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Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Front Line: Stajan, Callahan join Top 100

By Sean Allen
Special to ESPN.com

Front Line will be taking a couple weeks off during the Olympic break, so we better take some time to welcome all the new members of the Top 100 club.

Hello, Matt Stajan, C, Calgary Flames: We know you may feel insulted that it took a trade for you to be included in the Top 100, but how could we justify sending you an invitation when you were a 55-point center on a bottom-dwelling team? You certainly have moved up in the world in recent weeks. It's not that Phil Kessel isn't a strong linemate, but he is not nearly as proven as your new friend Jarome Iginla. The best news about the whole thing is that you didn't have to make the trip alone. Your old friend Niklas Hagman has joined you as well. Welcome to the club and we hope things work out as well as they appear to be.

Good day to you, Ryan Callahan, RW, New York Rangers: We understand if you feel a bit snubbed by the late invitation. You have been putting up a decent number of points this season, with an emphasis on power-play production. But it was a classic case of location, location, location. We thought your neighborhood was still missing one nice piece of property with a high assessment value before we could send out the call for you to join our club. We are pleased to see you have attracted Olli Jokinen to not only reside on your power-play line, but also to set up a summer cottage on your even-strength unit. That is more than enough for us to include you.

Top 100 Skaters

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 parentheses.

1. Alex Ovechkin, LW, Was (1)
2. Sidney Crosby, C, Pit (2)
3. Dany Heatley, RW, SJ (3)
4. Marian Gaborik, RW, NYR (4)
5. Patrick Marleau, C, SJ (7)
6. Evgeni Malkin, C, Pit (5)
7. Zach Parise, LW, NJ (6)
8. Henrik Sedin, C, Van (9)
9. Ilya Kovalchuk, LW, NJ (11)
10. Nicklas Backstrom, C, Was (13)
11. Mike Richards, C, Phi (8)
12. Joe Thornton, C, SJ (10)
13. Anze Kopitar, C, LA (12)
14. Daniel Sedin, LW, Van (14)
15. Corey Perry, RW, Anh (15)
16. Jarome Iginla, RW, Cgy (16)
17. Steven Stamkos, C, TB (18)
18. Rick Nash, LW, Cls (17)
19. Eric Staal, C, Car (20)
20. Bobby Ryan, RW, Anh (19)
21. Patrick Kane, RW, Chi (21)
22. Alexander Semin, LW, Was (22)
23. Jeff Carter, C, Phi (23)
24. Alex Burrows, C, Van (25)
25. Ryan Getzlaf, C, Anh (24)
26. Pavel Datsyuk, C, Det (28)
27. Jonathan Toews, C, Chi (27)
28. Ryan Malone, LW, TB (26)
29. Marian Hossa, RW, Chi (29)
30. Paul Stastny, C, Col (30)
31. Henrik Zetterberg, C, Det (31)
32. Ryan Kesler, C, Van (32)
33. Loui Eriksson, LW, Dal (33)
34. Brad Richards, C, Dal (39)
35. Mikko Koivu, C, Min (35)
36. Vincent Lecavalier, C, TB (36)
37. Brenden Morrow, LW, Dal (37)
38. Scott Hartnell, RW, Phi (34)
39. Brooks Laich, C, Was (40)
40. Martin St. Louis, RW, TB (41)
41. Patrick Sharp, C, Chi (42)
42. Tim Connolly, C, Buf (43)
43. Olli Jokinen, C, NYR (47)
44. Tomas Plekanec, C, Mon (44)
45. Ryan Smyth, LW, LA (45)
46. Marc Savard, C, Bos (46)
47. Dustin Penner, LW, Edm (38)
48. Travis Zajac, C, NJ (53)
49. Steve Downie, RW, TB (55)
50. Shane Doan, RW, Pho (48)
51. Mike Knuble, RW, Was (49)
52. Daniel Alfredsson, RW, Ott (50)
53. Mike Fisher, C, Ott (57)
54. Nathan Horton, RW, Fla (52)
55. Martin Havlat, LW, Min (54)
56. Mason Raymond, LW, Van (61)
57. Phil Kessel, RW, Tor (58)
58. Joe Pavelski, C, SJ (63)
59. Stephen Weiss, C, Fla (51)
60. Bill Guerin, RW, Pit (59)
61. Chris Stewart, RW, Col (64)
62. Mike Cammalleri, LW, Mon (62)
63. Patrik Elias, LW, NJ (68)
64. Jamie Langenbrunner, RW, NJ (70)
65. Patric Hornqvist, RW, Nsh (69)
66. Wojtek Wolski, LW, Col (65)
67. Jason Arnott, C, Nsh (66)
68. Brian Gionta, RW, Mon (71)
69. Ryane Clowe, RW, SJ (67)
70. Vaclav Prospal, C, NYR (72)
71. John Tavares, C, NYI (56)
72. Jason Spezza, C, Ott (83)
73. Andrew Brunette, LW, Min (74)
74. Thomas Vanek, LW, Buf (80)
75. Teemu Selanne, RW, Anh (75)
76. David Backes, C, StL (76)
77. Kyle Okposo, RW, NYI (73)
78. Mikael Samuelsson, RW, Van (77)
79. Jussi Jokinen, LW, Car (89)
80. Guillaume Latendresse, RW, Min (78)
81. Rene Bourque, LW, Cgy (85)
82. Kris Versteeg, RW, Chi (82)
83. James Neal, LW, Dal (86)
84. Dustin Brown, RW, LA (87)
85. Jason Pominville, RW, Buf (99)
86. Maxim Afinogenov, RW, Atl (81)
87. Michael Frolik, C, Fla (90)
88. Alexei Kovalev, RW, Ott (91)
89. Alexei Ponikarovsky, LW, Tor (92)
90. Troy Brouwer, RW, Chi (98)
91. Nik Antropov, RW, Atl (93)
92. Simon Gagne, LW, Phi (94)
93. Ryan Callahan, RW, NYR (NR)
94. Jarret Stoll, C, LA (97)
95. Wayne Simmonds, RW, LA (NR)
96. Matt Duchene, C, Col (NR)
97. Ray Whitney, LW, Car (NR)
98. Jordan Staal, C, Pit (NR)
99. Tomas Fleischmann, RW/C, Was (NR)
100. Matt Stajan, C, Cgy (NR)

