Commentary

Front Line: Bad holiday news

Big stars Crosby, Giroux deal with concussions; Ovechkin, Kopitar struggling

Updated: December 19, 2011, 3:25 PM ET
By Sean Allen | Special to ESPN.com

The four players we are going to talk about have a couple things in common. First, they are vitally important to your fantasy hockey season. And second, we're discussing them because of bad news (concussion) or a troubling trend (extended drought). If you want to use a weak allegory to tie them all together: The fantasy hockey Santa Claus would be bringing them all a lump of coal. Or in central European countries they would be visited by Krampus.

Crosby
Crosby

Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins: We start our discussion of troubled players with Crosby. Those who drafted him were on such a high after he potted 12 points in eight games and looked like he never missed almost a year of hockey. Then the other shoe dropped. It was announced he would miss a couple of games after colliding with teammate Chris Kunitz. Then it was announced he did get his head rattled again but had passed the concussion tests and would be back after just two games. Then it was announced we was out indefinitely with concussion-like symptoms. Sigh. He has now missed five games with headaches and was placed on the injured reserve this weekend. Even though he is now eligible to come off the IR any time, we have to assume he is going to be out a few more games for the Penguins to have placed him on the list. Even being optimistic, we can hope he misses five more games and returns to the club. For fantasy hockey purposes, he can single-handedly carry your team when healthy, so it is always better to bet optimistically in such a case. Better to do your best to manage your team without Crosby and get a boost from his return than to trade him away for limited value and watch him come back strong on an opponent's team. Be patient with Crosby and be prudent with your roster in the meantime.

Giroux
Giroux

Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers: Like Crosby, Giroux is out indefinitely with a concussion. Like Crosby, he suffered the injury from a collision with a teammate. Like Crosby, the impact to your fantasy hockey team is significant. In fact, only Crosby has more points per game than Giroux this season. Giroux has missed three games with the injury, and while he was practicing with his teammates this weekend, he was not cleared for contact. Seeing him on the ice was a good sign, to be sure. But remember that Crosby was practicing with the team for quite some time with a no-contact jersey before he finally made his season debut. Just like Crosby, we don't know how long Giroux will be out of action. There does appear to be more optimism from the team surrounding his return. That is not a scientific way of calculating a return from a concussion, but it makes you want to pick the under when someone bets Giroux will miss 10 games. The same logical rule applies when you are talking about a player who carries your fantasy team when healthy: Don't panic, make good roster decisions in the interim and wait for his return optimistically. Really, what else can you do? Trade the NHL's leading scorer for pennies on the dollar?

Ovechkin
Ovechkin

Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals: We now move from concussions to general weak performance. Talking about Ovechkin's bad season feels taboo. He's Ovechkin, for crying out loud. In six previous seasons he has never finished with fewer than a point per game or fewer than 30 goals. Only twice has he finished with fewer than 100 points and fewer than 50 goals. This guy is a superstar. So why is he on pace for 26 goals and 58 points? Two words: shooting percentage. Before last season, the only time Ovechkin has finished much below a 12 percent shooting percentage was the campaign in which he fired a modern-era record 528 shots. Then last season, when his fantasy value started to slip, Ovechkin finished with an 8.7 shooting percentage. We all wrote it off as a bad season under a team that was trying to find a new defensive identity. But here we are more than 30 games into this season, and Ovechkin has just 10 goals and an 8.5 shooting percentage.

So what is the deal? Well, check this out: All-Star players exhibit some kind of positive statistical split in wins versus losses; Ovie's is perhaps wider than most. Since 2008-09 (well before his numbers started dropping), Ovechkin has an 82-game average in wins with 61 goals, 71 assists, plus-63 and a 14.8 shooting percentage. That covers 158 wins this season and the three previous seasons. During that same time frame, in 103 losses, Ovechkin's 82-game average is 24 goals, 33 assists, minus-43 and a 5.1 shooting percentage. Perhaps more troubling is that the number of Capitals' wins appears to be shrinking this season. Pointing this out does lead into a chicken or egg circular argument about what the problem might be with Ovechkin, but I wanted to add that split to the ongoing debate about his fantasy value. For what it's worth, in 16 wins this season for the Capitals, Ovechkin's 82-game average is 31 goals, 56 assists, plus-25 and a 10.3 shooting percentage.

