- Sean Allen
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[Editor's Note: Since we published the Forecaster on Friday, Sidney Crosby has develloped concussion-like symptons and there is no timetable for his return.]
Word that Sidney Crosby underwent a concussion test after his collision with Chris Kunitz this week, when the injury had initially been believed to be a leg injury, is definitely a concern for fantasy owners. For now, there is no reason to overreact. Crosby has been money since hitting the ice this season after recovering from last season's concussion. In eight games, Crosby has 12 points and is a plus-7. The Pittsburgh Penguins said Crosby would miss two games as a precautionary measure, so as of right now we should consider him available for Tuesday's date with the Detroit Red Wings. The team has been up front so far when it comes to news about Crosby's health so there is no reason to believe the Penguins aren't being completely straightforward this time around as well. The team said Crosby showed no cause for concern after the concussion test and will be back soon. It's two fewer games you will get to enjoy during an already-shortened season from the superstar, but in the grand scheme of things, it shouldn't set you back much.
Thinking about Crosby hitting the infirmary inspired me to consider a few other injury stories around the league that could use some updating.
Mikael Samuelsson, Florida Panthers: Samuelsson played his first game as a member of the Panthers on Thursday and it's clear he won't be waltzing into a top-six role. Samuelsson came to the Panthers in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks for David Booth in October, but hasn't suited up while recovering from a hernia. Samuelsson skated on the fourth line on Thursday and received fewer than 10 minutes of ice time. While it's true the ice time was likely limited to ease him back into action, but if the Panthers had a spot warming for him on the second line they didn't show it by giving him several shifts there. Samuelsson played the game with Tim Kennedy and Krys Barch. We will have to keep an eye on his deployment but there is certainly no cause to rush out and add him. Samuelsson probably doesn't have the kind of game-changing skills to make himself relevant to most fantasy leagues with the Panthers this season. If an injury should befall anyone on the top line though, he would be a huge beneficiary.
Travis Zajac, New Jersey Devils: Practicing with the team again, Zajac is expected to be back on the ice before the end of the month. The question is: What happens to Adam Henrique? The rookie has helped develop the chemistry between Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk on the top line while scoring a bundle on his own. Henrique actually has 19 points in the 17 games he has played as the team's top-line centerman. Parise and Kovalchuk are both starting to string together strong performances as well. So what happens when Parise's go-to wingman returns to the squad? Unfortunately for fantasy owners, a spreading of the offense is the most likely solution. The Devils could pair up Parise-Zajac with another winger and do the same with Henrique-Kovalchuk. The end result would be more players with positive value, but probably lower ceilings for all four guys.
Mike Richards, Los Angeles Kings: This is one of those situations where the Kings are giving foggy answers about Richards' upper-body injury but every report about him makes sure to mention that they aren't classifying it as a concussion. Yet, if it walks like a duck ... There is no timetable for a return and Richards isn't skating since taking a hit to the head on Dec. 1. In his absence the Kings have tried a few scenarios, including simply skating Anze Kopitar at center on both the first and second line. Dustin Penner is off the injured reserve list to help fill the void in the top six and has a point in each of his three games back, playing with Kopitar. Overall, the Kings have managed to score only three goals in three games with Richards out of the lineup; the repercussions of his absence appear to go well beyond his line. For now, consider benching Simon Gagne and Justin Williams, who are skating on the second line with rookie Andrei Loktionov, and let's all hope Richards is back in action soon.
David Booth, Vancouver Canucks: Just as Booth was starting to settle in and heat up as a member of the Canucks, an MCL sprain will keep him out up to six weeks. Obviously, this is a blow to those who were quite excited about his prospects once he joined the Canucks (as I was, perhaps overly). Booth had three goals, two assists and a plus-5 in the six games before he was hurt. This opens up a spot in the top six during the same week Mason Raymond returned to the Canucks from an injury he suffered in last season's playoffs. Raymond will battle Jannik Hansen to stay with Ryan Kesler once Christopher Higgins returns from a foot injury. If Raymond earns Booth's spot, consider picking him up in any medium-to-deep fantasy league (Hansen is less exciting on the second line). It would be better to stash Booth if you can, but depending on the constraints of your league you may have to bid a bitter farewell (look for him on the free-agent pile in mid-January).
