- Sean Allen
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This is the second-to-last Forecaster of the season and the second-to-last week in which to do some damage in your fantasy league. Whether you're in a head-to-head or rotisserie league, vigilance is required in the homestretch in either case. Taking a page from my colleague Victoria Matiash's Thin Blue Line this week, I want to ask if you are possibly starting some players that maybe you shouldn't be.
Dany Heatley of the Minnesota Wild has exactly two points in 12 games and a minus-5 rating during that span. His only redeeming quality in standard leagues for the past month has been his average ice time. Yet he is still owned in 100 percent of ESPN leagues and likely a regular starter in most of them. Just because he was a reliable 40-goal source for many seasons doesn't mean he is still a dynamic scorer who can generate offense in a vacuum. The bottom may not have fallen out on Heatley forever, but without a playmaker like Mikko Koivu setting him up, he really is no better than average. Drop him if you have to in order to make room for someone actually producing in your lineup.
Adam Henrique is currently ranked 237th among forwards on the ESPN Player Rater over the past 30 days. The New Jersey Devils rookie was a dark-horse Calder candidate a few months ago, but likely is trailing, given his recent production. He is still playing the minutes and taking to the ice with Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise, but Henrique is not being drawn into the offensive action. He has five points in 12 games in March, which is a far cry from when he was pacing closer to a point per game. He's still owned in 58 percent of ESPN leagues, but there must be better options available in the final days.
Are you still starting Milan Hejduk of the Colorado Avalanche because he served you well in the past? Almost 48 percent of ESPN leagues feel he is worth keeping on the roster. This Avalanche team belongs to the youth now, and Hejduk is there as a veteran presence, not to score goals. Since the All-Star break, Hejduk has one goal and five assists. He is 293rd among forwards on the Player Rater for the past month, just below Jim Slater and just above Gregory Campbell. He is definitely dead weight on your roster.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic may have done enough earlier in the season so his overall statistics still seem useful as a fourth or fifth defenseman, but in the past 26 games (since the All-Star break), he has four points and a minus-9 rating. Why is he still being held in 80 percent of ESPN leagues?
We have to stop associating Jay Bouwmeester with the offensive defenseman he was with the Florida Panthers. He hasn't been a fantasy asset in his years with the Calgary Flames. He currently has a minus-15 rating, yet is still owned in 92 percent of ESPN leagues.
To invert a cliché: Sometimes you can't see the individual trees for the forest that is your fantasy team. Take a second look at some of the players on your team who may have traditionally been safe to start and forget about. Those players may actually be hurting your overall numbers, but there are countless more examples of players who might not be helping your team. There are also countless players on the waiver wire who can help your team. As you make a final push to the end of the season, every player on your roster should be fair game to drop.
"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 teams' 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 teams' total number of games played as well as home games (T / H), and lists the cumulative rating from 1 to 10 of that week's matchups.
Buffalo Sabres: As promised in this week's Front Line, the Sabres offense is on a roll lately. Cody Hodgson busted out his Sabres slump with two assists Monday and two goals Wednesday. A three-game week that includes a matchup with the possibly Tomas Vokoun-less Washington Capitals and the hapless Toronto Maple Leafs (as well as a tougher game against the Pittsburgh Penguins) should be a perfectly acceptable schedule to continue relying on the Sabres' recent spike in offense. Playing with Vanek, Hodgson would be a great target; he is available in 95 percent of ESPN leagues. Marcus Foligno is another strong option as he continues to pile on points skating with Drew Stafford and Tyler Ennis. Foligno is available in 95 percent of ESPN leagues and has five goals and two assists in his past six games. If you are willing to dump some underperforming veterans to find players who can contribute in this penultimate week of the season, Hodgson and Foligno might be the place to start looking.