If the Capitals would just win more games, we wouldn't have to have this huge debate about Ovechkin's value (though the goals are still uncomfortably low). Did I mention Ovechkin apparently doesn't like playing at home, either? In 16 games at the Verizon Center, he has one goal in 51 shots (a 2.0 shooting percentage). What should you do with Ovechkin? Hold him. There is still hope that coach Dale Hunter gets the offense working under his systems soon. He recently put Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom back with Alexander Semin on the top line. Here's hoping it goes somewhere. If you can still pull a consistent top-30 forward or someone in the top-50 with additional upside, it would be hard not to pull the trigger. This is, after all, a slump that dates back to the beginning of last season.

Kopitar
Kopitar

Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings: Kopitar is to repeat last season's numbers, but that isn't good enough for a guy that was supposed to take another step forward this season. With a top-six on paper that could rival any team in the NHL, the Kings and Kopitar were supposed to set new highs for offense in his sixth season with the team. After October, he was on pace for a 104-point season. He slowed down a bit in November but was still on pace to finish with 82 points. Now eight games into December, his pace is down to 74 points. Can we blame Mike Richards' concussion for the downfall? Kopitar has zero goals since Richards was injured, but Kopitar's last multipoint game was six games before Richards was hurt. It also probably hurts that Jack Johnson and Drew Doughty finished last season with 42 and 40 points, respectively, but are on pace for 30 and 25 points this season.

So what does new coach Darryl Sutter bring to the table? A cursory look at the last star players he coached is actually quite concerning. The season before Sutter took over the Calgary Flames, Jarome Iginla had 96 points. Then in three seasons under Sutter's tutelage, Iginla scored 67, 73 and 67 points, respectively. Then in the two seasons immediately following Sutter stepped away from coaching duties, Iginla had 94 and 98 points, respectively. See the downturn in offense? Sutter is a defensive coach, even more so than Terry Murray. This probably doesn't bode well for a team that needs to score more goals, not prevent them. Unless Sutter has reinvented his plan of attack after 11 years of coaching and five years away from being behind the bench, there is no reason to be optimistic about the scoring power of the Kings. They might start winning some games, but they will remain low-scoring if Sutter has his way. Kopitar and all other Kings have to drop in the rankings until Sutter can prove otherwise.

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

Daniel Alfredsson, Ottawa Senators (debuts at No. 99): Alfie had already slowly started to increase his scoring in recent weeks to make the case for a pickup in fantasy leagues. Then Milan Michalek suffered a concussion (how many times have I said concussion in this column now?), opening a spot on the top line with Jason Spezza. In two games back on a line with Spezza, Alfredsson has five points. Obviously, this connection from the past still has some spark to it. Since Michalek's injury is a concussion, meaning at least a few weeks off, Alfredsson should have some time to solidify his role and remind everyone about the type of player he can be. Even once Michalek returns, Alfie should have done enough damage to keep his spot going forward.

Tim Connolly, Toronto Maple Leafs (down 16 spots): All right. Enough is enough. Connolly has been healthy since Nov. 17. We thought it would just be a matter of time before he was lined back up with Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul on the top line. Now 14 games and a month later, Connolly is on the Leafs' third line. Since Mikhail Grabovski returned from injury as second-line center, Connolly's production is down to three goals and one assist in nine games, with one of those goals coming during another game Grabovski missed. So long as Tyler Bozak remains as a top-line center, Connolly will have little to no fantasy value. Bozak is even sticking with Kessel and Lupul on the power play.

Jeff Skinner, Carolina Hurricanes (down 15 spots): It's been revealed that Skinner's flu was actually a -- you guessed it -- concussion. Factor in Skinner's youth and the recent spotlight on head injuries, and you have to suspect the Canes will not be rushing him back into action. For now, his ranking slips, assuming he misses a total of 10 games. If that changes one way or the other, we will adjust. As you can see, Skinner is a top fantasy option even with 10 games away.

