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Monday, February 7, 2011
Front Line: How to replace Malkin

By Sean Allen
Special to ESPN.com

Bam! Zap! Pow! Choose whichever 1960s Batman onomatopoeic word you like, the likely loss of Evgeni Malkin for the remainder of the season with a torn ACL and MCL is tantamount to a shot in the gut for his fantasy owners.

Evgeni Malkin
Evgeni Malkin likely finishes the season with 15 goals, 22 assists and a minus-4 rating in 43 games.

This is a huge blow. Maybe Malkin wasn't playing like the top-10 player he can be this season, but that didn't exclude him from doing so for your team during the final months. This is certainly not the same type of loss as Tomas Fleischmann was for fantasy. Fleischmann was a great pickup and a huge bonus, but Malkin was one of your first two draft picks and a cornerstone of your lineup.

Now that I have talked you out onto the ledge, let's see if I can't talk you into backing away from it.

Yes, this is a difficult loss to overcome, but you may be able to make up for it with a few shrewd moves. If you are in a league that is usually tight on trading, the best advice is to be a realist and aim to only replace what Malkin has been doing for your team, instead of what he could have been doing. While he may be considered a top-20 fantasy forward, the reality this season is that he ranks 47th among forwards on the ESPN Player Rater. If you aim to replace that production, rather than aim for a top-20 forward, you may even be able to do it for the cost of a waiver-wire pickup.

Mark Recchi, Boston Bruins: Recchi has shot up to 54th on the ESPN Player Rater and is within a hair of equaling Malkin's value. The lion's share of Recchi's value has been packed into the past month after he hooked up on a line Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand that has been tearing up the league ever since. Recchi is available in 55 percent of ESPN leagues and should be the first choice for most owners looking to replace Malkin.

Of course, since virtually all of Recchi's value is tied directly to his line being so productive, there is risk inherent in such a move. In which case you may consider turning to a player that has been steady all season, but has ramped up his game in recent weeks.

Nikolai Kulemin, Toronto Maple Leafs: While Recchi hadn't done a whole lot before the calendar flipped to 2011, Kulemin has been quietly busy all season. He may be lagging behind his linemates Mikhail Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur on the ESPN Player Rater as the 70th-best forward this season, but he is the catalyst to the line's success. Kulemin has shone through more clearly in recent weeks, ranking as the 30th-best forward on the Player Rater during the past seven days. He may be a bit further down on the list than Malkin or Recchi, but Kulemin is climbing. He is available in 45 percent of ESPN leagues.

