Things are coming to a head sooner rather than later for the Boston Bruins.
Marc Savard has been cleared for full-contact practice with the team and an early- to mid-December return is being speculated on. Not to dwell too long on the implications for the Bruins' front office, as salary-cap issues are not too concerning for fantasy owners, but the team might be forced to lose a nice role-playing winger like Michael Ryder. However, for now, we will ignore the salary-cap concerns and focus on the Bruins' depth chart.
It was just starting to look like Patrice Bergeron might have performed well enough while David Krejci was hurt to retain some value. Down going into the third period in their most recent game, the Bruins reunited the line -- Bergeron, Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic -- that had been so good while Krejci was out for six games with a concussion. That trio didn't turn the game around, but the Bruins still mounted a comeback with Krejci separated from the top line.
In fact, Krejci had an assist on both of Mark Recchi's goals even though he barely saw the ice with Recchi in the third. No, Krejci was reunited with a line that dominated the league in 2008-09. Krejci, Blake Wheeler and Ryder all were among the league leaders in plus/minus two seasons ago for the Bruins but haven't spent much time together since. Coach Claude Julien might be forecasting his intentions for Krejci once Savard returns to the Bruins' lineup. It certainly would make sense to try to rekindle the magic for that line, while placing Savard in his normal spot at the top of the depth chart. Krejci is a creative playmaker, but few NHLers can hold a candle to Savard if he is 100 percent.
Those line combinations would once again leave Bergeron out in the cold on the third line. Recchi and rookie Tyler Seguin aren't the worst linemates one can have, but they aren't a great fit for Bergeron, either.
So, enjoy what might be one of the final weeks this season of Bergeron having value (pending another injury to Savard or Krejci). And in case it's not painfully obvious, pick up Savard if you are in one of the 22 percent of ESPN leagues in which he is available.
O (offense) and D (defense) matchup ratings are based on a scale from 1 (poor matchup) to 10 (excellent matchup), and are calculated using a formula that evaluates the team's year-to-date and past 21 days' statistics, its performance in home/road games depending on where the game is to be played, as well as its opponents' numbers in those categories. The Games T / H column lists the team's total number of games played as well as home games, and lists the cumulative rating from 1 to 10 of that week's matchups.
Thrashers to be tested: They finally are getting some headlines for the teams they are beating, but if the Atlanta Thrashers get through next week unscathed, it will be even more impressive. The Thrashers are on the road against three tough teams: the Colorado Avalanche, Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals. The Forecaster predicts the Thrashers' hot streak will continue. This team has four lines of offense going most nights, but there still are some key players available in many leagues. First and foremost, Bryan Little has been snagged in only 3 percent of ESPN leagues but has five points in his past six games. He skates between the blooming Anthony Stewart and sophomore Evander Kane. If you are a fan of emotional potential, Stewart might be an option for the week, as it begins with a contest against his brother Chris Stewart and the Avalanche. Finally, Nik Antropov has started to come on stronger. After starting the season with six points and a minus-11 in 14 games, Antropov has five points and a plus-1 in his past seven games. One final word of caution: Ondrej Pavelec has been red-hot, but the Avalanche, Penguins and Capitals mean fantasy owners are playing with fire by starting him.
Stars to shine: In a fairly busy week in the NHL, the Dallas Stars pull rank on the eight teams that have four games and provide fantasy owners with the best offensive rating for the week despite having just three contests. Making the number more intriguing is the fact that the Stars rate only a six on offense in the first game against the Carolina Hurricanes. It's 10s against the Minnesota Wild and Washington Capitals in Dallas that make up the difference. The Stars are a strange team when it comes to fantasy value; six of their skaters are owned in 100 percent of ESPN leagues, but no other skater is owned in more than 3 percent. That's a steep drop-off, and it illustrates the fact that the rich remain rich for the Stars. So really, the only strong recommendation for the week ahead is to start the Stars you own. A desperate fantasy owner could roll the dice on journeyman Brandon Segal. When he is not in the press box, he is playing his 10 minutes a game alongside Brenden Morrow and Mike Ribeiro on the second line.
King Henrik's week: Perhaps this paragraph lead should have had a question mark, the same question mark that resides beside the current stats of New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. I'm not a huge fan of Lundqvist's consistently average contributions to the fantasy world, but there is something to be said for the value of a reliable goaltender, even if his stats don't lead the league. However, Lundqvist doesn't look like himself this season and Martin Biron is slowly establishing some dominance of the Rangers' net. The rope for Lundqvist is long, but it's been about three weeks since he strung together good starts. Looking at the Forecaster, the Rangers draw a strong defensive schedule for the week ahead thanks to a home-and-home with the New York Islanders midweek and a weekend matchup with the hapless Ottawa Senators. If Lundqvist is going to get back on the horse soon, this looks like as good a week as any to do it.
Coyotes howling: The Forecaster rating for the Phoenix Coyotes' four-game week isn't all that great, but it has been only the past seven games in which the team has found its footing, so the stats have to catch up. Still, it looks like this offense has figured itself out, and it's time to get on board with a few of the stars. Ray Whitney paces the team with 10 points during this seven-game win streak, and linemate Radim Vrbata is right behind with seven points. Both players are widely available and a good snag for the week ahead. On defense, David Schlemko has stepped into the puck-moving defenseman role with both Ed Jovanovski and Adrian Aucoin banged up. He has four points in his past three games, including a pair of assists in the contest that both Aucoin and Jovanovski missed. Even though both veteran defensemen will be back sooner than later, Schlemko has shown what he can do and should have a chance to keep doing it.
I love the idea of Patrick O'Sullivan back where it all began with the Minnesota Wild. The Wild offered O'Sullivan more than 17 minutes of ice time on the team's second line in his debut, and he responded with a goal. Yes, he has bounced around without a home for the past couple of seasons, but this guy is one talented hockey player. Don't hesitate to speculate in deep leagues. Teemu Selanne might miss only the one game. Or his 40-year-old, strained groin might keep him out much longer. In his stead, Dan Sexton skated more than 18 minutes with Saku Koivu and Jason Blake, and managed an assist. As the Los Angeles Kings still look to sort out some depth chart issues, Dwight King is being given an opportunity to skate with Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown. Meanwhile, Alec Martinez is getting a shot at pairing with Drew Doughty on the point. Teddy Purcell looks like he would prefer to not have Vincent Lecavalier around as a linemate. After never really catching on earlier in the season, Purcell has eight points in eight games since Lecavalier was hurt.
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 e-mail him here