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Monday, November 8, 2010
Front Line: Gaborik squeezed out?

By Sean Allen
Special to ESPN.com

Nothing is certain except for death and taxes, but I really, really doubt Marian Gaborik will be waltzing back into his role as the New York Rangers' top offensive weapon. Gaborik separated his shoulder in an Oct. 15 game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and in the 11 games since, Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov and Ryan Callahan have staked their claim as a first-line unit for the Blueshirts.

The problem here is not even about finding a role for Gaborik on the aforementioned line. No, this line was together even before Gabby was hurt and will stay together after he returns. The problem is that Anisimov, Callahan and Dubinsky are going to draw the better assignments, get the power-play work and play more minutes than Gaborik and the second line.

The Anisimov, Dubinsky and Callahan trio has combined for 38 points so far this season. That's not far behind Dany Heatley, Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton of the San Jose Sharks (43) or James Neal, Brad Richards and Loui Eriksson of the Dallas Stars (46). That's even better than Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Tomas Holmstrom of the Detroit Red Wings (34). Coach John Tortorella can be harsh on players when they do wrong, but he also rewards them when they do well. There is little question this line will be allowed the opportunity to continue shouldering the team's offensive load.

The power-play results aren't up for debate, either. Dubinsky, Callahan and Anisimov have combined for 14 power-play points. Teemu Selanne, Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf of the Anaheim Ducks have only 21. Thornton, Heatley and Marleau have 24. These three Rangers are at least attempting to keep pace with some of the best trios in the league.

For Gaborik owners, perhaps the most concerning fact of all is that, outside of Anisimov, Callahan and Dubinsky, there isn't much offense to work with in Manhattan. Since Gaborik may not be able to supplant one of those players, he is going to be stuck with less-than-impressive linemates. Sean Avery is fourth on the team in scoring amongst forwards with seven points. Alexander Frolov has but two goals and four assists. Several players are tied with five points, including Derek Stepan, who scored 50 percent of his points with an opening-night hat trick.

Gaborik skated with the team on Sunday in practice and is hoping to be cleared for contact drills. That could mean a return in less than a week's time. Unfortunately, his prospects on paper do not appear so good at the moment. That is not to say he won't come back and simply replace Anisimov on the top line without Tortorella batting an eyelash. Maybe he will, and such a scenario would likely be beneficial. Maybe he even returns to an inspired Frolov and Erik Christensen and the trio quickly put Dubinsky, Callahan and Anisimov back in their place as a second line. Could happen. Gabby's return could go swimmingly.

But there is too much stacked against him to validate a quick move up the ranks this week back to the general area he belongs (top 20). Until Gaborik can re-stake his claim to territory on the Rangers, it's Dubinsky, Callahan and Anisimov's world; he is just living in it.

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

1. Alex Ovechkin, Was (1)
2. Sidney Crosby, Pit (2)
3. Steven Stamkos, TB (3)
4. Daniel Sedin, Van (4)
5. Nicklas Backstrom, Was (5)
6. Henrik Sedin, Van (6)
7. Dany Heatley, SJ (7)
8. Alexander Semin, Was (8)
9. Pavel Datsyuk, Det (9)
10. Evgeni Malkin, Pit (10)
11. Brad Richards, Dal (11)
12. Ryan Getzlaf, Ana (12)
13. Mike Richards, Phi (13)
14. Jonathan Toews, Chi (18)
15. Jeff Carter, Phi (15)
16. Ilya Kovalchuk, NJ (14)
17. Nathan Horton, Bos (17)
18. Eric Staal, Car (19)
19. Patrick Kane, Chi (20)
20. Joe Thornton, SJ (21)
21. Corey Perry, Ana (22)
22. Rick Nash, Cls (23)
23. Chris Stewart, Col (24)
24. Patrick Marleau, SJ (25)
25. Martin St. Louis, TB (29)
26. Henrik Zetterberg, Det (27)
27. Mikko Koivu, Min (35)
28. Marian Hossa, Chi (30)
29. Bobby Ryan, Ana (26)
30. Paul Stastny, Col (31)
31. Johan Franzen, Det (28)
32. Jarome Iginla, Cgy (32)
33. Anze Kopitar, LA (33)
34. Daniel Alfredsson, Ott (34)
35. Patrick Sharp, Chi (44)
36. John Tavares, NYI (36)
37. Phil Kessel, Tor (37)
38. Tomas Plekanec, Mon (38)
39. Alex Burrows, Van (39)
40. Marian Gaborik, NYR (40)
41. Danny Briere, Phi (41)
42. Loui Eriksson, Dal (45)
43. Mike Cammalleri, Mon (42)
44. Ryan Smyth, LA (43)
45. Jason Spezza, Ott (46)
46. Ryan Kesler, Van (47)
47. Jordan Eberle, Edm (49)
48. Milan Lucic, Bos (50)
49. Scott Hartnell, Phi (53)
50. Tim Connolly, Buf (54)
51. Derek Roy, Buf (55)
52. Patric Hornqvist, Nsh (56)
53. Travis Zajac, NJ (51)
54. Alex Tanguay, Cgy (52)
55. Olli Jokinen, Cgy (57)
56. Steve Downie, TB (58)
57. David Krejci, Bos (48)
58. Matt Duchene, Col (59)
59. Stephen Weiss, Fla (60)
60. Claude Giroux, Phi (74)
61. Vincent Lecavalier, TB (62)
62. Thomas Vanek, Buf (63)
63. Ales Hemsky, Edm (61)
64. David Booth, Fla (64)
65. Brenden Morrow, Dal (65)
66. James Neal, Dal (66)
67. Matt Cullen, Min (71)
68. Teemu Selanne, Ana (78)
69. Scott Gomez, Mon (68)
70. Milan Hejduk, Col (100)
71. David Backes, StL (70)
72. Andrei Kostitsyn, Mon (72)
73. Tomas Holmstrom, Det (75)
74. Nik Antropov, Atl (81)
75. Mikael Samuelsson, Van (69)
76. Steve Sullivan, Nsh (76)
77. Dustin Brown, LA (98)
78. Patrik Elias, NJ (67)
79. David Perron, StL (82)
80. Jason Arnott, NJ (73)
81. Shane Doan, Pho (79)
82. Dustin Penner, Edm (77)
83. Jamie Langenbrunner, NJ (80)
84. T.J. Oshie, StL (95)
85. Evander Kane, Atl (84)
86. Mike Knuble, Was (86)
87. Josh Bailey, NYI (83)
88. Todd Bertuzzi, Det (87)
89. Brandon Dubinsky, NYR (NR)
90. Mike Fisher, Ott (88)
91. Brooks Laich, Was (94)
92. Derick Brassard, Cls (99)
93. Shawn Horcoff, Edm (89)
94. Ryane Clowe, SJ (90)
95. Andrew Ladd, Atl (97)
96. Niclas Bergfors, Atl (91)
97. Rene Bourque, Cgy (92)
98. Taylor Hall, Edm (93)
99. Joe Pavelski, SJ (96)
100. Drew Stafford, Buf (85)

