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Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Updated: October 14, 11:48 AM ET
Front Line: A leap of faith

By Sean Allen
Special to ESPN.com

I know it's early in the season, but every time you look at the list of players scoring better than a point per game and see both Marian Gaborik and Martin Havlat, it's hard to resist checking to see if the sky is still blue and the grass still green. Gaborik and Havlat are forever linked as the two poster boys for chronically injured superstars. Both can dominate the game when healthy, but both have missed countless games in their careers due to bouts with injury.

Both Gaborik and Havlat had a change in address this season, with Gaborik finally leaving the Minnesota Wild via free agency to sign on Broadway with the New York Rangers. Havlat then inked a deal to replace Gaborik in Minnesota after a strong season as the Chicago Blackhawks' secondary scorer. So far, so good for the change of scenery as both players have opened the 2009-10 season on a tear.

In our preseason rankings, both Gaborik and Havlat were heavily discounted because season after season has taught us that pinning your hopes on the health of Gaborik's groin or Havlat's shoulder is a recipe for disappointment. However, once you see these two players hit the ice, dodge through opposing defenses and consistently light the lamp it's hard not to start moving them up the rankings. But am I once again setting myself up to get burned?

Here's why I don't think so: There is one other thing these two guys have in common: Both have a little bit of prima donna in them. Gaborik and Havlat both have had contract holdouts in the past, refusing to play until they got more money. Both have complained in the past about not being the focus of the offense, and rightfully so as Havlat was on the second line in Chicago and Gaborik had to play by coach Jacques Lemaire's strict defensive rules in Minnesota.

Now, given the fact that both players are in a new situation and are the focus of the offense for the team they play for, I'm willing to bet both are inspired to adopt a new work ethic. I don't believe either player has suffered from a Kari Lehtonen-esque lack of training in the past to account for their injuries and I don't want to sound like I am discounting their past ailments as unwillingness to work, but I am willing to bet they are working quite a bit harder in their new surroundings. Gaborik and Havlat are both human after all, and don't you work harder when you are doing a job you love?

I've moved both players up in the rankings this week -- Havlat 21 spots to No. 60 and Gaborik up 17 to 28. The jump is accounting for the fact that I expect a healthy, productive year out of both players. Admittedly, it sounds like a leap of faith, but the value from players like Gaborik and Havlat cannot be underestimated. They can literally play among the best in the league if healthy, and as big as that "if" may be, things are looking good for these guys to stay out of the trainer's room this season.

And if you are wondering: I believe the odds are 10-1 that Gaborik pulls his groin within an hour of this article being published and 30-1 on Havlat to break his shoulder. Any takers?

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 goals, shots on goal, plus/minus, penalty minutes and average time on ice. Last week's ranking is indicated in parentheseses.