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. Steven Stamkos, TB (1)
2. Daniel Sedin, Van (3)
3. Alex Ovechkin, Was (5)
4. Sidney Crosby, Pit (2)
5. Corey Perry, Ana (6)
6. Brad Richards, Dal (4)
7. Nicklas Backstrom, Was (7)
8. Henrik Sedin, Van (8)
9. Pavel Datsyuk, Det (9)
10. Martin St. Louis, TB (10)
11. Jeff Carter, Phi (12)
12. Dany Heatley, SJ (13)
13. Anze Kopitar, LA (14)
14. Alexander Semin, Was (11)
15. Ryan Kesler, Van (18)
16. Jonathan Toews, Chi (16)
17. Eric Staal, Car (17)
18. Mike Richards, Phi (19)
19. Danny Briere, Phi (21)
20. Claude Giroux, Phi (33)
21. Alex Burrows, Van (32)
22. Henrik Zetterberg, Det (22)
23. Loui Eriksson, Dal (31)
24. Rick Nash, Cls (24)
25. Ryan Getzlaf, Ana (25)
26. Joe Thornton, SJ (26)
27. Jarome Iginla, Cgy (27)
28. Bobby Ryan, Ana (20)
29. Mikko Koivu, Min (28)
30. Tomas Plekanec, Mon (39)
31. Marian Gaborik, NYR (29)
32. Paul Stastny, Col (30)
33. Patrick Sharp, Chi (23)
34. Ilya Kovalchuk, NJ (35)
35. Patrick Kane, Chi (34)
36. Teemu Selanne, Ana (38)
37. James Neal, Dal (36)
38. Scott Hartnell, Phi (37)
39. John Tavares, NYI (41)
40. Justin Williams, LA (44)
41. David Backes, StL (40)
42. Patrice Bergeron, Bos (52)
43. Milan Hejduk, Col (42)
44. Jeff Skinner, Car (58)
45. Chris Stewart, Col (46)
46. Logan Couture, SJ (47)
47. Johan Franzen, Det (53)
48. Matt Duchene, Col (49)
49. Shane Doan, Pho (50)
50. Stephen Weiss, Fla (51)
51. Dustin Brown, LA (45)
52. Brenden Morrow, Dal (68)
53. Martin Havlat, Min (43)
54. Steve Downie, TB (76)
55. Ryan Smyth, LA (56)
56. Milan Lucic, Bos (48)
57. Vincent Lecavalier, TB (59)
58. Thomas Vanek, Buf (60)
59. Mike Ribeiro, Dal (61)
60. Marian Hossa, Chi (57)
61. Brandon Dubinsky, NYR (72)
62. Evander Kane, Atl (63)
63. Brian Gionta, Mon (71)
64. David Krejci, Bos (65)
65. Ryane Clowe, SJ (66)
66. Jordan Staal, Pit (NR)
67. Alexander Steen, StL (67)
68. Andrew Ladd, Atl (54)
69. R.J. Umberger, Cls (88)
70. Patrick Marleau, SJ (69)
71. Joe Pavelski, SJ (70)
72. Nathan Horton, Bos (55)
73. Tuomo Ruutu, Car (73)
74. Ville Leino, Phi (75)
75. Scott Gomez, Mon (64)
76. Mark Recchi, Bos (91)
77. Brooks Laich, Was (77)
78. Nikolai Kulemin, Tor (89)
79. Chris Kunitz, Pit (78)
80. Phil Kessel, Tor (62)
81. Mike Cammalleri, Mon (79)
82. Jason Pominville, Buf (82)
83. Drew Stafford, Buf (83)
84. David Booth, Fla (81)
85. Dave Bolland, Chi (92)
86. Alex Tanguay, Cgy (86)
87. Mikhail Grabovski, Tor (94)
88. Travis Zajac, NJ (84)
89. Mikael Samuelsson, Van (NR)
90. Vaclav Prospal, NYR (87)
91. Patrik Elias, NJ (NR)
92. Patric Hornqvist, Nsh (80)
93. Derick Brassard, Cls (97)
94. Michael Grabner, NYI (NR)
95. Ray Whitney, Pho (95)
96. Matt Moulson, NYI (96)
97. Brian Rolston, NJ (NR)
98. Brad Marchand, Bos (NR)
99. Taylor Hall, Edm (NR)
100. T.J. Oshie, StL (NR)

However, neither Kulemin nor Recchi offer the point-per-game upside of Malkin. Even though Malkin wasn't carrying your offense this season, there was still a chance he could have done so during the final 30 or so games. It's that upside that you were probably banking on to help bring home a fantasy championship. Heaven forbid you actually bought low on him in recent weeks (like I did). If you need to have that top value for your squad, but can't afford to part with any spare pieces on defense or in goal, you have but one option ...

Peter Forsberg, Colorado Avalanche: It's about as long a shot as you can take, but sometimes things just align themselves right. The same weekend Malkin goes down, a former point-per-game superstar inks a deal to return to the NHL after three years away. You know the counterarguments by heart: His foot is ailing, he is 37 years old and he is out of game shape. But if you are going to make up for Malkin's lost potential at minimal cost, Forsberg offers the best gamble. Foppa is a guy who only once in his entire career (his brief stint with the Nashville Predators) finished below a point-per-game pace. That even includes his troubled comeback attempt in 2007-08 when groin strains hampered his availability (he still scored 14 points in nine games). If the comeback doesn't go well for Forsberg, c'est la vie, you can still try other equally desperate attempts to fix your offense later. If things go well, though, you may have just scooped up 30 points off the waiver wire. Forsberg is still available in 86 percent of ESPN leagues. Go for it.

