Commentary

Front Line: Forward shakeups

Parise's value stays same with Wild but affects many other players

Updated: July 11, 2012, 10:09 AM ET
By Sean Allen | Special to ESPN.com

The NHL offseason movement got off to a "wild" start when free agency opened a little more than a week ago. Obviously it's enormous news in the hockey world that the top forward and top defenseman available both signed identical 13-year contracts with the same club. But to the fantasy hockey world, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter hooking up with the Minnesota Wild doesn't necessarily take top billing.

ESPN.com's Victoria Matiash will weigh in on Suter later this week. But for Parise, the change of uniform doesn't change his fantasy value at all. Different jersey, same player. Parise rebounded nicely late in the 2011-12 season from the knee surgery that kept him out for almost all of the previous campaign. With a nice playoff run as additional evidence, it was already safe to expect nothing less than top-25 value from Parise no matter what team he landed with. Moving from a solid line alongside Ilya Kovalchuk and Adam Henrique on the New Jersey Devils to a line that will be centered by the underrated Mikko Koivu doesn't impact his value any. Parise's best years were when he was the catalyst of the top line (Parise-Jamie Langenbrunner-Travis Zajac in the 2008-09 and 2009-10 season, during which Parise had a combined 176 points in 163 games). That kind of a line, with a playmaking centerman and gritty veteran winger, will be easy for Parise to recreate with the Wild.

[+] EnlargeZach Parise
AP Photo/Julio CortezThe Wild signed Zach Parise to a 13-year, $98 million deal last week.

Simply put, Parise will be Parise, no matter where he plays. He is a fantasy star and should perform like one. What we in the fantasy world should look at after a signing like this are the aftershocks and vacuum values. Could Parise re-energize Dany Heatley as a linemate? Or does he help by taking the pressure off Heatley on a different line? Do any of the Wild's top prospects factor into the team's new-look top six? How does this change the Devils' top line? Those are the questions to ask.

As of now, the smart money is on Heatley to be the sniper on a much-improved second line for the Wild. Having Koivu center Parise and another winger of the ilk of Devin Setoguchi or Pierre-Marc Bouchard will allow Parise to shine on the top line and take a lot of the opponent's defensive focus away from Heatley and the second line. To say that Heatley has had a couple disappointing seasons is an understatement. He very quickly went from 40-goal threat to 25-goal also-ran over the past two seasons. But the skill is still very much there. If Heatley has some of the pressure taken off him, a 35-goal season is quite possible, and that would make him a solid fantasy starter again.

The next big question is whether Wild super-prospect Mikael Granlund steps in and fills a role on one of the top two lines. Granlund is an all-world prospect with playmaking skills and should be making the move from Finland for the coming season. If his skill translates quickly, which it should, he is a candidate for either the wing spot opposite Parise or the second-line centerman role. In either case, his skill and linemates will make him worthy of draft-day consideration and an early candidate for the Calder Trophy.

The Wild's gain was the Stanley Cup finalist Devils' loss. Parise leaves a large void that isn't easily filled by any player currently on the Devils' roster or even in their system. Ilya Kovalchuk is the focal point on offense, obviously, but all bets are off for his linemates. Does Travis Zajac's experience trump Adam Henrique's amazing rookie season? It's tough to say, but Henrique had a better 2011-12 season as the centerman for Kovalchuk than Zajac did in 2010-11. Then again, Henrique had Parise on the other side, while Zajac's season with Kovalchuk occurred with Parise on the sidelines. And what of Patrik Elias' role? Does he play on his off-wing to complete the top line, or does David Clarkson get a chance to play on the top line? Or is the team forced to use Dainius Zubrus as a top-liner? One must think the Devils aren't done retooling their forwards for the coming season, and we should perhaps give them more time to do so before thinking about this too much.

Parise was the biggest forward to make a move so far, but he certainly wasn't the only one. Let's look at the impact of a few other transactions involving top 100 fantasy forwards.

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

Olli Jokinen, Winnipeg Jets (up seven spots to No. 66): Jokinen isn't done yet. Sure, he isn't the top-20 fantasy darling he was as a member of the Florida Panthers five years ago. But Jokinen showed us some hints of his former self last season, and a fresh start with the Jets might be just right for him. Young talent will surround Jokinen no matter where he lands on the top two lines, and a return to 30 goals and 70 points isn't out of the question if he clicks with his linemates. As a point of caution, watch for Jokinen to play on a different line than Evander Kane. The 20-year-old Kane has a skill set very much like a young Jarome Iginla, and if we learned one thing about Jokinen in recent years, it's that he doesn't connect with an Iginla-type player on the ice. Rather, Jokinen would fit well with Blake Wheeler and Andrew Ladd, two physically imposing players who don't like to shoot as often as Jokinen.

Jaromir Jagr and Derek Roy, Dallas Stars (both back on the list at No. 78 and No. 85, respectively): To round out the new top-six forwards for the Stars, Ray Whitney is also up one spot in the rankings to No. 39. The Stars got a lot older with some of their moves, but they also got a lot more skillful if everyone stays healthy. Jagr makes for an amazing linemate for any centerman, but Jamie Benn should be able to match up particularly well with Jagr. The veteran Jagr may be slowing down, but his puck skills allow Benn to use him as an effective weapon. Though he is a year older, Jagr should outperform the 54 points he had with the Philadelphia Flyers last season if he stays healthy.