Scoring Lines

Mikael Samuelsson, Florida Panthers: Five games into his new role with the Panthers, Samuelsson has found his groove on the second line with Shawn Matthias and Sean Bergenheim. With this pair of Seans/Shawns, four goals have been produced in the Panthers' past two games, including one of the power play (where Bergenheim is replaced by Tomas Kopecky). The bottom line here is that Samuelsson is showing indications of actually providing the Panthers with something they've been missing all season: a second scoring line. Kris Versteeg, Tomas Fleischmann and Stephen Weiss have a combined 39 goals. All other Panthers forwards combine for 32. Not only can Samuelsson, Bergenheim and Matthias start to offer some mild fantasy value, but they might start taking even more defensive pressure away from the Panthers' already ridiculous top line.

Adam Henrique, New Jersey Devils: We are coming to a pivotal point in the season that will be make or break his fantasy value. Two games into Travis Zajac's return to the ice, and Henrique is still shining as the Devils' top centerman. In fact, Henrique was there to see his two linemates, Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise, pot eight points in those two games, while Zajac watched from the third line. Henrique has been all the Devils could have asked for from a rookie after taking over center between Kovalchuk and Parise. He has 24 points in 23 games in the role. But Zajac has a long and storied history alongside Parise. Certainly there is no reason to make a change right now while Zajac is still skating the rust off, but what happens when Zajac has no rust left? Henrique should be in the top 100 on merit of his production, but until this Zajac issue is settled after a few games, we have to still wait to see.

Mason Raymond, Vancouver Canucks: The window on David Booth's injury should leave plenty of time for Raymond to make the Canucks forget they have an extra top-six asset. Since making his season debut on the second line with Ryan Kesler and even filling in on the top line for a game, Raymond has six points in seven games. Raymond has a goal scorer's touch and speed to burn. Combine that with a centerman like Kesler, and the results are often positive. A 30-goal pace might not be too much to ask for. At the very least, you have another four weeks to enjoy his production before Booth returns, so there is no excuse not to give him a look.

Power Plays

Rich Peverley, Boston Bruins: Already scoring at a ridiculous pace for a third-line winger, Peverley now has the added benefit of being the fourth forward on the Bruins' top power-play unit. He notched two assists in that role Saturday. Playing with Milan Lucic, David Krejci, Nathan Horton and Zdeno Chara will certainly help in producing some valuable power-play points. But even while he isn't producing on the man advantage, Peverley is a plus-11 with his line and has four non-power-play points in the past three games.

Jamie McGinn, San Jose Sharks: Being Martin Havlat's linemate at even strength has helped McGinn produce six points in the past nine games. Make that eight points in nine games if you add in the two power-play points McGinn earned on a unit with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski in the past three contests. This regular bottom-six forward has more skills than he has flashed in his NHL tenure. If the Sharks continue to scratch the surface they may find some value that can be passed on to fantasy owners. Keep an eye on McGinn and his power-play time.

Quick Hits

• It's starting to get difficult to ignore Todd Bertuzzi's slow yet steady production for the Detroit Red Wings lately. He has had a positive plus/minus in 10 of the past 13 games and zero minus ratings in any of those contests. He has a point in nine of those 13 games. Seriously, Big Bert is worth an add to your roster as long as he keeps playing with Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen. And there is no reason to think he won't.

David Perron has points in six of seven games since returning from a long concussion hiatus. He has seven points in those seven games and is getting significant power-play time. He should be on your roster if you have room to add someone.

Niklas Hagman, as speculated, has been given a trial with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry on the Anaheim Ducks' top line and top power-play unit. He has five points in four games and is definitely worth a speculative look, given the fantasy history of his new linemates.

•Though he has little to show for it yet, Marcus Kruger is in a great position to start earning mild value with the Chicago Blackhawks. The Swedish rookie has been placed between Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp at even strength and on the team's secondary power-play unit. Three points in four games could be an indicator that he is primed for some scoring.

• The Kings' interim head coach John Stevens likes veterans, and that preference has been shown since he promoted Jarret Stoll to fill in for Mike Richards on the second line. The Los Angeles Kings are not exactly a dynamic offensive force lately, but playing with Dustin Penner and Justin Williams has the potential for a few points. The question is whether Darryl Sutter continues to use Stoll in that capacity once he takes over head-coaching duties this week.

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.

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