RK. Name, Team (Last Week)
1. Alex Ovechkin, LW, Was (1)
2. Evgeni Malkin, C, Pit (2)
3. Pavel Datsyuk, C, Det (3)
4. Sidney Crosby, C, Pit (4)
5. Zach Parise, LW, NJ (5)
6. Jeff Carter, C, Phi (6)
7. Dany Heatley, RW, SJ (7)
8. Marc Savard, C, Bos (9)
9. Henrik Zetterberg, C, Det (10)
10. Rick Nash, LW, Cls (11)
11. Olli Jokinen, C, Cgy (8)
12. Ryan Getzlaf, C, Anh (12)
13. Mike Richards, C, Phi (21)
14. Bobby Ryan, RW, Anh (13)
15. Eric Staal, C, Car (14)
16. Corey Perry, RW, Anh (15)
17. Jonathan Toews, C, Chi (16)
18. Alexander Semin, LW, Was (19)
19. Patrick Kane, RW, Chi (28)
20. Nicklas Backstrom, C, Was (24)
21. Joe Thornton, C, SJ (18)
22. Alexandre Burrows, C, Van (22)
23. Jarome Iginla, RW, Cgy (20)
24. Scott Hartnell, RW, Phi (23)
25. Ilya Kovalchuk, LW, Atl (31)
26. David Booth, LW, Fla (26)
27. Brenden Morrow, LW, Dal (32)
28. Marian Gaborik, RW, NYR (45)
29. Mike Knuble, RW, Was (27)
30. T.J. Oshie, C, StL (29)
31. Milan Lucic, LW, Bos (30)
32. Devin Setoguchi, RW, SJ (42)
33. John Tavares, C, NYI (33)
34. Michael Ryder, RW, Bos (34)
35. Nathan Horton, RW, Fla (35)
36. Patrick Marleau, C, SJ (36)
37. Dave Bolland, C, Chi (40)
38. Tuomo Ruutu, C, Car (37)
39. Henrik Sedin, C, Van (43)
40. Teemu Selanne, RW, Anh (39)
41. Mike Cammalleri, LW, Mon (38)
42. Derick Brassard, C, Cls (41)
43. Daniel Alfredsson, RW, Ott (44)
44. Tomas Holmstrom, LW, Det (46)
45. Sean Avery, C, NYR (56)
46. Simon Gagne, LW, Phi (47)
47. Vincent Lecavalier, C, TB (58)
48. Alexei Kovalev, RW, Ott (48)
49. Travis Zajac, C, NJ (50)
50. Scott Gomez, C, Mon (51)
51. Brad Boyes, C, StL (52)
52. Chris Kunitz, LW, Pit (53)
53. Patrick Sharp, C, Chi (57)
54. Patrik Berglund, C, StL (49)
55. Jason Arnott, C, Nsh (60)
56. Blake Wheeler, RW, Bos (61)
57. Brooks Laich, C, Was (70)
58. David Backes, C, StL (55)
59. Patrik Elias, LW, NJ (59)
60. Martin Havlat, LW, Min (81)
61. Mikko Koivu, C, Min (64)
62. Thomas Vanek, LW, Buf (63)
63. Brian Rolston, LW, NJ (65)
64. Anze Kopitar, C, LA (NR)
65. David Perron, LW, StL (66)
66. Brian Gionta, RW, Mon (67)
67. David Krejci, C, Bos (62)
68. Paul Stastny, C, Col (69)
69. David Clarkson, C, NJ (76)
70. Steven Stamkos, C, TB (77)
71. Danny Briere, C, Phi (71)
72. Ryan Smyth, LW, LA (NR)
73. Shane Doan, RW, Pho (72)
74. Jason Spezza, C, Ott (73)
75. Mark Recchi, RW, Bos (74)
76. Marian Hossa, RW, Chi (75)
77. Martin St. Louis, RW, TB (85)
78. Daniel Sedin, LW, Van (17)
79. Milan Hejduk, RW, Col (NR)
80. Ryane Clowe, RW, SJ (78)
81. Mike Ribeiro, C, Dal (79)
82. Wojtek Wolski, LW, Col (NR)
83. Kyle Okposo, RW, NYI (80)
84. Joe Pavelski, C, SJ (68)
85. Brad Richards, C, Dal (89)
86. Claude Giroux, RW, Phi (82)
87. Ryan Malone, LW, TB (83)
88. Michael Frolik, C, Fla (84)
89. Daniel Carcillo, LW, Phi (54)
90. Mikael Samuelsson, RW, Van (86)
91. Brandon Dubinsky, C, NYR (NR)
92. Derek Roy, C, Buf (87)
93. Paul Kariya, LW, StL (96)
94. Stephen Weiss, C, Fla (88)
95. Ryan Kesler, C, Van (90)
96. Ray Whitney, LW, Car (91)
97. Slava Kozlov, LW, Atl (92)
98. Radim Vrbata, RW, Pho (NR)
99. Alex Tanguay, LW, TB (93)
100. Bryan Little, C, Atl (94)

Daniel Carcillo, LW, Flyers (down 35 spots): Who needs a goon when you have a whole squad of them? I'd apologize to the Philadelphia Flyers fans, but I know you are all proud of the toughness of your squad. The point is that with so many players willing to be gritty and defend their teammates, there is no need for an enforcer like Carcillo to run around dropping the gloves. It means we will probably have a new NHL leader in penalty minutes this season and it means Carcillo is quickly looking useless for fantasy purposes. We'll give him one more week before he drops right out of the rankings.

