- Sean Allen
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It's time for some changes. A double scoring period for most ESPN fantasy hockey leagues and a divided forecast for the Hockey Challenge offer some unique roster adjustments this week. Pay close attention to the double Forecaster and look twice at your Hockey Challenge roster during this All-Star period. Most leagues with weekly settings will lock in rosters for two full weeks to account for the All-Star Game, and most teams have four or five games during the extended week (one has six and two have only three). The Hockey Challenge ends its first segment on the last game before the All-Star break, and will reset with rolled-back salaries once the season resumes.
"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.
Winnipeg Jets: During this double week of action, the Jets prove that quantity can quickly become quality. The have six games this scoring period, meaning any Jets player you choose will have at least one extra contest compared to anyone else. While the New York Rangers offer some stiff competition in net, goaltending has not been a strength of the Carolina Hurricanes (though they've been solid lately), Philadelphia Flyers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers or Montreal Canadiens (not so solid lately). The overall Forecaster rating is an O:10. First and foremost, you should check Blake Wheeler's availability ahead of next week. After taking a puck to the throat and missing two games, Wheeler was actually dropped in a few leagues and is available in 7 percent of leagues. Linemate Bryan Little is available in 60 percent of ESPN leagues if Wheeler is not there for you. This is the perfect time to watch Wheeler, Little and Kane recapture some magic following a cold streak due to some injuries. Zach Bogosian is also available in 38 percent of leagues and offers some upside on defense. He is expected to be back from a lower-body injury by next week and was starting to string together some solid statistics before he was hurt. In the absence of Dustin Byfuglien, Bogosian had four points -- including two on the power play -- in the five games before getting hurt.
New York Islanders: Two games against the Toronto Maple Leafs followed by contests against the Hurricanes, Ottawa Senators and Buffalo Sabres averages out to an O:9 on the Forecaster for the Islanders. The only scary matchup from a goaltending perspective would be the red-hot Craig Anderson and the Sens (perhaps Cam Ward and the Canes as well, if Ward stays hot). The door has probably closed completely on P.A. Parenteau by the time you are reading this (available in 3 percent of ESPN leagues and closing). Parenteau has been as hot as Matt Moulson and John Tavares by playing on the power play with them. Because the traditional top-line trio has been getting many points on the man advantage, you may not have noticed that Parenteau has not been playing on the top line. That job belongs to Kyle Okposo now. Available in 76 percent of ESPN leagues, Okposo has six points in six games and should be high on your radar for players to pick up.
Tampa Bay Lightning: With only four games, it's a bit of a surprise to see the Bolts pull an O:8 on the Forecaster for this extended week. With the Columbus Blue Jackets, Jets and Panthers accounting for three of the games, it becomes a little more understandable. Currently, the Lightning have separated Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis from Steven Stamkos, which is all the better for Ryan Malone. Playing with Stamkos has meant seven points in six games for Malone, who is available in 83 percent of leagues. Deep leagues wanting to take a stab at success can have a look at Tom Pyatt, who is currently lining up with Lecavalier and St. Louis. Pyatt has two goals in the past three games, but is day-to-day entering this weekend.
Phoenix Coyotes: A three-game week under normal circumstances is nothing to shy away from, but a three-game week for this extended scoring period is bad news. Most teams play five games over this extended All-Star week and the Coyotes only have three. Two of those contests are against streaking goaltenders in Craig Anderson and Jonas Hiller. There is a chance the Coyotes score fewer than five total goals during this scoring period -- not good for fantasy statistics. Under these circumstances, you can probably skip every single player on the team's roster when locking your lineup into place. Let Shane Doan, Radim Vrbata and Keith Yandle cool their heels for a week if you have someone else to start in their place.
Calgary Flames: The only other team with the lowly three-game schedule, the Flames draw the San Jose Sharks, Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks. While the three-game schedule is almost as bad for the Flames as the Coyotes, there are some players you might still want to start. Jarome Iginla can still do more in a limited opportunity than a lot of players around the league. But outside of Iginla, you want to at least consider benching other Flames in favor of players with five (or even six) games to play. Just don't go dropping anybody you shouldn't be.
New York Islanders: This is certainly a good schedule for the Islanders, who now appear in the defensive highlights, thanks to a D:8 on the Forecaster and a starting goaltender available in 67 percent of ESPN leagues. Evgeni Nabokov has won four of five games, allowing seven goals total in that span. Nabby really has just two absolutely sub-par outings since late December and since the Christmas break, he was won seven of 11 games. Whether this hot streak will last or not is a subject for significant debate. What cannot be debated is that the streak is happening as the Isles head into one of the best weeks on the schedule for them. Get Nabokov and use him if you need any help at all with goaltending.
