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Front Line: Three bargains to shop for

12/27/2011

This is the time of year for bargain hunters to seek out the best price on the big-ticket items. Some fantasy hockey players may still be widely viewed as "big ticket" even though the statistics say otherwise this season. As such, those players might be considered to be on sale because of their weak or subpar performance this season. So in the great Canadian tradition of post-Christmas bargain shopping, let's kick the tires on three Boxing Week specials at the fantasy hockey forward position. These are guys who could be had in trade for a lot less than they cost on draft day.

Bobby Ryan, Anaheim Ducks (average draft position: 22.1): Woe is Bobby Ryan! Coming into this season, Ryan averaged more than 30 goals in his past three seasons and his point totals were on a clear upward trend. He finished last season as the 21st-best fantasy forward on the ESPN Player Rater, easily justifying his selection in the second or third round of fantasy drafts. The first problem this season was that both former coach Randy Carlyle and new coach Bruce Boudreau decided not to use Ryan on the top line with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. That is obviously a negative, but it should not have been a show stopper. Ryan didn't play on the top line in other 30-plus goal seasons. However, if you combine the demotion from the top line with the major bane to Ryan's fantasy value, it explains his reduced production and pace for fewer than 30 goals and 50 points. What is that other bane? It's the emergence of Cam Fowler.

As Fowler continues to establish himself as a legitimate offensive defenseman, he has usurped Ryan's role on the top power-play unit. In his rookie and sophomore seasons, Ryan managed double-digit power-play goals and more than 20 power-play points. Last season, Fowler's presence reduced those totals to five power-play goals and just 10 power-play points. The same trend continues this season, with Ryan on both the second line and second power-play unit. Currently, Ryan is the 150th-ranked forward on the Player Rater and is probably an easy trade target from his current owner. Is he worth purchasing on sale? That depends on the price. If you can acquire Ryan for a productive top-100 forward with little upside, he could very well be worth a gamble. After all, the Ducks can hardly claim to be a productive offensive team as they sit 29th in the NHL standings. There will come a point very soon when Coach Boudreau is forced to mix things up on offense to find more scoring. Ryan is one of the key chess pieces that Boudreau can move around. He has proven scoring acumen and will surely start finding the net with a new opportunity on offense. It may be difficult to part with a productive asset in a quest to acquire Ryan, but if you keep the risk low, this is the type of move that has the potential to move you up in your league standings.

Rick Nash, Columbus Blue Jackets (average draft position: 35.4): The pace for a minus-43 season is nothing new for Nash and is even a bit of a flashback to his sophomore season, where he finished with minus-35. The difference is that in his sophomore season, Nash scored 41 goals. This season, he is on pace for 24 goals. In eight previous seasons, Nash has failed only twice to score at least 30 goals: in his rookie campaign and in the 2006-07 campaign. Like we discussed for Alex Ovechkin in last week's column, Nash is suffering from an inexplicable but significant drop in shooting percentage. Usually averaging in the low-to-mid teens in his career, Nash is converting only 7.6 percent of his shots this season. His shooting percentage history does suggest that he should correct to the average and up his goal pace slightly.

Beyond the numbers, there is a chemistry issue that is still sorting itself out in the Blue Jackets ranks and, once corrected, should help everyone have better numbers. Adding Jeff Carter and Vaclav Prospal to the top six for the club in the offseason upset the balance that the team has achieved during the past few seasons. Since drafting Nash, the Blue Jackets have rarely injected other top offensive players into the mix. The first few months of this season have been spent trying to get Nash rolling with Carter and/or Prospal on his line. Because of injuries to Carter, the chemistry experiments have taken this long to prove ineffective. Carter and Nash just don't seem to mesh (at even strength, anyway). Only in recent games have Carter and Nash been split up to allow the Blue Jackets to deploy a first and second line of offense. Nash has history with some of the wingers and centers available to the club and shouldn't take long to settle into new linemates. He played with Antoine Vermette and Derick Brassard during the past week and could see other possible combinations when Kristian Huselius is ready to return from a groin injury in the next two to three weeks. The bottom line is that Nash is better than this and has a legitimate chance to turn his season around still. If he can be pried from his owner for a forward ranked somewhere between No. 60 and No. 80 in trade, the payoff could be worth your while and the risk could be considered minimal. After all, Nash's current numbers are still good enough to make him the No. 101-ranked forward on the Player Rater this season.

