31)
32. David Backes, StL (32)
33. Mike Richards, Phi (29)
34. Phil Kessel, Tor (38)
35. Johan Franzen, Det (36)
36. Danny Briere, Phi (30)
37. Scott Hartnell, Phi (34)
38. Loui Eriksson, Dal (35)
39. Chris Stewart, StL (39)
40. Vincent Lecavalier, TB (43)
41. Logan Couture, SJ (40)
42. David Krejci, Bos (46)
43. Andy McDonald, StL (60)
44. Marian Gaborik, NYR (77)
45. Drew Stafford, Buf (54)
46. Marian Hossa, Chi (55)
47. Patrice Bergeron, Bos (37)
48. Jordan Staal, Pit (47)
49. Alex Tanguay, Cgy (70)
50. Nathan Horton, Bos (66)
51. Patrick Marleau, SJ (50)
52. Dustin Brown, LA (44)
53. Martin Havlat, Min (53)
54. Thomas Vanek, Buf (51)
55. Brenden Morrow, Dal (45)
56. R.J. Umberger, Cls (56)
57. Mikael Samuelsson, Van (52)
58. Ryan Smyth, LA (49)
59. Andrew Ladd, Atl (65)
60. Shane Doan, Pho (58)
61. Justin Williams, LA (41)
62. Dave Bolland, Chi (76)
63. Devin Setoguchi, SJ (61)
64. Dustin Penner, Edm (63)
65. Alexander Steen, StL (64)
66. Olli Jokinen, Cgy (73)
67. Michael Grabner, NYI (84)
68. Joe Pavelski, SJ (68)
69. Patrik Elias, NJ (59)
70. Brian Gionta, Mon (69)
71. Mikhail Grabovski, Tor (90)
72. Jason Arnott, NJ (72)
73. Sam Gagner, Edm (NR)
74. Mike Ribeiro, Dal (67)
75. Brad Boyes, StL (NR)
76. Steve Downie, TB (48)
77. Daniel Cleary, Det (71)
78. Nikolai Kulemin, Tor (79)
79. Ryan Callahan, NYR (NR)
80. Jason Spezza, Ott (92)
81. Patrik Berglund, StL (81)
82. Radim Vrbata, Pho (100)
83. Stephen Weiss, Fla (78)
84. Mike Cammalleri, Mon (62)
85. Jeff Skinner, Car (83)
86. Brian Rolston, NJ (98)
87. Ray Whitney, Pho (86)
88. Blake Wheeler, Atl (NR)
89. Matt Moulson, NYI (88)
90. Vaclav Prospal, NYR (NR)
91. Ryane Clowe, SJ (91)
92. Antoine Vermette, Cls (NR)
93. Patric Hornqvist, Nsh (93)
94. Shawn Horcoff, Edm (94)
95. Brad Marchand, Bos (82)
96. T.J. Oshie, StL (87)
97. Wojtek Wolski, NYR (NR)
98. Jiri Hudler, Det (96)
99. Jordan Eberle, Edm (NR)
100. Martin Erat, Nsh (99)

Rising and Falling

Marian Gaborik, New York Rangers (up 33 spots): Returning from a concussion can make a huge difference in a player's ranking for fantasy purposes (take note Brad Richards and Sidney Crosby). Gaborik doesn't need to have been the one to score five points in his return on Sunday (Ryan Callahan did, Gabby had nothing), he'll get back up to speed and start getting his points soon enough. Vaclav Prospal and Gaborik had only a handful of games together since Prospal made his season debut in early February, so with both healthy now they can quickly rebuild the chemistry that helped make Gaborik a top-10 fantasy player last season.

Steve Downie, Tampa Bay Lightning (down 28 spots): This is more of an adjustment for subpar play that has snuck under my radar. Downie's stats match his top-50 fantasy season from last season on a per-game basis everywhere but where it counts the most in ESPN fantasy hockey: His goals, shots and power-play goals are down. The penalty minutes still keep him strong as a top-100 forward this season, but he is being downgraded since he is no longer a power-play specialist in addition to a pugilist.

Paul Stastny, Colorado Avalanche (dropped out): The final straw. Stastny was given an additional couple weeks of reprieve after his fellow Avalanche were removed from the rankings, but he did nothing with the opportunity. The Avalanche have lost 15 of the past 16 games and in the 15 losses Stastny has five points and is minus-7. Unless you have secret knowledge of an upcoming Avalanche win streak, jump into the lifeboat now or be forced to go down with the ship.

James Neal, Pittsburgh Penguins (dropped out): I, for one, am tired of waiting. It's been six games and Neal has zero points as a member of the Penguins. There is still no news of a pending Sidney Crosby return and that leaves Neal with Mark Letestu as a center. With all due to respect to Mr. Letestu, he is no Brad Richards and he is certainly no Sidney Crosby. Neal has no value as a member of the Evgeni Malkin-less and Crosby-less Penguins. We can have a new debate on his value next season when the time comes but for now, he is drop material.

Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler, Atlanta Thrashers (general upward movements): Ladd climbs to No. 59 and Wheeler debuts at No. 88 as I become enamored with the new top-line combination for the Thrashers. I've always been a Ladd fan, recommending him in the fantasy realm when he was just a fourth-liner for the Carolina Hurricanes, and it's been great to watch him break out this season.

Scoring Lines

Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars: Someone needs to help the Stars score in the absence of Brad Richards and James Neal. So far it has been Benn. Returning from injury shortly after Richards was hurt and Neal was traded, Benn has five points in his past six games. That scoring could even improve with the return of Richards because Benn has been playing alongside Richard's regular partner in crime, Loui Eriksson. The news on Richards isn't devastating as he is working out with the team. If you get Benn now, you might be ahead of the curve.

Frans Nielsen, New York Islanders: As a big part of the Michael Grabner and Kyle Okposo line, Nielsen has been consistent putting points in since the trio got hot more than a month ago. With 15 points in his past 16 games, Nielsen is the natural choice for any fantasy owner looking for help with assists. Twelve of those points have been helpers.

Bryan Bickell, Chicago Blackhawks: If you are in one of the 61 percent of fantasy leagues where Dave Bolland is already owned, Bickell is your next best chance to ride the Blackhawks as they heat up for the postseason. The top two lines have been on fire and Bickell is the final member of the top six. Playing with Bolland and Marian Hossa, he has seven points in his past 14 games, which is enough to help out in deeper fantasy pools. But things could get better, as indicated by his four points in his past three contests.

Power Plays

Mike Modano, Detroit Red Wings: Modano quietly returned to the Red Wings' lineup on Feb. 26 and since then he has gotten back down to business on the power play. He isn't contributing much elsewhere, but if you need some specialist help on your roster, Modano has three assists in five games and all of them were on the power play.

Sam Gagner, Edmonton Oilers: As the Oilers are now down Taylor Hall for the season and Ales Hemsky for a couple more weeks, it's Gagner who has stepped up as a leader on offense. With five points in his past three games, three of those points have come on the man advantage.

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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