Welcome back, Matt Duchene, C, Colorado Avalanche: We are quite sincere in our apology for kicking you out of the club several weeks back. It was a misjudgment on our part. Your hard work is really paying off for you, and your ability to get open on the power play for your seven man-advantage goals is exceptional. When we rescinded your membership, we did not think you could keep up a strong pace while playing on a different line than Paul Stastny, but you have proven us wrong. Please accept our sincere apology.

It's good to see you, Ray Whitney, LW, Carolina Hurricanes: We are quite relieved by you presence, Mr. Whitney, as some of us have grown so accustomed to you over the years we were concerned about your well-being when you didn't renew your membership this season. We understand you were quite busy searching for the 'real' Eric Staal for most of that time, and understand you only recently found him. We are so glad you two get along so well again and are able to parlay your recent success into a membership renewal. We do understand that you purchased our flex package, which allows you to move to a new location and still maintain your membership. Of course, there are restrictions on the flex package and you must move to a much more productive environment in order for it to become applicable.

Ah, there you are, Jordan Staal, C, Pittsburgh Penguins: We were informed some time ago by your brother to expect you this season, and we apologize for your late arrival as it was an error on our part. We seemed to have simply overlooked you on the passenger manifest for several weeks now. Apparently, our concierge thought he developed a case of double vision when he saw the name Staal appear twice on the list. It was entirely our mistake though and we don't want you to think otherwise for a second. Clearly, your career season is worthy of a membership and the fact you have maintained a respectable plus/minus only adds to your resume. To achieve all you have while playing third-chair fiddle to a couple of our premium members makes it even more impressive. Again, sir, please forgive us and enjoy a free continental breakfast during your stay.

Rising and Falling

Patrik Elias, LW, New Jersey Devils (up five spots): I had deep concerns about Elias when he was "out indefinitely" with a concussion, but he has returned ahead of schedule and seems to have won the lottery while he was away. Not only was Elias healthy and scoring in the Devils' win Saturday, but he was also skating on a line with the newly acquired Ilya Kovalchuk. Elias has moldable talent that can fit whoever happens to be his linemate, so expect him to become quite the assist man if the combination is allowed to blossom.

Patrick Marleau, C, San Jose Sharks (up two spots): Moving up two spots might not be a big deal for most players, but when you are in the top 10, it becomes quite significant. It's not so much a knock on the two players Marleau leapfrogged (Evgeni Malkin and Zach Parise), but the move is a testament to the fact that Marleau has been a top-five talent this year and needed to be ranked as such. Marleau is on pace for 53 goals and 89 points with a plus-36 rating. A lot of it has to do with his powerhouse linemates Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley, but that doesn't appear to be changing any time soon.

John Tavares, C, New York Islanders (down 15 spots): If he wasn't so spectacularly talented, I'd remove him from the board completely. Tavares has been a dead weight since he hit the rookie wall in early December. We can look at the fact that Blake Comeau has been his consistent linemate since about the same time, but then we get into a "chicken or egg" argument as both Matt Moulson and Kyle Okposo (the two players with whom Tavares found success early in the season) have been the third member of his line at different times. The fact of the matter is that Tavares' slump has rendered him almost useless. I though I was being a bit unfair when I only pegged him for 65 points in our draft kit, but now it looks like he will be lucky to get 50 points. Hopefully, the Olympic break will give him time to review some tapes and maybe figure out his problems. I'm losing faith, but it's not completely gone yet.

Scoring Lines

• Only the Washington Capitals' top line has had a better week than the Toronto Maple Leafs' new combination of Phil Kessel, Alexei Ponikarovsky and Tyler Bozak. Obviously, Bozak is the widely available name you could scoop up for your team.

• Although I still have trouble seeing him having much value the rest of the season, Niclas Bergfors landed in the best possible spot on the Atlanta Thrashers' depth chart, playing on a line with Nik Antropov and Bryan Little.

Jakub Voracek and Derick Brassard received almost three additional minutes of ice time each in the Columbus Blue Jackets' most recent game under new head coach Claude Noel. They responded with a combined four points.

• A three-game losing streak and a healthy Dave Bolland helped shake up the Chicago Blackhawks' lines for the first time in a while. Winners: Bolland and Tomas Kopecky, who landed with Marian Hossa. Losers: Troy Brouwer and Andrew Ladd, who were cast out of the top six.

Power Plays

• Callahan was mentioned at the top of this article, but the Rangers power play really does look better with Jokinen. Vaclav Prospal is also benefiting by the move, and he is available in 30 percent of leagues.

T.J. Oshie has assists in five straight games, with four helpers coming on the power play. The St. Louis Blues have been using a five-forward unit on occasion, with Oshie a central piece.

• While Simon Gagne doesn't seem to remember how to score 40 goals any more, he has managed to find a way to set up goals. He has five assists in his past five games, three on the power play.

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.