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Monday, January 16, 2012
Front Line: And the first-half MVP is ...

By Sean Allen
Special to

The Boston Bruins and San Jose Sharks were the final two teams to hit the halfway point of the NHL season; both teams passed the mark over the weekend. That means it's time to hand out the hardware for the first half of the fantasy season.

As we take a look at the good, bad and ugly from the first half of the season, take a moment to reflect on your current place in the standings. Although this probably has been the case for at least a few weeks now, there is no kidding yourself now if you think the team that currently has you in seventh place is going to magically become a contender. Make the moves you have to make to be competitive and give yourself a chance to win. Remind me again what the prize is for coming in fourth?

First-half awards

Fantasy MVP: Joffrey Lupul, Toronto Maple Leafs. A fantasy MVP is all about value versus performance. Lupul might not be the No. 1 player on the ESPN Player Rater, but his value has been astronomical because of where he was drafted. With an average draft position of 195.7, not too many people thought Lupul would have a prayer at being No. 18 on the Player Rater at the halfway point. Considering he could match his career high for points in a season (53) in another week or so, this certainly has been a season to remember for Lupul. While the best part of his season is most likely behind him -- he posted a ridiculous 19 points in November -- Lupul is still in the same steady place in the Leafs' lineup and should have little trouble turning in a strong second half. As Phil Kessel's reliable winger, Lupul should finish out the season with around 80 points. There is no reason to think about selling high even though Lupul doesn't have a track record of posting numbers like this.

Adam Henrique has 33 points in his past 34 games.

Rookie Fantasy MVP: Adam Henrique, New Jersey Devils. This is a nail-biter between Henrique and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Henrique has played in two more games this season, but has one fewer point. Penalty minutes and shots on goal are both a wash. Henrique holds the edge in plus/minus. But the deciding factor here is that Henrique's six games in October can be thrown out of the equation because he was not playing on a scoring line. The Devils didn't use this rookie on the top line until November. Take that out of the equation and Henrique has done more with less. It's a slim margin, but he trumps RNH in terms of value at this point. (Keep an eye on Henrique this week, however, as he is day-to-day with a pesky groin strain.)

Mr. Consistency: Patrik Elias, New Jersey Devils. Elias has failed to score a point in only 11 of 43 games this season. His 41 points in 43 games represent the first time he has flirted with a point-per-game pace since 2008-09, and he is playing two minutes more per game (average ice time) compared with last season. All of this while playing on the Devils' second line. Elias has not been a superstar fantasy asset this season, but he has provided great value. Perhaps his owners don't realize just how valuable Elias has been this season? Consider sniffing him out as a potential trade target and enjoy the rewards.

The Wingman: Matt Moulson, New York Islanders. Call him a star by association, call him a coattail rider … just don't call him anything less than a valuable fantasy asset. Moulson was considered a one-hit wonder when he potted 30 goals with the Isles two seasons ago, and then maybe a "two-hit wonder" when he followed up with a repeat performance last season. Now that he is on pace for 40 goals this season, there is no questioning Moulson's chemistry with John Tavares. As the yin to Tavares' yang, Moulson might as well be respected as the top fantasy commodity he is, even if it is by association with Tavares. It's not like either of them are going anywhere.

The Category Monster: Scott Hartnell, Philadelphia Flyers. What hasn't Hartnell been doing for your fantasy team? Well, he is only slightly above average in terms of ice time. But other than that minor detail, he has been dominating all six other offensive categories in the ESPN standard game. A total of 19 goals, 19 assists, plus-17, 65 penalty minutes, 11 power-play points and 105 shots on goal. Hartnell fits perfectly with Claude Giroux and Jaromir Jagr on the ice and will continue stuffing all the categories for you as the season continues. One must wonder, though. Hartnell has been the only constant in the Flyers' most productive line from season to season (Giroux-Jagr-Hartnell this season, Danny Briere-Ville Leino-Hartnell last season, Jeff Carter-Briere-Hartnell two seasons ago). We often give the credit to others, but Hartnell just may be the linchpin of this offense.

Surprise: Patrick Sharp, Chicago Blackhawks. Different from the MVP award, the "Surprise!" award goes to the player who doesn't have quite as dramatic a rise in average draft position versus actual value. Sharp wasn't a top choice for most fantasy owners; with an ADP of 66.3 in ESPN standard leagues, he was selected, on average, in the seventh round of most drafts. But until he broke his wrist last week, only Daniel Sedin was more valuable among forwards on the ESPN Player Rater. Sharp's perfect balance of 20 goals, 20 assists and a plus-18 made him a commodity in the most competitive fantasy categories, and his shots on goal were easily trending toward a career high (before the injury). A big part of the improvement has been Sharp finding a solid groove with Marian Hossa this season. The pair is 11th in the league when it comes to goals in which each player records a point (20). Sharp has another two to three weeks left on injured reserve. Consider making a low bid for him in a week or two.

