Commentary

Front Line: Crosby, Backstrom drop

Updated: February 19, 2012, 5:54 PM ET
By Sean Allen | Special to ESPN.com

Three of the top four major drops in the rankings this week came for players with concussions and -- as promised -- Sidney Crosby dropped from the Top 100 as there is little reported progress in his recovery from a neck/concussion issue. (If you didn't catch it last week, check out Stephania Bell's in-depth look at what kind of recovery Crosby is facing).

Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins (drops from No. 99 to NR): As Stephania explained, Crosby is dealing with a soft tissue/neck injury as opposed to the "concussion-like symptoms" that were reported for so long. But as she also explained, that doesn't come with a timetable that is any firmer than a concussion. Based on the analysis of the injury, we want to hear reports about Crosby ramping up his practice schedule. That would be an indicator that his equilibrium is improving. That has not been the case. The Penguins are doing just fine without Crosby in the lineup and have repeatedly shown no interest in rushing him. Here is betting we don't see him until just before or during the playoffs. With your trade deadline in your league fast approaching, see if anyone in your league is a little more optimistic about Crosby.

[+] EnlargeNicklas Backstrom
Mitchell Layton/NHLI/Getty ImagesNicklas Backstrom is yet another big name still out of action with a concussion.

Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals (drops from No. 47 to No. 99): With a report this week that Backstrom hasn't skated more than five minutes in more than a month, it is time be much more pessimistic about his potential to return with enough time for a fantasy impact. He seems like another candidate that we might only see in the postseason (if the Caps can get that far). Marcus Johansson and Mathieu Perreault are handling center duties in his absence, but neither has managed to have sustained fantasy value (though Perreault's numbers are better in recent weeks, Johansson plays with Alex Ovechkin and has the power-play role). It is beginning to look like Ovechkin and Alexander Semin have come to terms with Backstrom's absence, though, as both players have performed closer to what fantasy owners are used to in the past couple weeks after struggling when Backstrom was first injured. As we've discussed several times before, Ovechkin and Semin are not the fantasy stars they have been in the past this season and it doesn't appear as though they are set up for a big finish. That may be especially true if Backstrom doesn't return. Like Crosby before him, Backstrom gets one more week of reprieve on this list of the elite for some positive news about his recovery to emerge.

Nathan Horton, Boston Bruins (drops from No. 67 to No. 87): Horton may also be on the long-term shelf with news this week that he experienced a setback in his recovery from a concussion. The fact he plays for the Bruins could work against him, as few teams are as comfortable in the standings. There is no reason for the club to rush him back. In his absence, Rich Peverley is the player to watch. Playing with Milan Lucic and Chris Kelly, Peverley has five points in seven games without Horton and eight points in his past 10 games total. His availability is hovering near 31 percent of ESPN leagues and with Horton's setback, the window to use Peverley is wide open.

Alexander Steen, St. Louis Blues (drops from No. 78 to No. 91): Steen has been teasing a return to the roster for a couple of weeks. However, this drop in the rankings is not because it appears he is still on the shelf for a while, but instead because there is concern over what his role will be when he returns. Steen was playing on the top line with T.J. Oshie and David Backes before suffering his concussion, but David Perron has made himself a nice little home in that role. In fact, Perron has been coming alive with seven points in the past four games. The second line has also taken some shape with Andy McDonald, Patrik Berglund and Chris Stewart. Steen could battle with Perron or Stewart for ice time in the top six, but it is hardly a guarantee. Remember, this is a top six that doesn't have room for Jamie Langenbrunner or Jason Arnott (when healthy), so it's not as if Steen's role will simply be kept warm for him.

There has been some good news on the concussion front this past week as well.

Danny Briere, Philadelphia Flyers (steady at No. 76): Briere returned to the Flyers' lineup after a six-game absence due to concussion. However, rookie Brayden Schenn has gained exponentially in confidence, scoring six of his eight goals this season since Briere was hurt and now looks like the prospect that he was expected to be. We will have to see how this plays out now that both players are on the same line, but Briere's production is already muted because of his secondary role on the depth chart. Schenn as the lead on the second line might hurt Briere's numbers further.

Andy McDonald, St. Louis Blues (enters list at No. 89): McDonald made his return to the Blues lineup in a 3-0 victory against the San Jose Sharks on Sunday. He missed all but three games prior this season with a concussion. McDonald notched a power-play assist in his debut and skated with Patrik Berglund and Chris Stewart. There is big potential for production from McDonald and he should be scooped up in the 65 percent of ESPN leagues in which he's available.

