Commentary

Front Line: Watch Sabres, Panthers

Updated: March 19, 2012, 5:13 PM ET
By Sean Allen | Special to ESPN.com

If asked to pick two offenses that could be sneaky-good with about 10 games remaining in the season, my two picks would be the Buffalo Sabres and Florida Panthers.

You will see it reflected in the rankings this week. The Sabres and Panthers are both in a position to play competitive, meaningful hockey until the final day of the regular season. And both teams have a lot more depth on offense than they did at the beginning of the season.

The Sabres have recently received hot play from the trio of Drew Stafford, Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno. Stafford and Ennis are no surprise; they either ended last season or started this season in the top-100 forward ranks. They dropped off after very slow starts to the season, but are back now with 12 combined points in the past three games. Foligno is a bit of a surprise next to them after a call-up from the AHL, where he had 34 points in 55 games this season. In four games since his recall, he has three goals, two assists and a plus-5 rating with Stafford and Ennis.

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 (2)
2. Steven Stamkos, TB (1)
3. Ilya Kovalchuk, NJ (3)
4. Claude Giroux, Phi (4)
5. Daniel Sedin, Van (7)
6. James Neal, Pit (5)
7. Scott Hartnell, Phi (6)
8. Marian Gaborik, NYR (8)
9. Sidney Crosby, Pit (26)
10. Marian Hossa, Chi (9)
11. Pavel Datsyuk, Det (10)
12. Zach Parise, NJ (11)
13. Martin St. Louis, TB (12)
14. Henrik Sedin, Van (13)
15. Blake Wheeler, Wpg (14)
16. Patrick Sharp, Chi (15)
17. Corey Perry, Ana (16)
18. Patrick Marleau, SJ (18)
19. Anze Kopitar, LA (19)
20. John Tavares, NYI (23)
21. Jarome Iginla, Cgy (20)
22. Ryan Kesler, Van (21)
23. Evander Kane, Wpg (22)
24. Patrick Kane, Chi (25)
25. Phil Kessel, Tor (29)
26. Joe Thornton, SJ (30)
27. Jason Spezza, Ott (17)
28. Alex Ovechkin, Was (24)
29. Alexander Radulov, Nsh (NR)
30. Jamie Benn, Dal (33)
31. Logan Couture, SJ (49)
32. Jordan Eberle, Edm (43)
33. Brad Richards, NYR (42)
34. Teemu Selanne, Ana (34)
35. Henrik Zetterberg, Det (35)
36. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edm (57)
37. Eric Staal, Car (37)
38. Tyler Seguin, Bos (28)
39. Bobby Ryan, Ana (39)
40. Jeff Carter, LA (40)
41. Martin Havlat, SJ (85)
42. Ryan Getzlaf, Ana (45)
43. David Backes, StL (27)
44. Mike Ribeiro, Dal (52)
45. Patrice Bergeron, Bos (46)
46. Radim Vrbata, Pho (53)
47. Alexander Semin, Was (55)
48. Gabriel Landeskog, Col (54)
49. Patrik Elias, NJ (56)
50. Carl Hagelin, NYR (NR)
51. Teddy Purcell, TB (44)
52. Milan Lucic, Bos (51)
53. Thomas Vanek, Buf (91)
54. Max Pacioretty, Mon (58)
55. Michael Ryder, Dal (32)
56. Jeff Skinner, Car (38)
57. T.J. Oshie, StL (61)
58. Matt Moulson, NYI (47)
59. Erik Cole, Mon (62)
60. Joe Pavelski, SJ (63)
61. Loui Eriksson, Dal (64)
62. David Krejci, Bos (60)
63. Drew Stafford, Buf (NR)
64. Milan Michalek, Ott (65)
65. Martin Erat, Nsh (90)
66. Rick Nash, Cls (36)
67. Johan Franzen, Det (31)
68. Kris Versteeg, Fla (NR)
69. Olli Jokinen, Cgy (48)
70. Tyler Ennis, Buf (NR)
71. Jordan Staal, Pit (98)
72. Chris Kunitz, Pit (70)
73. Shane Doan, Pho (80)
74. Dustin Brown, LA (71)
75. Brad Marchand, Bos (67)
76. Curtis Glencross, Cgy (68)
77. Bryan Little, Wpg (72)
78. Adam Henrique, NJ (73)
79. Steve Sullivan, Pit (59)
80. Justin Williams, LA (81)
81. Ray Whitney, Pho (75)
82. Alex Burrows, Van (66)
83. Ryan Malone, TB (77)
84. Stephen Weiss, Fla (86)
85. Jason Pominville, Buf (78)
86. Pascal Dupuis, Pit (79)
87. Jamie McGinn, Col (NR)
88. Alex Tanguay, Cgy (74)
89. P.A. Parenteau, NYI (83)
90. David Clarkson, NJ (84)
91. David Perron, StL (94)
92. Mikhail Grabovski, Tor (87)
93. Tomas Fleischmann, Fla (NR)
94. Mike Fisher, Nsh (88)
95. David Booth, Van (NR)
96. David Desharnais, Mon (95)
97. Chris Higgins, Van (NR)
98. Jussi Jokinen, Car (NR)
99. Patrik Berglund, StL (NR)
100. Cody Hodgson, Buf (NR)