Alexander Semin, Washington Capitals (average draft position: 37.6): Hurry up! This enigmatic Russian is already showing signs of turning the corner on what has been a wreck of a season to date. With new coach Dale Hunter finally settling on some line combinations he appears to be happy with, Semin has begun to shed his slump. In the past four games, Semin has four points and a plus-3, playing with Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson. Pairing the talented sniper with not one but two playmaking passers is an interesting choice by Coach Hunter, but the early signs are quite positive. Still on pace for fewer than 20 goals this season, you may need to be reminded that Semin can score at a 40-goal pace when he gets things going.

It will probably cost a bit more to target Semin in trade because there does seem to be some consensus optimism about his prospects for the rest of the season, but surely his price in trade remains well below his potential return. If you do choose Semin as a trade target, make sure to remain steadfast in an approach that he is to be treated as a buy-low candidate. It is possible his current owner may be willing to part with Semin for anywhere between a No. 50- and No. 100-ranked forward, depending on each owner's individual circumstances. This is easily the riskiest of the three acquisitions discussed here, but it comes with the potential for the most reward. Even when Semin's totals last season were about half of what they were in 2009-10, he was a top-30 fantasy forward. One more bit of speculation: Semin tends to wear the goat horns for the Capitals' poor performance to date, and he may therefore be one of the first players to get dealt if the team doesn't start climbing into the playoff picture. A change of scenery could surely kick-start Semin's numbers.

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

Rising and Falling

Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins (down 10 spots): No news is bad news on the Crosby front. Coach Dan Byslma was avoiding discussion on the status of his superstar player during the past week. Crosby has been out for seven games after a brief return from his concussion-like symptoms that date back almost a calendar year. We aren't even sure if Crosby is working out at this point. He can quickly rise in these ranks with progress to a return (as we see with Claude Giroux this week), but the ominous signs are beginning to show. Yes, it is time to start dangling Crosby as trade bait if your team isn't competing without him. If you can weather the storm without losing too much ground, you want to hold him, but if you see your team falling by the wayside, you have to make a move now.

Daniel Alfredsson, Ottawa Senators (up 13 spots): Alfie must have really missed playing with Jason Spezza and clearly doesn't want to be separated from him again. Alfredsson has nine points in five games playing with Spezza on the top line. His ownership has rocketed up to 100 percent of ESPN leagues. If you are thinking about selling high, there is an argument against it. Alfredsson is an elite offensive player in the right environment, and Spezza provides that opportunity. There is no purpose in splitting them up again, and this duo should continue to ride high for the remainder of the season. Alfredsson is not done climbing these ranks.

Ray Whitney, Phoenix Coyotes (up eight spots): Whitney's quiet production is vastly underappreciated. He is owned in 100 percent of ESPN leagues, but most owners won't recognize that they have a top-40 forward this season in the veteran winger. With 32 points in 36 games, Whitney is the Coyotes' offensive leader and is providing above-average value in every standard fantasy category save for plus/minus and penalty minutes. He has clearly found his partners in crime in Radim Vrbata and Martin Hanzal this season, and there is no reason to think he can't continue providing top-shelf statistics. The one concern would be the other scoring line for the Coyotes beginning to offer competition, but if Shane Doan doesn't begin sparking that unit, Whitney will continue his ascent in the ranks. It would be worth your while to see if Whitney's owner in your league considers him an accessory forward instead of the core asset he is.