Rising and Falling

David Krejci, Boston Bruins (down nine spots): Krejci will miss a week with a minor concussion. While I'm not doctor, a lot of NHL players are back from "minor" concussions by the next game. So to be automatically ruled out for a week is a bit foreboding for Krejci's fantasy owners.

Drew Stafford, Buffalo Sabres (down 15 spots): According to coach Lindy Ruff, Stafford will miss "some good time" thanks to an upper-body injury suffered Friday. Like the rest of the Sabres, Stafford's production was down of late anyway. What fantasy owners need to look for now is the Tyler Ennis show. Believed to be one of the Calder hopefuls heading into the season, Ennis was buried by Stafford's hot start to the season. He finished out the weekend playing with different combinations in the Sabres' top six and will get a true chance to show his ability with Stafford on the sideline. Pick him up now to be ahead of the curve.

Scoring Lines

Raffi Torres, Vancouver Canucks: This isn't an endorsement of Torres as a good pickup, but rather an opportunity to highlight the third line of the Canucks. The trio of Torres, Jannik Hansen and Manny Malhotra looks to be a combination that will have a few hot weeks during the season. Torres and Malhotra are actually putting up a point per game during the past two weeks. Now might not be the time to employ them, as a cold streak is due, but watch for a good Canucks schedule in the Forecaster and consider them for peripheral use.

Jeff Skinner, Carolina Hurricanes: I'm loving this kid. Skinner is finding ways to score and force his way up the Hurricanes' depth chart. Originally on the fourth line, he has now passed Brandon Sutter as far as the talent he gets on his wings. Playing with Erik Cole and Tuomo Ruutu of late, Skinner has four goals and four assists in his past seven games. That includes three power-play points as part of the second unit.

Power Plays

Martin Havlat, Minnesota Wild: In lieu of an injured Antti Miettinen, Havlat is finally being included on the potent Wild power play. Complaints (from his agent) over his ice time and role on the team aside, Havlat has nine points in 13 games, which is certainly nothing to thumb your nose at. He has points in three straight, including his first goal of the season. His ownership in ESPN leagues is slipping, but it should be going in the other direction; six of his nine points have come on the man advantage.

Bobby Ryan, Anaheim Ducks: Cam Fowler's return to the Ducks is bad news for fantasy owners of Ryan. The rookie's presence on the blue line means he is present on the power play with Lubomir Visnovsky. So rather than using all four powerhouse forwards at their disposal, the Ducks have left Ryan on the outside, watching Teemu Selanne, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry rack up the power-play points. It's not a huge knock to his overall value, as Ryan is still with Getzlaf and Perry at even strength and he remains a dominant force, but the extra PPP were a nice bonus to his value.

Infirmary

Zach Parise, New Jersey Devils: The worst fears have been realized with Parise owners gearing up to be without their first-round draft pick for three months. Exploratory surgery determined that Parise has torn meniscus in his right knee. He'll be down and out until January. Only Jamie Langenbrunner has not had a negative fantasy value on the ESPN Player Rater over the past two weeks, so this Devils team remains in shambles. Ilya Kovalchuk has stepped onto the top line with Langenbrunner and Travis Zajac, but the threesome has shown little ability to work together. Anyone looking to find some value in the void left by Parise should move on from this mess known as the Devils. Parise, meantime, falls onto your injured reserve if you have one. If you don't, you'll have to make your own judgment call as to keeping him. But remember, if you can't make it to a competitive position in February with him as dead weight, cut him loose.

Marian Hossa, Chicago Blackhawks: Hossa made his return to the Blackhawks' lineup on Sunday night, although it was rather uneventful for him. In fact, going back four games before the injury, Hossa has been blanked. So after scoring 11 points in his first seven games, he has zero in five games. He'll get back in the saddle again, no doubt. Hossa was skating with Tomas Kopecky and Patrick Sharp, both of whom helped out with his hot start. Kopecky, in fact, may return to the star-by-association status he had to begin the season. Given Kopecky's minus-11 over his past seven games, he is available in many leagues now, too. Another solid outcome from Hossa's upper-body injury, which kept him out five games, is that Viktor Stalberg managed to sift to the top of the depth chart during that time frame. Stalberg is a talented player who is finally plying his trade at the NHL level. Skating with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane has Stalberg with four points in the past three games. Check him out as he certainly has done more to impress than Jack Skille, Troy Brouwer or Ryan Potulny have.

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

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