Now the emergence of Foligno allows the Sabres to spread out some of their other offensive weapons and possibly coax some production from some assets that have been quiet lately. Thomas Vanek returned from an upper-body injury to play two games without finding the score sheet before coach Lindy Ruff made a change that could have a positive impact on Vanek and other players. Ruff moved physical winger Corey Tropp to the top line with Jason Pominville and Derek Roy, and shifted Vanek to a line with Ville Leino and Cody Hodgson. Now we know you are thinking about what a disaster Hodgson has been since the trade deadline, but he still has potential to break out of his funk and make some last-minute noise ahead of the offseason (or maybe postseason).

Yes, Hodgson has been a huge disappointment after looking like the best chance for help off the waiver wire on deadline day. In nine games as a Sabre he has zero points, despite playing big minutes. He even played almost 22 minutes in one game and didn't get a shot on net. Although it's a bad situation now, he's getting Vanek -- a dynamic forechecker with a great finishing shot and a multiple 40-goal resume -- on his wing. However, Hodgson had previously been playing with Stafford and Ennis, who are not so bad as linemates either. Still, Vanek offers a solid finishing component to Hodgson's playmaking capabilities. There is a chance he can do something with the remaining 10 games, now that Vanek is on his side. Remember, Hodgson showed us the skills he has already this season. Don't forget he had 10 points in 11 games playing on the Vancouver Canucks' third line in January.

The Panthers are the other interesting commodity because for the first time in a long time, the crew that made us sit up and take notice in October is back together. Kris Versteeg returned to the ice this weekend for the first time in March after missing time with a hip injury; some suspect that he had been playing at less than 100 percent since early February with the injury. Versteeg started the game on the third line but by the third period was back with Tomas Fleischmann and Stephen Weiss, reuniting the most dangerous line from the NHL earlier this season. Don't forget that when the calendar flipped to 2012, the Panthers had played 38 games with Versteeg, Fleischmann and Weiss notching 38, 34 and 33 points, respectively. They had plus/minus ratings in the teens too.

Now that the Panthers have a solid secondary attack with Mikael Samuelsson, Wojtek Wolski and Sean Bergenheim, the top line has a chance to get hot again for the final 11 games of the season. Fleischmann and Weiss have been retained in 100 percent of ESPN leagues through some cold streaks, but Vertseeg is still available in 22 percent of ESPN leagues after being dropped in many during his injury.

Rising and Falling

Alexander Radulov, Nashville Predators (debuts at No. 29): Look who's back. Radulov walked out on the Preds following the 2007-08 season for a sweeter deal in the KHL, but it appears everything is set for a triumphant return to the NHL this week. Radulov is a dynamic scorer who managed 91 goals and 254 points in 210 games over the past four years in the KHL. We saw earlier this season that even at a much more advanced age, Jaromir Jagr's skills still translated after a KHL stint, so that should help Radulov. With nine games remaining after his expected return Thursday, Radulov should be able to do as much damage as any other high-octane scorers in the league and should be added to fantasy rosters immediately. His old linemates, Jason Arnott and J.P. Dumont, are not around anymore, but Radulov did work with Martin Erat on the power play when he was around in 2007-08. Look for Sergei Kostitsyn to be bounced from the top line for Radulov to line up with Erat and Mike Fisher.