Boston Bruins: All this talk of dropping veterans from your fantasy roster and here we are set to look at a veteran who appeared to be all but dead to fantasy owners this season. Brian Rolston recently remembered how to contribute, going on a three-game point streak that was capped by a four-point night against the Maple Leafs on Monday. Skating with Chris Kelly and Benoit Pouliot on the Bruins' third line may lead you to believe Rolston can't continue to chip in at such a pace, but playing top power-play minutes with David Krejci and Milan Lucic suggests a different outcome. The Bruins have a four-game week on the docket and Rolston is available for use in 98 percent of ESPN leagues. You could do worse than a winger with a wicked shot and power-play time on a team looking to re-establish its identity before the playoffs.
Chicago Blackhawks: In the continued absence of Jonathan Toews, a third-line player, has stepped up his game thanks to a few extra minutes. Andrew Shaw has goals in three straight games, points in four straight games and seven points during that four-game stretch. Yes, he is playing on the power play with Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp, but only one of his points came in that situation. The rest came when he was playing with Dave Bolland and Bryan Bickell on what is supposed to be a two-way defensive line. The Hawks have a four-game week ahead and the third line should continue to play more minutes; Toews isn't ready to come back just yet, needing time to practice and get some contact in before skating in a game.
Edmonton Oilers: They have nothing left to lose, the offense is playing sound and Devan Dubnyk has had a hot March. Part of the reason for his 4-1-1 record, 1.79 goals-against average and .942 save percentage this month might be because of facing some weaker offensive opponents, but that won't change next week. The Dallas Stars, Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks all rank 19th or worse for goals per game this season. Dubnyk is available in 55 percent of ESPN leagues and may be the place to look for some goaltending help as the pickings continue to get slimmer.
Vancouver Canucks: As mentioned last week in the Forecaster, we have been seeing a lot more of Cory Schneider this past week. In fact, we've been seeing more of him than Roberto Luongo. Since we last discussed the issue, Schneider has started three of the four Canucks games, garnering two wins while allowing five goals on 95 shots. Luongo started one game and lost, allowing two goals. Is it enough to pull Luongo back into the lion's share of the workload ahead of a four-game homestand next week? It depends on what happens Saturday. If Schneider is in goal against the Colorado Avalanche, it means that coach Alain Vigneault is not quick to forget Luongo's recent poor play and return him to the unquestioned starter's role. If Luongo is in net Saturday, that means the team is doing everything it can to get Luongo back in his groove before the playoffs begin (which would limit Schneider's value during these final two weeks). Schneider is still available in 33 percent of ESPN leagues, but the decision on whether he can help you next week rests with who gets the nod between the pipes Saturday. Given all the variables, including Luongo's much-criticized postseason track record, I'd be picking up Schneider where I could.
Washington Capitals: Braden Holtby has reminded the Capitals that they still have three legitimate NHL goaltenders. With Tomas Vokoun on the shelf and showing no timetable for a return from a groin injury, Michal Neuvirth didn't seize the reins tightly enough. Enter Holtby, who is now coming off back-to-back quality starts against tough opponents in the Detroit Red Wings and Philadelphia Flyers. The problem is that the schedule doesn't get any easier. Is it more likely that Holtby continues to play giant-killer against the recently hot Buffalo Sabres offense, Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens? Or is it more likely that he cools off or cedes way to Neuvirth during the next week? The safer bet is the latter. The other problem this creates is that neither goaltender is worth your trouble on a week with difficult opponents. Look elsewhere for goaltending.
• Alexander Radulov scored a goal in his first game back in the NHL. He skated with David Legwand and Patric Hornqvist on what will quickly become the Nashville Predators' top line. That may spell trouble for Mike Fisher, Martin Erat and Sergei Kostitsyn. Andrei Kostitsyn and Legwand played with Radulov on the top power-play unit.
• We may have to have another look at Zack Kassian (that, or stop using Henrik Sedin). With Daniel Sedin out for most of the remaining regular season after taking an elbow, Henrik formed a new line with Kassian and Mason Raymond. The line accounted for both Canucks goals in a 2-1 win Thursday.
• Check Alexander Semin's injury status before starting him next week. He missed Thursday's game.