Calgary Flames: It is not just a poor week for the Flames offense, but Miikka Kiprusoff is in trouble too. With the Sharks, Red Wings and Blackhawks, there is a strong chance for Kipper to be above a 3.00 goals-against average during the coming scoring period, which won't help most fantasy teams. Try to find replacement help for Kiprusoff for the coming week.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Just don't look to Jonas Gustavsson as the place for help in the coming scoring period. The going has been good for the Monster lately and he is still available in 35 percent of ESPN leagues, but don't look at him for the coming extended week. The Leafs play a home-and-away series with the Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins, followed by a game against the Senators. All five of those games will feature offenses that have been on a roll lately. It doesn't matter how hot Gustavsson is coming into these games, the Leafs are going to get scored on a lot.
No one is scoring more goals per game than the Dallas Stars offense during the past few weeks. That may not be the case next time we check in with the Forecaster because Jamie Benn will miss a couple games after an appendectomy, but Benn isn't supposed to miss a lot of time (he could even return in time for the All-Star Game). There are going to be plenty of areas to take advantage of the Stars' streaking offense.
The first thing to check is if you are in one of the 9 percent of leagues where Brenden Morrow is a free agent. Morrow is a statistical beast, accumulating above-average stats in almost every single category in ESPN standard leagues (and a few other categories not in standard leagues). He hasn't had the most impressive season to date, but is pacing to approach 20 goals, 40 points and more than 100 penalty minutes. More than anything, Morrow has missed Mike Ribeiro during the past few weeks.
For his part, Ribeiro (available in 13 percent of ESPN leagues) is gearing up for a return from a knee injury after the All-Star break. It is worth checking if he is available in your league as well. Ribeiro has 31 points in 40 games this season and should be a starter in every fantasy league. We won't fault impatient owners for dropping him, but don't let them get away with scooping him back up again.
Once everyone is healthy again it will be time to look at Steve Ott. When the Stars had the top two lines healthy and performing in October, Ott had eight points in 11 games with 25 penalty minutes. He was one of the few options to gain PIMs without giving up hope in other categories. Ott is available in 21 percent of ESPN leagues and is likely to be reunited with Morrow and Ribeiro once everyone is on the ice again.
It's time to let it all hang out this week. All that money you have been saving by holding on to players as their market value increased will be thrown out the window when rosters reset at the All-Star break. There is no clear future advantage this week in holding on to those Sedin twins that are saving you multi-million dollars in salary right now. There is nothing to gain by taking a slow week from your goaltender in order to keep his price low. That said, there is still a week left to compete and some of those savings you've built might come in handy in order to load up your team in other places. The advice this week is to simply make sure you aren't leaving points on the table thinking that you are saving on market prices in the future. The reset button will be hit next week once the season starts up after the All-Star break.
The final week: For me, this is a week to save on goaltenders and load up on offense. The schedule presents an opportunity to take some risks in net in order to maximize your final week on offense. Instead of mainstays at the top of the salary grid in net, consider some cheaper options like Evgeni Nabokov ($9.6M), Ondrej Pavelec ($13.0M) or Jonas Gustavsson ($10.4M). Top options like Tim Thomas ($15.1M), Jonathan Quick ($14.4M), Roberto Luongo ($14.3M), Marc-Andre Fleury ($14.0M) and Henrik Lundqvist ($16.0M) all have just one game before the reset. Pekka Rinne ($16.2M), who appears to be the top choice, allowed five goals to the Chicago Blackhawks last time they met. Antti Niemi ($15.4M) is probably the only top choice that will earn his salt with games against the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames before the break. On defense, go with the hot hands that have two games before the break. Alex Pietrangelo ($7.5M), Erik Karlsson ($9.7M) and Dan Boyle ($9.0M) all stand out in that regard. On offense, have a look at all the two-game teams and pick your favorite. The New York Islanders and San Jose Sharks stand out with the most for potential good weeks. John Tavares ($9.5M), Matt Moulson ($7.1M) and Patrick Marleau ($9.6M) should be high on your list of considerations. Keeping with the Isles/Sharks theme but looking for savings, Benn Ferriero ($5.9M) and Frans Nielsen ($6.6M) have been playing top six and power-play time with their respective teams. The St. Louis Blues and Ottawa Senators also sport some cheaper options for a two-game strike. David Perron ($7.0M), Kyle Turris ($5.2M) and Colin Greening ($7.2M) are slightly cheaper options that have been performing well. On defense, Filip Kuba ($5.4M) has been hot, has two games and has been drafting value off defense partner Erik Karlsson.
My roster for next week:
Antti Niemi, G ($15.4M)
Evgeni Nabokov, G ($9.6M)
Alex Pietrangelo, D ($7.5M)
Erik Karlsson, D ($6.4M / $9.7M on market)
Dan Boyle, D ($9.0M)
Mark Streit, D ($8.2M)
John Tavares, F ($9.5M)
Kyle Turris, F ($5.2M)
Kyle Okposo, F ($7.3M)
P.A. Parenteau, F ($7.6M)
Matt Moulson, F ($7.1M)
Colin Greening, F ($7.2M)
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.
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