Patrik Berglund, St. Louis Blues (debuts at No. 98): This is a chance to highlight the recent play of Berglund, but also to bemoan the loss of Andy McDonald from fantasy rosters for what is likely the remainder of the season. McDonald was the true second-half star that we predicted he would be, with 17 points in 18 games since returning from a concussion. But now that he's suffered a shoulder injury and the Blues have clinched a playoff spot, he will likely miss the final nine games of the season. However, someone is going to have to score in his place. With David Backes also injured, Berglund becomes a good candidate to pick the team up. Though he plays on the second line, Berglund has four goals and two assists in the past six games. With Backes and McDonald absent, Berglund could get a chance to play with some combination of T.J. Oshie, Chris Stewart and David Perron. Maybe the Blues will even reunite the Oshie-Berglund-Perron line from their successful 2008-09 season (rookie season for Berglund and Oshie, sophomore season for Perron). One way or another, there is a power vacuum for offense now opening on the top team in the NHL and someone is going to fill it. Stewart and Jason Arnott are other alternatives.

Martin Havlat, San Jose Sharks (up 45 spots): Havlat made his presence known in his second game back from a hamstring injury by scoring twice. Skating with Patrick Marleau and Ryane Clowe, Havlat should continue to pot points in the remaining 11 games for the Sharks. He is still available in 49 percent of ESPN leagues.

Scoring Lines

Viktor Stalberg, Chicago Blackhawks: With Jonathan Toews out of the lineup with a concussion, Stalberg is doing his best to make up for the lack of scoring on the Hawks' second line. Playing with Patrick Sharp and Marcus Kruger, Stalberg has two goals and three assists in the past five games. Prone to bursts of offensive production, Stalberg may be a wise investment with news that Toews is not close to a return.

Matt Stajan, Calgary Flames: Fingers crossed that the elbow Alex Tanguay took to the head on Sunday doesn't keep him out for long, because Stajan has found himself a comfy new home between Tanguay and Jarome Iginla on the top line. After tallying nine points in his first 45 games this season and spending plenty of time in the press box, Stajan has seven points in seven games as the top-line pivot. We know from his history with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Mats Sundin that Stajan is a player who can elevate his game with good linemates. Keep an eye on the situation and consider him a widely available option if you need assistance on offense.

Ryan Jones, Edmonton Oilers: With 10 games left in the season and Taylor Hall unable to remember the hit that concussed him on Friday, we have to think he is done for the season. Jones stepped into his shoes on the top line with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle and has assists in both games he played there.

Power Plays

Frans Nielsen, New York Islanders: It's been a revolving door all season for which forward gets to join John Tavares, Matt Moulson and P.A. Parenteau on the Isles' top power play. Lately, Nielsen has been the go-to choice. With 10 games remaining for the Islanders, he has a chance to get on another hot streak thanks to the power play. Nielsen has two power-play points in the past three games.

Quick Hits

• Be a little worried about Alex Burrows' value. He was bumped to the third line as Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin started finding the score sheet again with Mason Raymond on their line. Burrows can find his own value, though, and should climb back on the top line in short order.

• If you are picking value for the remainder of the season from the free-agent pile, remember that the Colorado Avalanche have played three more games than some other teams. That makes Peter Mueller, Steve Downie and Ryan O'Reilly a bit less attractive.

• Even with Ryan Callahan's return to the lineup on Saturday, Carl Hagelin stayed on the New York Rangers' top line with Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards.

• As expected, Tim Connolly was bounced from Phil Kessel's line in favor of Clarke MacArthur. Be prepared to pick him up if he starts making something of the opportunity.

Chad LaRose is showing some signs of a hot streak with Eric Staal and the Carolina Hurricanes. Much like Danny Cleary with the Detroit Red Wings, when LaRose gets hot, he gets real hot. During the past three years, he has had some months with one point and some with as many as 10 points.

Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is the 2008 and 2009 Fantasy Sports Writers Association's 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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