Roy, meanwhile, makes for an ideal No. 2 centerman for the club. There were plenty of signs that his game was beginning to come back last season after he missed the bulk of 2010-11 because of a torn quadriceps. At 29 years old, he might not return to the 80-point threshold in his role of second-line center, but Roy could bring his game back to the 65-70 point level with a much-improved plus/minus on this Stars team. Whitney, who is a few months younger than Jagr, showed no signs of his age with the Phoenix Coyotes last season, turning in arguably the best fantasy season of his career. The upgrades provided by Roy and Jagr, combined with the remaining talent in Benn, Michael Ryder and Loui Eriksson will give Whitney every chance to turn in another great season on this Stars team. Just be careful, because one of Ryder or Brenden Morrow, both fantasy mainstays, will be left out of the Stars' top six if everyone is healthy.

Mikael Samuelsson, Detroit Red Wings (enters list at No. 98): Samuelsson is worth keeping a close eye on, because as of this date, he is probably the second-most skilled winger on the club (behind Johan Franzen). Todd Bertuzzi is slowing down big-time, Jiri Hudler moved on to the Calgary Flames, and Dan Cleary has not shown up as hoped as a top-six winger. Meanwhile, Samuelsson has shown he can play with the some of the most skilled players in the world (Sedin twins) and keep up with them. Pavel Datsyuk or Henrik Zetterberg both make for phenomenal centermen for a player such as Samuelsson, who likes to shoot about every puck he gets.

James van Riemsdyk, Toronto Maple Leafs (enters list at No. 100): We originally had some issues with the Leafs' acquisition of van Riemsdyk a couple weeks ago, but that has lessened over the past week. Upon landing with the Leafs, van Riemsdyk was easily in the top three among the Leafs' skilled forwards (and with a large gap to No. 4 on the list), but he also happened to play the same positions as the other two. In other words, neither Phil Kessel nor Joffrey Lupul nor van Riemsdyk had much experience at the center position. But Leafs coach Randy Carlyle revealed last week that learning to take faceoffs would be van Riemsdyk's first job when camp opens. As such, adding another talented winger to a roster that is without a top-notch fantasy centerman makes a lot more sense if that winger is being converted to play center. With that news, van Riemsdyk's skill becomes a lot more appealing when filling out your fantasy rankings.

Scoring Lines

Brad Boyes, New York Islanders: Yes, there were certainly more appealing options for the Islanders to replace P.A. Parenteau on the top line (alongside John Tavares). But there's something to be said for Boyes' chances as well. Kyle Okposo, Josh Bailey, Nino Niederreiter and Michael Grabner could all be up for the gig as well, but they have all had their chances to play on the Isles' top line already. Boyes might inject a new element that happens to fit nicely with Tavares. It's a long shot, but one that could pay off big-time for fantasy owners if Boyes finds his way next to Tavares.

Guillaume Latendresse, Ottawa Senators: Injuries have hampered Latendresse's career over the past two seasons. After a mind-blowing 25 goals in 55 games with the Wild in 2009-10, Latendresse was limited to 27 games total over the past two seasons. Now with the Senators, he will have a chance for top-six minutes, but he needs to show a renewed dedication to his conditioning to be worth any more than a late selection in fantasy drafts.

Steve Ott, Buffalo Sabres: It seems logical that the Sabres would use Ott as a top-six forward since they gave one up to acquire him (Derek Roy), but the team would be better served offensively with other options focusing on offense. Cody Hodgson and Tyler Ennis are almost sure to line up down the middle on the top two lines. Ennis surely will be back with Marcus Foligno and Drew Stafford on his wings after the way they closed last season. Hodgson is likely to center Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville. Though Ott may be stuck down on the third line, think about how nice it will be for the extremely undersized Nathan Gerbe to have a tough guy that doesn't lack for offensive skills such as Ott for a linemate? Though Ott might lose value in this move, he could still be useful for penalty minutes and might make some players around him more fantasy-useful as well.

Quick Hits

• Jiri Hudler becomes the Flames' most skilled forward after the top three of Mike Cammalleri, Alex Tanguay and Jarome Iginla, and given Cammalleri and Tanguay's spotty health history, Hudler could be called upon for top-line duty often.

Benoit Pouliot proved himself capable while handling top-six minutes for the Boston Bruins during injuries and suspensions to other players. The Tampa Bay Lightning will give him a chance to earn a permanent spot if he can beat out Ryan Malone or Brett Connolly.

Dustin Penner will be worth a late pick in fantasy drafts now that he has re-upped with the Los Angeles Kings. He had an inspiring playoff run on a line with Jeff Carter and Mike Richards.

Alexei Ponikarovsky will be on the outside looking in among the Jets' top six forwards, but that doesn't mean he won't find a way in. After all, he is quite familiar with Nik Antropov as a linemate from their days with the Maple Leafs; they had a very fantasy-friendly 2008-09 season on a line together.

• So who is left as a free agent that will have a big impact when they sign (regardless of locale)? Teemu Selanne (though he would sign only with the Anaheim Ducks), Alexander Semin and Shane Doan. That's it for the forward class of surefire impact forwards. A second tier that includes Jason Arnott, Niklas Hagman, Jason Blake, Andrei Kostitsyn, Brian Rolston and Jamie Langenbrunner might have an impact depending on where they sign and in what role.

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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