Biggest Letdown: Dustin Penner, Los Angeles Kings. Coming into this season, the Kings had upgraded their top six significantly. Joining Penner as a recent addition were Mike Richards and Simon Gagne, who just finished a quality second half of the 2010-11 season. Penner was not a big hit after the trade deadline last season with the Kings, but considering his 2009-10 included 63 points, fantasy owners seemed to give him the benefit of the doubt heading into this season; he was selected, on average, in the 10th round in ESPN standard leagues. Well, currently he ranks 409th overall on the ESPN Player Rater with just 10 points in 33 games. Ouch! Nothing to see here, folks; move along.

On the Cusp: Andy McDonald, St. Louis Blues. This is the award for expected second-half performance. Last season McDonald missed much of December and all of January, only to return a man on fire. After the All-Star break last season, only 12 players had more points than McDonald's 33 points in 33 games. McDonald is said to be getting closer to putting on the "contact" jersey in practice and is very active on the ice with his teammates. He has been out since the third game of the season because of a concussion, but he has a very high ceiling on his potential for the second half, and he's available in 75 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. Daniel Sedin, Van (2)
2. Steven Stamkos, TB (1)
3. Henrik Sedin, Van (3)
4. Evgeni Malkin, Pit (4)
5. Claude Giroux, Phi (6)
6. Pavel Datsyuk, Det (5)
7. Phil Kessel, Tor (7)
8. Corey Perry, Ana (8)
9. Alex Ovechkin, Was (10)
10. Ryan Kesler, Van (11)
11. Ilya Kovalchuk, NJ (18)
12. Zach Parise, NJ (20)
13. Marian Hossa, Chi (15)
14. Jonathan Toews, Chi (9)
15. James Neal, Pit (14)
16. Anze Kopitar, LA (16)
17. Jamie Benn, Dal (23)
18. Johan Franzen, Det (21)
19. Jarome Iginla, Cgy (22)
20. Scott Hartnell, Phi (30)
21. Patrick Kane, Chi (17)
22. Patrick Sharp, Chi (12)
23. Martin St. Louis, TB (27)
24. Joffrey Lupul, Tor (32)
25. Patrick Marleau, SJ (33)
26. Teemu Selanne, Ana (29)
27. Jason Spezza, Ott (40)
28. John Tavares, NYI (39)
29. Thomas Vanek, Buf (13)
30. Ryan Getzlaf, Ana (31)
31. Nicklas Backstrom, Was (19)
32. Eric Staal, Car (42)
33. Joe Pavelski, SJ (37)
34. Henrik Zetterberg, Det (24)
35. Tyler Seguin, Bos (36)
36. Rick Nash, Cls (35)
37. Alex Burrows, Van (45)
38. David Backes, StL (49)
39. Kris Versteeg, Fla (28)
40. Brad Marchand, Bos (44)
41. Jeff Skinner, Car (75)
42. David Krejci, Bos (54)
43. Dany Heatley, Min (25)
44. Brad Richards, NYR (26)
45. Jaromir Jagr, Phi (46)
46. Milan Lucic, Bos (47)
47. Joe Thornton, SJ (53)
48. Tomas Fleischmann, Fla (38)
49. Mike Richards, LA (50)
50. Nathan Horton, Bos (56)
51. Adam Henrique, NJ (66)
52. Danny Briere, Phi (52)
53. Bobby Ryan, Ana (60)
54. Stephen Weiss, Fla (43)
55. Marian Gaborik, NYR (41)
56. Jordan Eberle, Edm (59)
57. Matt Moulson, NYI (86)
58. Taylor Hall, Edm (64)
59. Tomas Plekanec, Mon (48)
60. Patrice Bergeron, Bos (61)
61. Logan Couture, SJ (62)
62. Alexander Semin, Was (63)
63. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edm (73)
64. Ryan Callahan, NYR (65)
65. Jason Pominville, Buf (55)
66. Radim Vrbata, Pho (71)
67. Loui Eriksson, Dal (78)
68. Chris Kunitz, Pit (76)
69. Olli Jokinen, Cgy (67)
70. Jeff Carter, Cls (51)
71. Erik Cole, Mon (68)
72. Sidney Crosby, Pit (58)
73. Vincent Lecavalier, TB (74)
74. Gabriel Landeskog, Col (69)
75. Evander Kane, Wpg (57)
76. Mikko Koivu, Min (34)
77. Shane Doan, Pho (72)
78. T.J. Oshie, StL (77)
79. Valtteri Filppula, Det (91)
80. Patrik Elias, NJ (80)
81. Alexander Steen, StL (85)
82. Daniel Alfredsson, Ott (84)
83. Max Pacioretty, Mon (96)
84. Kyle Turris, Ott (NR)
85. Mikhail Grabovski, Tor (NR)
86. Dustin Brown, LA (94)
87. Ray Whitney, Pho (79)
88. Mike Ribeiro, Dal (70)
89. David Perron, StL (90)
90. Ryane Clowe, SJ (82)
91. Curtis Glencross, Cgy (93)
92. Brenden Morrow, Dal (89)
93. Martin Erat, Nsh (95)
94. Steve Downie, TB (98)
95. Tim Connolly, Tor (99)
96. Andrew Ladd, Wpg (NR)
97. P.A. Parenteau, NYI (NR)
98. Saku Koivu, Ana (NR)
99. Brandon Dubinsky, NYR (100)
100. Justin Williams, LA (NR)