Taylor Hall, Edmonton Oilers: Hall missing the past five games with an injured shoulder hurts a little bit more for his owners, knowing the Oilers have continued to pour in points. His return, probably late next week, will rain on Sam Gagner's parade. Gagner has a three-game point streak going on a line with Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky, but that is the role Hall was playing with seven points in the four games before he got hurt. His ownership in ESPN leagues is down to 94 percent, so there is a chance you could grab Hall now before he is back scoring with Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on the power play.
"O" (offense) and "D" (defense) matchup ratings are based upon 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, their performance in home/road games depending on where the game is to be played, as well as their opponents' numbers in those categories. The Games T / H column lists the team's total number of games played as well as home games (T / H), and lists the cumulative rating from 1-10 of that week's matchups.
Anaheim Ducks: Coach Bruce Boudreau is still working out his top two lines. He seems to have settled on Saku Koivu, Teemu Selanne and Bobby Ryan as the second unit, but has changed the winger playing with Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf a few times. Niklas Hagman was the most recent player to get a turn, but Nick Bonino, Matt Beleskey and Andrew Cogliano remain in the mix. Check the box score after Saturday's tilt against the Nashville Predators to see if you can identify which winger might be able to take advantage of the Ducks' O:8 on the Forecaster.
Calgary Flames: The Flames have an O:7 on the Forecaster and are one of only three teams this week with a four-game schedule. And the timing is perfect. The Flames have found their offensive punch of late and have several options for waiver-wire hunters looking to capitalize. Lee Stempniak (available in 99 percent of ESPN leagues) has found a groove with Blake Comeau and Mikael Backlund at even strength and with Curtis Glencross and Brendan Morrison on the second power-play unit. Stempniak has managed a goal and assist in two straight games with three of those points coming on the power play. Morrison (available in 99 percent of ESPN leagues) has six points in two games, though he was moved off Jarome Iginla's line for Thursday's matchup and got both his assists Thursday on the man advantage. For his part, even Olli Jokinen (available in 26 percent of ESPN leagues) is contributing this week with three goals and three assists in his past four games.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Owners of a four-game schedule next week, the Blue Jackets score a lowly O:1 on the Forecaster as three of their contests are against the stingy defenses of the Canucks, Kings and St. Louis Blues. It's not like you are probably rolling a lot of Jackets in your lineup anyway, but one glance at the four-game week might have made you consider some players. If you were thinking about Fedor Tyutin, Nikita Nikitin or Derek Dorsett, wait for a better offensive week.
Dallas Stars: The Stars have a Big Apple road trip next week with games against the New York Rangers, New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils that combine for an O:3 on the Forecaster. When it comes right down to it, no one is scoring save for Eric Nystrom and that is strange enough. If you stop at Jamie Benn while planning your lineup next week, no one is going to blame you. Brenden Morrow will need some time to get his groove back from an upper-body injury and the top six will be healthy together for more than two games in a row (fingers crossed) since the end of October. Ease off the Stars while they have a bad forecast and come back to check on them in a week to see how things have progressed.
New Jersey Devils: The Devils are the third team with that four-game week we always love here at Forecaster Central and the team has a D:10 rating to go with it. It is still hard to adjust to, but Martin Brodeur may cede more than one of those starts to Johan Hedberg. Brodeur has been pulled twice in his past three starts after poor first periods and Hedberg has played solid in his stead. A desperate fantasy owner seeking goaltender stats could even consider starting Hedberg in hopes he can pick up at least two of the starts next week. It is not out of the realm of possibilities.
Vancouver Canucks: Roberto Luongo is coming on strong of late, winning three straights starts, including one game where Cory Schneider played more minutes because Luongo took a puck off the neck. But Luongo was back in net on Thursday for a 20-save win against the Montreal Canadiens. It would not be surprising to see Luongo go on a decent uninterrupted streak of starts at this point, as restoring his confidence would do wonders for the team. As good as Schneider has been, Luongo is the one to start for the Canucks D:9 on the Forecaster next week.
Toronto Maple Leafs: James Reimer looked decent on Tuesday in a loss to the Devils, but has allowed seven goals in two games since returning from a concussion. A bit of rust is to be expected, but the Leafs' schedule calls for a D:2 on the Forecaster. Rust or no rust, it would be unwise to throw a goaltender who hasn't won a game since Oct. 19 into that schedule.
