|ESPN.com: 2010||[Print without images]|
The Washington Capitals are now awfully close to having four full lines of players who could be top six with several other NHL clubs. As memory serves, of the 12 forwards they iced on Thursday night, only Boyd Gordon hadn't been a regular top-six forward somewhere in the NHL over the past three seasons.
I mention this because Scott Walker dropped a two-spot in his Caps debut on Thursday night ... while playing just about seven minutes of hockey on the checking line with Gordon! This offense is now as deep as they come in the NHL, and you may find a useful reserve or two any given week. Walker and Gordon played the checking line with Jason Chimera.
While you may shy away from a team's fourth line because of ice time issues, have a look at the Capitals' third line: Tomas Fleischmann has 43 points in 51 games; Eric Fehr is not as impressive with 29 points in 51 games but Fehr hasn't had the advantage of significant time on the top two lines. Add in deadline acquisition Eric Belanger, a player who has managed to keep up with elite linemates in the past, and you have reason to be scared of the Caps beyond the firepower in their top six.
Why else do I bring this all up? This week in particular is a great chance to try out some of the new-look Capitals who might be available in your league. Games against the Dallas Stars, Carolina Hurricanes, Tampa Bay Lightning and Chicago Blackhawks all rate eight or better on the offensive scale in the Forecaster. Start by looking at Fleischmann, Fehr and Belanger, but Walker going up against his old team isn't a bad start either. Look on defense as well with Joe Corvo now assuming a role on the first power-play unit and playing a ton of minutes with Tom Poti at even strength.
There is plenty of room to maneuver in ESPN leagues: Corvo is available in 45 percent, Fleischmann in more than 70 percent, Brendan Morrison is actually in the Caps' top six and available in 77 percent, Poti is on the wire in 88 percent, while Belanger and Fehr are available in more than 90 percent. That is a lot of availability for a lot of solid NHL players getting quality ice time with the most offensively dangerous squad around.
Ducks of a feather: You have your no-brainer Anaheim Ducks to start every week in Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan, but with a soft schedule ahead it's time to dig a little deeper. Second-liner Teemu Selanne should be started in every league on a regular basis thanks to his power-play time, but when you see a Forecaster rating of eight for the offense next week, it's worth looking at both Saku Koivu and Jason Blake. Koivu is owned in more than half of ESPN leagues, but Blake is barely owned in a quarter of them. Worst-case scenario with Blake involves you netting some decent shots on goal numbers anyway, so there isn't much to lose.
Lightning to strike: The Tampa Bay Lightning have the healthy combination of a four-game week ahead, combined with a solid Forecaster rating of seven for the offense. Do yourself a favor and pick up Steve Downie if he is available in your league (believe it or not he is available in 60 percent of ESPN leagues). He is still playing on the first line with Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis, both on and off the power play, and helping the folks who have picked him up slay their league mates in penalty minutes. Then go ahead and have a look at Teddy Purcell. I suggested him as a possible player to target after the deadline in case the Bolts decided to try him with top-six minutes. Well, he played 14 minutes on Thursday riding shotgun with Vincent Lecavalier and Ryan Malone, picking up an assist on the way. He has speed and a nose for the net. Why not try him out on a busy week with a softer schedule?
Mine Isles in deep leagues: I just can't lay off the Kool-Aid. Blake Comeau notched a hat trick in the New York Islanders' first game back from the Olympic break, and linemate Rob Schremp put up two points in each of the two games they've played in March. Comeau has six goals in four games if you stretch back before the Olympics and Schremp has 16 points in his past 21 games. Of course, both players were minus-3 on Thursday, so there are certain drawbacks. A four-game schedule has the Isles up against the Philadelphia Flyers, St. Louis Blues, New Jersey Devils and Toronto Maple Leafs next week.
The road Blues: Chris Mason didn't heat up as the calendar flipped on a new year this season, but he is showing some signs of the amazing run he put up to finish last season with the St. Louis Blues. Mason was rock-solid in his final three games before the Olympic break and he stopped all but three of 69 shots in two games since. For those of you counting at home that is a five-game win streak. With the New York Islanders, Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild on the schedule, the Blues aren't putting up with any of the league's top-notch offenses. The schedule is good enough that anyone really desperate for some goaltending numbers might want to start Ty Conklin on Friday and Saturday hoping he gets one of the back-to-back games.
Bruins thrive on Canada: The Boston Bruins do face a tougher midweek game against the Philadelphia Flyers, but it's bookended by a couple of softies against the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens. With Tuukka Rask day-to-day, Tim Thomas owners not only get to start him for the first time in a while, but they get to start him on a good looking week. Of course, follow Rask's health and consider resting Thomas for the Flyers game.
Don't be tempted by Peters or Legace: I know, I know; Justin Peters and Manny Legace have combined to win seven straight contests while Cam Ward nurses a back injury. It's very tempting to look to them for some help if you are hurting in the goaltending department, but don't look now. The upcoming week has back-to-back games against the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins, two offenses that can do a lot of damage if they are on their game. There is possible value in the Carolina Hurricanes' goaltending situation right now, but give it a week to sort itself out first.
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.