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. Evgeni Malkin, Pit (1)
2. Steven Stamkos, TB (2)
3. Daniel Sedin, Van (3)
4. Henrik Sedin, Van (4)
5. Claude Giroux, Phi (5)
6. Pavel Datsyuk, Det (6)
7. Marian Hossa, Chi (7)
8. Patrick Sharp, Chi (8)
9. Ilya Kovalchuk, NJ (9)
10. James Neal, Pit (10)
11. Phil Kessel, Tor (11)
12. Scott Hartnell, Phi (16)
13. Corey Perry, Ana (12)
14. Alex Ovechkin, Was (13)
15. Ryan Kesler, Van (14)
16. Zach Parise, NJ (19)
17. Jamie Benn, Dal (17)
18. Anze Kopitar, LA (18)
19. Jonathan Toews, Chi (15)
20. Martin St. Louis, TB (20)
21. Johan Franzen, Det (21)
22. John Tavares, NYI (23)
23. Jarome Iginla, Cgy (24)
24. David Backes, StL (30)
25. Teemu Selanne, Ana (25)
26. Jason Spezza, Ott (26)
27. Joffrey Lupul, Tor (29)
28. Patrick Marleau, SJ (27)
29. Patrick Kane, Chi (22)
30. Joe Pavelski, SJ (31)
31. Marian Gaborik, NYR (44)
32. Alex Burrows, Van (34)
33. Eric Staal, Car (35)
34. Brad Marchand, Bos (33)
35. Matt Moulson, NYI (37)
36. Tyler Seguin, Bos (28)
37. Jordan Eberle, Edm (39)
38. Henrik Zetterberg, Det (40)
39. Patrice Bergeron, Bos (50)
40. Joe Thornton, SJ (45)
41. Dany Heatley, Min (42)
42. Taylor Hall, Edm (48)
43. Ryan Callahan, NYR (55)
44. Ryan Getzlaf, Ana (32)
45. Kris Versteeg, Fla (36)
46. Milan Lucic, Bos (46)
47. Rick Nash, Cls (51)
48. Bobby Ryan, Ana (52)
49. Vincent Lecavalier, TB (53)
50. Jeff Skinner, Car (38)
51. David Krejci, Bos (41)
52. Thomas Vanek, Buf (43)
53. Alexander Semin, Was (62)
54. Patrik Elias, NJ (63)
55. Logan Couture, SJ (61)
56. Mikko Koivu, Min (57)
57. Radim Vrbata, Pho (66)
58. Brad Richards, NYR (58)
59. Jason Pominville, Buf (65)
60. Jeff Carter, Cls (60)
61. Tomas Fleischmann, Fla (59)
62. Justin Williams, LA (64)
63. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edm (49)
64. Jaromir Jagr, Phi (54)
65. Olli Jokinen, Cgy (70)
66. Max Pacioretty, Mon (74)
67. Adam Henrique, NJ (56)
68. Martin Erat, Nsh (77)
69. Chris Kunitz, Pit (71)
70. Erik Cole, Mon (72)
71. Mikhail Grabovski, Tor (73)
72. T.J. Oshie, StL (81)
73. Stephen Weiss, Fla (69)
74. Gabriel Landeskog, Col (79)
75. Tomas Plekanec, Mon (75)
76. Danny Briere, Phi (76)
77. Loui Eriksson, Dal (68)
78. Mike Ribeiro, Dal (80)
79. Ray Whitney, Pho (90)
80. Sam Gagner, Edm (100)
81. Ryan O'Reilly, Col (89)
82. Shane Doan, Pho (82)
83. David Perron, StL (NR)
84. Dustin Brown, LA (85)
85. Alex Tanguay, Cgy (NR)
86. Daniel Alfredsson, Ott (86)
87. Nathan Horton, Bos (67)
88. Paul Stastny, Col (87)
89. Andy McDonald, StL (NR)
90. Mike Fisher, Nsh (98)
91. Alexander Steen, StL (78)
92. Wayne Simmonds, Phi (NR)
93. P.A. Parenteau, NYI (91)
94. Steve Downie, TB (94)
95. David Booth, Van (96)
96. Teddy Purcell, TB (97)
97. Ryane Clowe, SJ (NR)
98. Kyle Okposo, NYI (NR)
99. Nicklas Backstrom, Was (47)
100. Derek Stepan, NYR (105)

Rising and Falling

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers (down 14 spots): It's not immediately devastating to his value that Nugent-Hopkins will miss a little more than a week after re-injuring his shoulder. But what makes the move devastating is the time, along with Sam Gagner's meteoric rise. There was a chance RNH could have stolen back his role on the top line with Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle if he had been ready and waiting for when Gagner had a slow game. Now, Gagner has an additional week to solidify his role in coach Tom Renney's eyes and should make any return to the top spot a much steeper challenge for Nugent-Hopkins.