Scoring Lines

Carl Hagelin, New York Rangers: Strong play on the checking line during the past few weeks earned Hagelin a promotion to the second scoring line for the Rangers, and he is in some pretty lofty company now. Playing with Brad Richards and Ryan Callahan, Hagelin notched a pair of goals and five shots on net against the New York Islanders on Monday. He has certainly shown an offensive flair with nine points in his first 16 NHL games, and the two-way ability is evidenced by a plus-11. Coming out of college this season, Hagelin managed 13 points in 17 games for the AHL's Connecticut Whale before earning the call to the big club. We may be witnessing the start of a nice offensive career for the winger.

Curtis Glencross, Calgary Flames: Just why a line combination that has been tried many times during the past few seasons is suddenly clicking is not apparent, but it is clear you need to jump on board if you can. Jarome Iginla, Olli Jokinen and Curtis Glencross are terrorizing defenses across the league for the Flames. Iginla has been coveted all along and Jokinen's ownership has skyrocketed to 100 percent because of his history as a fantasy star, but Glencross remains available in 56 percent of ESPN leagues. Glencross has 11 points in nine games as the line's chemistry has grown. Even though he has a history of streakiness, this line doesn't look like it is just on a hot streak. It's time to stop questioning the dynamics and simply accept the success. Glencross is a legitimate top-tier fantasy winger as long as this line is together.

Michael Ryder, Dallas Stars: After injuries broke up the Stars' productive top six from the start of the season, a slight tweak to the line combinations was brought in that found Michael Ryder on a line with Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson. Even though the line of Brenden Morrow, Mike Ribeiro and Steve Ott has been the better trio lately, both lines have been productive. Ryder, especially, has found his groove with Benn and Eriksson. Currently riding a five-game goal streak with seven points, Ryder needs to be sought in every league. He is still available in 58 percent of ESPN leagues.

Power Plays

R.J. Umberger, Columbus Blue Jackets: It's a bit curious that the second power-play unit with the outcasts from the first unit is the one doing the damage, but that is the case for the Blue Jackets. Playing on a four-forward unit with Derick Brassard, Ryan Johansen and Mark Letestu, Umberger has four power-play points in the past four games. Umberger is having a terrible season by his standards, but value as a power-play specialist could help him up his stock on a depth chart in need of a good shake-up. At the very least, he could serve you as a deep-league specialist for power-play markers.

Dave Bolland, Chicago Blackhawks: Bolland has given us many flashes of offensive potential over the years that have quickly been quelled by injury. Certainly his defensive qualities make him more valuable on the ice than in fantasy pools, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have a scoring touch. Bolland has been running the Blackhawks' second power-play unit and has three power-play points in the past five games. The fact he only has five points in the past 10 games certainly takes his value down, but noting that his linemate Viktor Stalberg has eight points in six games offers hope of some offense to come.

Quick Hits

Brandon Pirri is seventh in the AHL this season with 31 points and has been getting a taste of NHL play with the Chicago Blackhawks during the past week. He skated with Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp on the second line and earned an assist during the past two games. Daniel Carcillo's potential return from injury would likely bump him back to the AHL, but he is worth keeping an eye on.

•Keep a close watch on Ryan O'Reilly as he continues to cement himself on the Colorado Avalanche's best offensive line with Gabriel Landeskog and Milan Hejduk. He is earning power-play time with the top unit as well.

Tuomo Ruutu is beginning to string together some offense. He remains the epitome of streakiness but offers real value when he is on. As long as Jeff Skinner is out with a concussion, the opportunity will remain for Ruutu to excel on offense.

•Alexander Burmistrov, who was flirting with fantasy value at the beginning of the season, has been filling Bryan Little's skates on the Winnipeg Jets' top line with Blake Wheeler and Evander Kane. With no timetable for Little's injured foot, there is potential for chemistry to develop.

T.J. Oshie has a hurt wrist. While that is terrible timing for Oshie and his recent ascent in fantasy value, it may help get Chris Stewart's motor running. Stewart filled in on the top line with David Backes and Alexander Steen and managed two goals on Monday.

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