Commentary

Front Line: How to handle slow starters

Updated: December 12, 2011, 4:57 PM ET
By Sean Allen | Special to ESPN.com

With some teams having played as many as 30 games this season, the argument of small sample sizes no longer comes into play. It's too late to continue saying, "Just give him some more time, he'll come around." No. We are 30 games into an 82-game campaign. That is more than one-third of the way to the finish line. It's time to start considering whether or not you should cut your losses with some underperformers that may have cost you a pretty penny at the draft table. This week we ask: Stick a fork in them?

[+] EnlargeCarter
Jerome Miron/US PresswireJeff Carter has been a major disappointment so far with the Blue Jackets.

Jeff Carter, Columbus Blue Jackets: Carter was moving from an increasingly stacked Philadelphia Flyers team to a Blue Jackets team where he would easily be the No. 2 offensive option and arguably the No. 1. On draft day, Carter's average draft position was a lofty 27.4, a third-round pick in most fantasy leagues. He currently sits 253rd on the ESPN Player Rater. Yes, Carter has missed 11 games this season, but even just tossing that fact aside, his 82-game pace would yield 23 goals and 46 points. So is it time to stick a fork in Carter? Not yet. There is one option left: Separating Carter and Rick Nash. Despite the two skating together almost all year, they really haven't found much chemistry together. There is an opportunity for Carter to find his game with linemates other than Nash. Stay your fork until we see things play out.

Devin Setoguchi, Minnesota Wild: Setoguchi was selected 83rd overall on average at fantasy drafts because he was joining Dany Heatley on a new journey to Minnesota to form a top line with Mikko Koivu. That dream came absolutely true as the trio hooked up early and often in the preseason. Then the regular season came and the bloom quickly fell off this rose. Setoguchi has had difficulty finding the net all season and currently ranks 269th on the ESPN Player Rater. Is it time to stick a fork in him? Segotuchi is sidelined with a leg injury that some suggest could be long-term. But even upon his return, Setoguchi would face an uphill battle for a top-six role with the Wild, as Cal Cutterbuck has claimed territory on the top line and Casey Wellman on the second line. Heatley's prospects for this season have only started to improve since Setoguchi was taken off his line. Unfortunately, it is time to stick a fork in Setoguchi, because he is done producing for fantasy owners this season.

Michael Grabner, New York Islanders: After finishing his 2010-11 rookie season with 34 goals, Grabner had an average draft position of 94.4 entering this season. Unfortunately, that doesn't sit too well with his fantasy owners as Grabner is ranked 305th on the ESPN Player Rater for his performance so far. With eight goals and five assists, Grabner has not been of much use in his sophomore campaign. He's been bounced around in the depth chart, including spending some time with John Tavares (where he scored four of his 13 points). But is Grabner done for the season? Is it time to stick a fork in him? More recently, Grabner has been back together with the line that served him so well last season. He showed tremendous chemistry with Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen. The trio have been back playing together more often than not during the past 10 games and six of Grabner's points have come during the past 10 games. That isn't excellent, but it's a start. Making us feel even better about Grabner's prospects for this season is a quick look at last season. Did you know Grabner will have more goals this season entering Jan. than he had last season? Remember how he scored 34 goals last season? Well, 26 of them came after Jan. 1. Grabner isn't near finished inflicting the damage we will do this season.

Mike Cammalleri, Montreal Canadiens: We all knew Cammalleri wasn't likely to finish with 82 games played this season and that is one of the reasons he was downgraded en masse to an average draft position of 101.1 in ESPN leagues. Cammalleri, though injury prone, was supposed to be good for 25 goals in the 60 games he played. It's part of the planning process you accounted for when selecting him for your fantasy team. Here we are through 30 games and Cammalleri is right on pace for games played with only 25 this season, but his scoring per game is below where it needs to be. Cammalleri has just six goals, which translates to 20 during an 82-game campaign and only 15 goals if he plays 65 games this season. Cammalleri is ranked No. 225 on the ESPN Player Rater and probably hasn't helped his owners out in any categories this season. So, is it time to stick a fork in Cammalleri's fantasy prospects this season? There is certainly an argument to be made that he is done. Shots on goal go a long way to determining which players will have fantasy success. Players, or their linemates, need to be taking shots in order to be accumulating points. The balance of power for shots on goal has shifted dramatically amongst the Habs lineup this season. Where Brian Gionta and Mike Cammalleri used to lead the charge in this category, Erik Cole and Max Pacioretty are the new champions. That means the Cole-Pacioretty connection is the primary source of offense on this team, which means Cammalleri has been demoted to second fiddle. It would not be surprising to see this former 4-goal threat finish with fewer than 20 goals for the second straight season.