Edmonton Oilers: It's not clear if the wheels have truly started to come off for Nikolai Khabibulin after a terrific start this season. A stretch of rough games had brought his numbers into a more realistic realm, but Khabibulin strung together three two-goal games, which are always welcomed by fantasy owners. Of course, two of those games came against the low-scoring Minnesota Wild and another against the defense-first Predators. Then the Bulin Wall allowed four goals in a loss to the Flames. You can see how there is a case to be made to get off the ride now before it completely comes off the track, but you can also see how he could be excused for a couple rough starts. Either way, the Oilers are a D:1 on the Forecaster next week, so the decision to bench Khabibulin for at least a week has been made easy for you.
Prior to the Flyers passing them Thursday, no team had scored more goals than the Blackhawks so far this season. But only six teams in the NHL have allowed more goals. With such a high-flying, run-and-gun offense this season, it seems any plans for defensive hockey have been tossed out the window by the Hawks. The system has worked so far, with the Blackhawks securely in second place in the Western Conference. But Corey Crawford has suffered for it. He is a sound goaltender who has clearly displayed No. 1 ability in this league. The fact he has a 3.49 goals-against average this season is not his fault. Things have gotten a bit worse during the past three weeks, with the Hawks sneaking into second place for goals allowed during that span. Ray Emery has snuck in a couple wins lately, but extended play by Emery will likely reveal the same systemic problem: The Hawks are so good on offense, allowing three goals per game is not a problem.
That is not to say I wouldn't pick up Emery right now if I had some goalie problems, because that is certainly a keen move. But I wouldn't be banking on a miracle change in strategy that allows Emery to do anything Crawford was unable to at the helm of this team. You have a backup goalie available in 96 percent of ESPN leagues who has won two of his team's past three games and come on in relief in the other game to push the game to a shootout. Absolutely, Emery is a speculative add at this point. Just don't put too many eggs in that basket given the overall dynamics of the club.
Best bets: If you believe in the idea of Roberto Luongo ($14.3M) turning around his poor start to the season, this would be the week where he gets started. The Vancouver Canucks play the Blue Jackets, Hurricanes and Maple Leafs. The Calgary Flames should be a recurring theme in your planning. They looked solid last week and came through big-time. Jarome Iginla ($8.9M) is where the money is, but Olli Jokinen ($6.7M) has been just as hot at a much lower price. Bobby Ryan's ($8.6M) stock has been falling, but he seems to have taken to coach Bruce Boudreau better than most. The Ducks have a good week ahead and Ryan has four points in his past two games.
Weekly bargains: Lee Stempniak ($4.8M) was my personal rental last week, but I'm upgrading him to bargain this week because he could have multi-week value the way the Flames have been playing. Lump Rene Bourque ($6.4M) into the same category as Stempniak. Bourque has five points in five games. Erik Cole ($6.5M) is still very cheap in this game, despite being one of the most consistent scorers for the Montreal Canadiens lately. He could be a long-term add to your team on the cheap right now.
Rentals: Continuing with the Flames theme, but considering a streakier player, Brendan Morrison ($6.0M) has six points in two games since returning from a knee injury. The New Jersey Devils have four games next week and Adam Henrique ($5.9M) is one of the better overall bangs for your buck in this entire game so far.
My roster for next week:
Roberto Luongo, G ($14.3M)
Marc-Andre Fleury, G ($13.5M)
Kevin Bieksa, D ($7.0M)
Erik Karlsson, D ($6.4M / $7.9M on market)
Nikita Nikitin, D ($5.4M)
Alexander Edler, D ($7.9M / $8.3M on market)
Daniel Sedin, F ($9.0M / $10.3M on market)
Sidney Crosby, F ($8.8M / $9.4M on market)
Lee Stempniak, F ($4.8M)
Phil Kessel, F ($7.7M / $9.3 on market)
Henrik Sedin, F ($8.9M / $10.2 on market)
Olli Jokinen, F ($6.7M)
I've been working a balanced attack to the game by trading off part of my roster each week for strong starts, while retaining a core that continues to go up in value. Because of kept players, my team value is now $107.1 million and I'm in the 88th percentile in this game. If it's not too much trouble, I would like to hear some extreme examples of teams that have been keeping their entire roster and teams that have been turning over every week. Tell me what percentile you are in and what strategy you've been using. If you have been heavy on keepers, I'd like hearing an example of a team that has a value much higher than $100 million and is successful. Respond in the comments or on Twitter.
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.