Adam Henrique, New Jersey Devils (down 11 spots): Henrique's groin strain came at a very costly time to the rookie's production. In his absence, Patrik Elias was selected as the top-line centerman with Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise, and he doesn't seem interested in giving up the role. It is good to see that as soon as the team was struggling on Saturday against the Florida Panthers, Henrique was reunited with Kovalchuk and Parise for a few shifts, but Henrique wasn't able to provide any points in the role either. It will be important to watch whether Henrique can win his role back in the coming games. If he doesn't, the rookie scoring race will go from a two-horse race between Nugent-Hopkins and Henrique, to a wide-open free-for-all with no fewer than six competitors. Henrique has one goal in four games since returning from injury, and that would be the expected production if he remains on the second or third line.

Jeff Skinner, Carolina Hurricanes (down 12 spots): Back to the topic of concussions again, Skinner hasn't been nearly as dynamic since returning from a concussion on Jan. 15 as he was before he got hurt on Dec. 7. Skinner has five points in 10 games since returning, compared to 24 points in 30 games before being injured. This might be a more permanent downshift in scoring this season because Eric Staal has filled the void. Before Skinner was hurt, Staal had 18 points in 30 games and since Skinner was hurt Staal has 23 points in 26 games. Staal has taken his leadership role back on the Hurricanes offense and he may not cede the title again to Skinner this season. For the record, even as the secondary scoring catalyst, Skinner should do more than three goals and five points in 10 games.

Scoring Lines

Sean Bergenheim, Florida Panthers: The second line has been coming alive for the Panthers and Bergenheim's scoring prowess has been a big part of it. There should be no surprise that he can score after posting nine goals in the playoffs last season for the Tampa Bay Lightning, and now that the Panthers have found the right combination for the second line, there is a chance he can continue to score. Paired with Marcel Goc and Mikael Samuelsson, Bergenheim has four goals and six points in seven games (Goc has six assists and Samuelsson has five points in that same span). He is definitely one to look at for deeper leagues.

Tyler Bozak, Toronto Maple Leafs: Bozak, by all rights, should probably be in the Top 100 based on his overall production. But it all disappears so quickly for him it when his linemates get cold that it becomes a yo-yo game with his ranking. With 30 points in 47 games this season, his overall numbers are fantasy-worthy. Bozak becomes most useful when Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul get hot. As the Maple Leafs' top centerman, he has seven points in the past five games now that Kessel has awoken from a recent slump. Available in 62 percent of ESPN leagues, Bozak probably shouldn't be so widely available.

Martin Hanzal, Phoenix Coyotes: Ray Whitney (12 points in eight games) and Radim Vrbata (nine points in eight games) are heating up for the Coyotes, and sooner than later Hanzal is going to capitalize on the action. Playing centerman for the trio, Hanzal will start getting some stats coming his way by osmosis after playing with linemates on such a streak. Though he has zero points and a plus-3 in the past three games, he had five points in the three games prior to that. Take a look at him if you need help at center. Hanzal is available in 79 percent of ESPN leagues.

Power Plays

Mike Cammalleri, Calgary Flames: Cammalleri has obviously not been a revelation with the Flames since landing back in Calgary following a mid-January trade. Four points in 11 games with a minus-7 rating are ugly, to say the least. But, three power-play points in 11 games is a little less ugly and a possible sign of things to come. Cammalleri may not line up with Jarome Iginla, Olli Jokinen or Alex Tanguay at even strength, but he lines up with all three on the power play. While dropping Cammalleri in shallow leagues makes sense, monitoring his power-play production in deep leagues is equally as good a plan.

Tyler Ennis, Buffalo Sabres: This is more of a warning for possible future production. Ennis returned at the end of January from an ankle injury that kept him out of the Sabres' lineup for 17 games. He has scoring potential and is being used heavily on the power play. Though he only has two points in six games since his return, the opportunity for much better production, with an emphasis on the power play, does exist.

Quick Hits

Marcus Kruger and Viktor Stalberg appear to be the early favorites in the contest for the final two spots in the Chicago Blackhawks' top six. Kruger had two goals playing with Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane on Friday and Stalberg is still playing with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa despite being limited by the flu.

• Once again, Carl Hagelin is beating out Brandon Dubinsky for time on the New York Rangers' second line with Brad Richards and Ryan Callahan. Hagelin has five points in the past seven games to match Callahan and lag behind Richards by one point.

• A healthy scratch several times this season, Bobby Butler is getting a chance on the top line with Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek. In two games in the role, Butler has three points. Keep an eye on his spot in the depth chart, he may be worth picking up.

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