Daniel Sedin, LW, Canucks (down 61 spots): The big drop is to reflect the six weeks you are losing from Daniel's broken foot. Remember that the rankings are for ESPN.com standard leagues, which are rotisserie. In head-to-head formats, I wouldn't drop the scoring twin out of the top 50.

Sean Avery, LW, Rangers (up 11 spots): I dropped Avery 19 spots last week when it looked like he wouldn't make the Rangers' top six once healthy, and I'm giving him back 11 of those spot to adjust for the fact that life outside the Rangers' top six isn't so bad. With rookie Artem Anisimov and speedster Enver Lisin as linemates, Avery has managed two goals and one assist in his first two games of the season. Avery doesn't need to keep up the scoring pace to have value, as long as the penalty minutes start flowing (he has zero so far).

Scoring Lines

• Another game, another winger beside Jarome Iginla and Olli Jokinen on the Calgary Flames top line. Fredrik Sjostrom skated with the pair of superstars and managed a goal, while coaxing some production out of the slow-starting Jokinen and Iginla. He should get a few more chances in the prime role.

• He hasn't done anything with the opportunity yet, but mercurial winger Maxim Afinogenov has usurped the second line spot beside Slava Kozlov and Todd White from Rich Peverley. It's the power play where those two do most of their damage though, so don't bet on too much from Afinogenov even if he does get going.

• It's only been one game, but since Johan Franzen was lost to the Detroit Red Wings until March, Tomas Holmstrom was shifted from the first line, with Pavel Datsyuk, down to the third with Jason Williams and Justin Abdelkader. He still played the first power-play unit, but his plus/minus potential is greatly reduced down the depth chart.

• It's put up or shut up time for Rob Schremp. The New York Islanders didn't get the offense going Monday night against the Kings, but Schremp played more than 15 minutes on the second line with Doug Weight and Blake Comeau. He had three shots on goal and better start scoring soon if he wants to continue getting a chance in the NHL.

• The Ottawa Senators have switched things up in their top six for their past two games, putting Jonathan Cheechoo with Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek, and Daniel Alfredsson with Alex Kovalev and Mike Fisher. They got mixed results in a win over the Atlanta Thrashers and a loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Keep an eye on things going forward, but the real nugget in there is possible value for Cheechoo if he can stick in the top six.

• We'll have to see what happens when J.P. Dumont returns from injury, but in the meantime Patric Hornqvist looks like a good pickup. He has five points in four games while playing mostly with Jason Arnott and Steve Sullivan on the Nashville Predators first line and top power-play trio.

• After Steve Downie didn't show much to begin the season, coach Rick Tocchet demoted him and promoted Stephane Veilleux to the top six. No that Veilleux has done anything with the opportunity yet, but there are certainly worse things than playing with Vincent Lecavalier and Alex Tanguay.

• The super-line for the Washington Capitals was busted up in their most recent game, with Mike Knuble and Alexander Semin switching places. Knuble promptly assisted on and scored a goal with Alexander Ovechkin drawing a pair of assists on both of them. Clearly Knuble would benefit from a permanent change.

Power Plays

• With four power-play points in four games (five points overall), Andrew Brunette is doing just fine on Minnesota's first line and first power-play unit with Martin Havlat and Mikko Koivu. Absolutely pick him up.

• The Flyers have finally slid Mika Pyorala down to the third line and promoted sleeper Claude Giroux to the first power-play unit and top line with Mike Richards and Simon Gagne. Good for you for not dropping him when he opened the season in a tough spot.

Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com and the 2008 Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Hockey Writer of the Year. You can e-mail him here.