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. Steven Stamkos, TB (2)
2. Daniel Sedin, Van (3)
3. Henrik Sedin, Van (5)
4. Corey Perry, Ana (4)
5. Claude Giroux, Phi (7)
6. Sidney Crosby, Pit (1)
7. Evgeni Malkin, Pit (8)
8. Anze Kopitar, LA (6)
9. Phil Kessel, Tor (9)
10. Jonathan Toews, Chi (12)
11. Alex Ovechkin, Was (10)
12. Thomas Vanek, Buf (11)
13. Patrick Kane, Chi (13)
14. Pavel Datsyuk, Det (14)
15. Nicklas Backstrom, Was (15)
16. Ryan Kesler, Van (16)
17. James Neal, Pit (17)
18. Patrick Sharp, Chi (18)
19. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edm (26)
20. Johan Franzen, Det (21)
21. Ryan Getzlaf, Ana (23)
22. Henrik Zetterberg, Det (24)
23. Brad Richards, NYR (25)
24. Tomas Fleischmann, Fla (34)
25. Marian Hossa, Chi (33)
26. Rick Nash, Cls (22)
27. Jamie Benn, Dal (20)
28. Dany Heatley, Min (30)
29. Zach Parise, NJ (28)
30. Ilya Kovalchuk, NJ (29)
31. Stephen Weiss, Fla (44)
32. Patrick Marleau, SJ (19)
33. Tyler Seguin, Bos (31)
34. Joe Pavelski, SJ (32)
35. Kris Versteeg, Fla (37)
36. John Tavares, NYI (35)
37. Jaromir Jagr, Phi (40)
38. Milan Lucic, Bos (39)
39. Joffrey Lupul, Tor (41)
40. Tomas Plekanec, Mon (36)
41. Mikko Koivu, Min (46)
42. Jarome Iginla, Cgy (58)
43. Teemu Selanne, Ana (43)
44. Jason Spezza, Ott (38)
45. Jeff Carter, Cls (45)
46. Scott Hartnell, Phi (52)
47. Danny Briere, Phi (47)
48. Bobby Ryan, Ana (48)
49. Jeff Skinner, Car (49)
50. Mike Richards, LA (42)
51. Joe Thornton, SJ (50)
52. Marian Gaborik, NYR (51)
53. Alex Burrows, Van (53)
54. Jason Pominville, Buf (55)
55. Derek Roy, Buf (56)
56. David Backes, StL (57)
57. Patrice Bergeron, Bos (59)
58. Nathan Horton, Bos (60)
59. Logan Couture, SJ (61)
60. Vincent Lecavalier, TB (54)
61. David Krejci, Bos (71)
62. Eric Staal, Car (72)
63. Shane Doan, Pho (63)
64. Brad Marchand, Bos (64)
65. Martin St. Louis, TB (27)
66. Evander Kane, Wpg (77)
67. Alexander Semin, Was (62)
68. Jordan Eberle, Edm (83)
69. Radim Vrbata, Pho (70)
70. Matt Duchene, Col (69)
71. Vaclav Prospal, Cls (74)
72. Erik Cole, Mon (84)
73. Mike Ribeiro, Dal (75)
74. Alexander Steen, StL (76)
75. Ryan Smyth, Edm (67)
76. Patrik Elias, NJ (68)
77. Tim Connolly, Tor (73)
78. Ryane Clowe, SJ (80)
79. Max Pacioretty, Mon (81)
80. Chris Kunitz, Pit (86)
81. Ryan Callahan, NYR (91)
82. Paul Stastny, Col (66)
83. Gabriel Landeskog, Col (78)
84. Loui Eriksson, Dal (65)
85. Valtteri Filppula, Det (94)
86. T.J. Oshie, StL (99)
87. Martin Havlat, SJ (82)
88. Alex Tanguay, Cgy (85)
89. Matt Moulson, NYI (98)
90. Dustin Brown, LA (79)
91. Taylor Hall, Edm (87)
92. Milan Michalek, Ott (88)
93. Ray Whitney, Pho (96)
94. Michael Grabner, NYI (92)
95. Bryan Little, Wpg (95)
96. Olli Jokinen, Cgy (NR)
97. Pascal Dupuis, Pit (100)
98. Craig Smith, Nsh (NR)
99. Steve Ott, Dal (NR)
100. Derek Stepan, NYR (NR)

Rising and Falling

Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins (down five spots): The Penguins are now confirming Crosby has concussion-like symptoms, with Crosby sitting out Monday's practice following a collision with teammate Chris Kunitz last week. There is still no reason to hit the panic switch at this point, but this should act as an indicator that expecting a clean season from here out for Crosby was far too optimistic following his triumphant return. The drop in rankings reflects the expectation that he might miss another couple games this time and could miss a couple more at a later date. He showed us he should still be considered the best fantasy player in the NHL when he is healthy, but that health now has more question marks than before.

Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay Lightning (down 38 spots): St. Louis was one of the biggest fallers on last week's chart and he takes another tumble this week due to an errant puck in practice. St. Louis' face is pretty busted up and he will more than likely be out a few weeks to heal. Time away from the rink is even more time for Steven Stamkos to settle with a first line that does not include St. Louis. As discussed last week, St. Louis' numbers are way down the more he doesn't skate with Stamkos. This new low ranking for St. Louis takes into account his reduced scoring and now several weeks of missed time. He will climb as he nears closer to a return, but St. Louis' new ceiling is much lower unless he is reunited with Stamkos.

Jarome Iginla, Calgary Flames (up 16 spots): All right! Now we are talking! It's been great to see Iginla flash performances of his former self during the past couple weeks. It was beginning to look like the dynamic scoring winger had left us. The Flames captain had 12 points in 23 games before the calendar flipped to December. Since then, he has nine points in six games and is leading the charge for a Flames offense that looks completely rejuvenated. As the Flames have earned points in seven of their past eight games, Iginla's plus/minus has gone from minus-11 to minus-2. Iginla is showing chemistry with Olli Jokinen that never seemed apparent before. Jokinen has seven points in the past six games and is an integral part of Iginla's success. There is reason to believe this isn't just a flash in the pan hot streak because we can look at Iginla's track record as a star scorer. However, it may be a safer venture to add Jokinen or Brendan Morrison (seven points in three games) off the free-agent pile as opposed to trading for Iginla. There is nothing wrong with trying out a cheaper investment first.

T.J. Oshie, St. Louis Blues (up 13 spots): The one constant in coach Ken Hitchcock's offensive attack since he took over on Nov. 6 has been the top line featuring Alexander Steen, David Backes and T.J. Oshie. The unit hasn't been soaring to the top of the scoring leader board, but Oshie has a respectable six goals and 11 points in 16 games. More impressive and suggesting of a windfall of scoring to come is the fact that Oshie averaged 1.46 shots per game before Hitchcock's arrival and has averaged 2.88 shots per game since then.

Scoring Lines

Nick Foligno, Ottawa Senators: The Sens' second line has begun to find its legs, and Foligno has been both a big factor and a big beneficiary. Playing with Daniel Alfredsson, Foligno has nine points in nine games, plus he has a consistently strong showing in penalty minutes to boost his overall value. As long as Foligno stays with Alfredsson, there is no reason to think he can't continue to produce subtle scoring value.

Jiri Hudler, Detroit Red Wings: Daniel Cleary was not taking advantage of his opportunity in the Red Wings' top six, so he was shipped down the depth chart, with Hudler promoted in his place. After a couple games to find his place with Valtteri Filppula and Henrik Zetterberg as linemates, Hudler has come alive with six points in his past three games. It might be easy to forget that this is the same Hudler who scored 57 points in 2008-09 before joining the KHL for a season. He has the pedigree and the ability to be a scoring threat in this league. Does three games mean he has found his footing? Not necessarily, but don't think Hudler's ownership is going to stay at just 12 percent in ESPN leagues for long if he has even one more solid game.

Power Plays

Kyle Brodziak, Minnesota Wild: The Wild have been taking advantage of Brodziak's gritty style by using him as a fourth forward on the top power-play unit with Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Dany Heatley and Mikko Koivu. Brodziak already has four power-play goals this season, including two in the team's most recent contest. Brodziak has also been scoring off the power play and is currently on pace to finish with nearly 30 goals. A finish closer to 20 goals is more likely, but it's clear that he can be more than just a power-play specialist for deeper leagues.

Brooks Laich, Washington Capitals: One change brought in by coach Dale Hunter was a return to a simpler power play. Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Knuble's shot and Laich's on-ice vision combine with Dennis Wideman to form a top unit that is already seeing increased success. Laich has three power-play points in the past two games as part of this unit. His overall numbers don't make him all that attractive to fantasy owners, but add the ability to be a power-play performer to Laich's resume and he becomes worth another look.

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 send him a note here or tweet him @seanard with the hashtag #FantasyHockey for a timelier response.

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.

ALSO SEE