• Also check on Nicklas Lidstrom's status over the weekend. You may be able to start him next week.
It wasn't what I was expecting, but I certainly understand the argument. Why elevate Sidney Crosby from the third line when he makes the third line into the second line with his skill? Crosby has stuck with Tyler Kennedy and Matt Cooke and turned the pair into fantasy relevant scorers. Cooke has five goals and two assists in five games since Crosby returned, and Kennedy has two goals and four assists. While Jordan Staal, Pascal Dupuis and Steve Sullivan have stuck together, their ice time is trending lower and their offensive contributions have been limited compared to Crosby's line.
The other good news is that Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Chris Kunitz continue to crush it as the Penguins' top line. Malkin has seven goals and four assists in five games, Neal has four goals and seven assists, and Kunitz has two goals and three assists.
What does it mean? The first line is still the first line, but the third line is now the second line. I would shift my Penguins investments from Staal, Sullivan and Dupuis and start investing in Cooke and Kennedy. Cooke is available in 92 percent of ESPN leagues and Kennedy is available in 97 percent. They are there for the taking.
Best bets: Marc-Andre Fleury ($13.2M) is still your top option in net. The Pens are winning games and winning is what matters in this game. Fleury has a four-game week, so it is almost impossible to argue against him. The same can be said of the top offensive weapons for the Pens. Evgeni Malkin ($10.6M), Sidney Crosby ($8.4M) and James Neal ($8.9M) are as close as it gets to no-brainers in this game next week. Your other top options in net are Ilya Bryzgalov ($12.0M) and Corey Crawford ($11.4M). Both goaltenders rival Fleury for wins in the past two weeks and have a four-game week on the docket. On defense, a lot of the players who are supposed to be the best are performing up to snuff in recent weeks -- Alex Pietrangelo ($7.5M), Kris Letang ($7.5M), Dan Boyle ($7.6M), Brian Campbell ($7.5M) and Erik Karlsson ($7.8M), just to name a few. It may be a wise decision to look for a sleeper pick or two on offense in order to spend on the big names on defense.
Bargains: With Roberto Luongo showing some signs of life with a decent showing against the Chicago Blackhawks, Cory Schneider ($8.7M) becomes an even riskier pick to save some money on goaltending. As discussed in the Forecaster, watch to see who starts Saturday. Instead of Schneider, a cheap goaltending option can found in Edmonton's Devan Dubnyk ($8.4M). Dubnyk has won four of six starts in March and the team faces bottom-third offenses in three games next week. Martin Havlat ($6.0M) is scoring more often than not since his return from a hamstring injury; his salary is still reduced from missing so much time. The San Jose Sharks also have a four-game week. Looking at Sidney Crosby's linemates might not be a bad idea either. Tyler Kennedy ($5.5M) and Matt Cooke ($5.2M) are scoring like superstars but are priced like scrubs. If you do choose to look for a cheaper defenseman, Marek Zidlicky ($5.4M) leads all defenders during the past 15 days with seven points and, because he was a washout with the Minnesota Wild earlier this season, is still very cheap. Zidlicky is a leader with the New Jersey Devils, though, and should continue to score. Oliver Ekman-Larsson ($5.4M) is another sleeper option. He is starting to show the offensive side of his game lately to complement the defensive qualities he came into the league with.
My roster for next week:
Ilya Bryzgalov, G ($12.0M)
Marc-Andre Fleury, G ($12.9M / $13.2M on market)
Alex Pietrangelo, D ($6.0M / $7.5M on market)
Kris Letang, D ($7.2M / $7.5M on market)
Dan Boyle, D ($6.7M / $7.6M on market)
Erik Karlsson, D ($7.8M / $8.7M on market)
Sidney Crosby, F ($8.0M / $8.4M on market)
Martin Havlat, F ($6.0M)
Evgeni Malkin, F ($8.9M / $10.6M on market)
James Neal, F ($8.9M)
Matt Cooke, F ($5.2M)
Claude Giroux, F ($10.2M)
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.
19hBy Jackie MacMullan