Rising and falling

Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings (steady at No. 9): While Datsyuk didn't actually climb or fall in the ranks this week, he still should be highlighted. I was pre-emptive last week when I slotted him back into the top 10 when he was taken off injured reserve. Datsyuk was expected to return after the All-Star break, but needed a bit more time. He is now expected to make his return on Monday night. Datsyuk does have a ripple effect with his presence, as Henrik Zetterberg doesn't have to carry the whole load with Datsyuk back. Hank doesn't slip in the rankings as he was already adjusted down last week when Datsyuk was supposed to return. While Zetterberg is having a strong season, I wouldn't hesitate to swap him for another player ranked in the top 25. He just isn't as dominant with Datsyuk present.

R.J. Umberger, Columbus Blue Jackets (up 19 spots): This is an effort to give credit where credit is due. I have a tendency to not rank Umberger very high because he used to appear as one-dimensional goal scorer who found himself outside the top six too frequently. My bad. Umberger has balanced scoring this season and looks fantastic on the second line with Antoine Vermette and Kristian Huselius. Umberger will bust his career highs for goals and points this season and deserves to be an everyday fantasy forward in all leagues.

Phil Kessel, Toronto Maple Leafs (down 18 spots): What may have been an unspoken feud crossed a line this weekend as Kessel and coach Ron Wilson exchanged some barbs. Kessel was demoted to the third line, and rightly so. He hasn't scored since Jan. 11. The consistent shots on goal help buoy his value, but with a minus-22 and no prospects for linemates, there isn't much hope left. I'd still hold onto him with the faint hope that a shakeup at the trade deadline brings him a linemate to work with, but Kessel is falling out of favor quickly with fantasy owners in the same way he has with his own coach. In hindsight, we should have spotted this when the other potential offensive catalysts on the team, Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin clicked on a line with Clarke MacArthur, with Kessel left holding the bag.

Patrick Sharp, Chicago Blackhawks (down 10 spots): He may have had a hot All-Star Game, but Sharp has been ice cold since Jan. 9. With just three points in eight games and a minus-6 rating, the current cold streak coincides with the Blackhawks' third line picking up some extra slack. So long as Dave Bolland & Co. continue scoring at such a pace, there isn't as much pressure for Sharp and Marian Hossa to come through on offense. Here is hoping something changes soon, but in the meantime, Sharp doesn't get to hang around in the elite category.

Scoring lines

Devin Setoguchi, San Jose Sharks: Keep a close eye because it may be short-lived, but Setoguchi has made some noise since landing a second-line role while Logan Couture was sick. Setoguchi is on a five-game, seven-point streak with Joe Pavelski and Ryane Clowe as his linemates. Couture is back in the lineup and has certainly earned his top-six spot, so Setoguchi could quickly find himself out of the mix again but has a tendency to score as long as he is playing top minutes.

Andy McDonald, St. Louis Blues: Following on the heels on teammate T.J. Oshie, McDonald returned to bolster the Blues' offense even further. He is skating with Brad Boyes and David Backes to form the team's de facto top line. McDonald had a streak of eight games with 12 points shortly before he suffered a concussion in early December. His ownership percentage is down to 22 percent and he is worthy of a gamble.

Teddy Purcell and Simon Gagne, Tampa Bay Lightning: As the Bolts have a full complement of forwards going, the team has finally settled its top two lines into a pair of producing units. While Steven Stamkos, Steve Downie and Martin St. Louis continue to do their thing, Vincent Lecavalier, Gagne and Purcell have been catching on of late as backups. Purcell has nine points and Gagne has seven points during the Lightning's past five games. Both players are widely available and deserving of a roster spot.

Power plays

Mikael Samuelsson, Vancouver Canucks: Coach Alain Vigneault has finally let Mikael Samuelsson out of his dog house. After spelling Samuelsson on the third line for the better part of a month and a half, Samuelsson is back on the second unit with Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond. To that end, Samuelsson has eight points in his past five games, is playing more minutes and taking more shots on goal. He is easily worth your fantasy attention again, but the real key here is that with Alexander Edler on the sideline, Samuelsson joins the Sedin twins and Kesler on a dominant four-forward power play. Four of Samuelsson's past eight points have come on the man advantage.

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.