Rising and Falling

Here at the halfway point of the season, it was time for some serious cleaning up of these rankings. In the spirit of no longer waiting for players to magically recapture past form and in turn respecting those players producing for fantasy owners on the ice this season, some major swings in the rankings happened this week. A few of them are explained below:

Dany Heatley, Minnesota Wild; and Brad Richards, New York Rangers (down 18 spots): Two of the biggest names to change jerseys this offseason were hanging around the top 30 admittedly based primarily on their name value. Now that we have half a season to evaluate them in their new surroundings, the news is not good. Heatley is on a team that knows how to win games by not scoring, and Richards looks lost in the crowd on a Rangers team that spreads out the work. Both guys have the ability to catch fire, but it's time to stop thinking they are about to bust out any day now. They are definitely still top-100 guys, and history says they have the ability to step things up into the top 50 again (hence their current ranking). But it certainly doesn't look like Heatley or Richards will be fantasy superstars in their new homes.

Jeff Skinner, Carolina Hurricanes (up 34 spots): Skinner reclaims the ground he lost while he was out with a concussion. Making his return in the Canes' 2-1 loss to the Washington Capitals on Sunday, Skinner played 21 shifts and more than 17 minutes. Coach Kirk Muller was loath to bust up his top line that has Eric Staal playing motivated, so Skinner skated with Alexei Ponikarovsky and Jussi Jokinen. Not to worry; Skinner produced his points earlier this season while Staal was ineffective. Besides, Skinner, Staal and Tuomo Ruutu made up the top power-play unit. Expect Skinner to get down to business in the coming weeks.

Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise, Devils (up eight and seven spots, respectively): These two Devils leaders have been ramping up, hinting at a giant second half. Each of their point totals through October, November and December have gone up exponentially, and both players have started January with eight points in seven games. Kovalchuk scored 22 of his 31 goals last season after the calendar flipped to January. The speedy Henrique (mentioned above) is only getting better as the pivot for the top line, and his puck distribution has Parise and Kovalchuk on pace for a combined 600 shots. If you are looking for a place to invest, consider the Devils pair a lucrative option.

Scoring Lines

Peter Mueller, Colorado Avalanche: This is definitely a situation to keep an eye on, but the payoff may not come until later this season. Mueller is back with the Avs after concussion symptoms cost him 126 of the past 131 games. Yes, it has been that long. Just before the concussion symptoms at the end of the 2009-10 season, Mueller had been traded from the Phoenix Coyotes to Colorado, where he proceeded to click with Milan Hejduk and Matt Duchene on the top line and tear off 20 points in 15 games. For now he is being eased back in on the third line, but Duchene is due back from a knee sprain in two weeks, and unless something changes dramatically, the Avalanche will be looking for offense. Keep Mueller in mind as a future option.

Dave Bolland, Blackhawks: There is plenty of reason to continue singing Bolland's praises for the way he has stepped up to fill the void left by Patrick Sharp in the Hawks' top six. Bolland has seven points in five games playing with Marian Hossa and Michael Frolik on the second line. Depending on Sharp's healing ability, Bolland has another two to three weeks to continue piling up the points. There is a chance he has been shrugged off in your league as a third-liner on a hot streak, but that is simply not the case. He is on the second line until at least February.

Power Plays

Mike Cammalleri, Calgary Flames: Cammalleri's fantasy value with the Flames could be a boom-or-bust situation. On one hand, he had a career season playing with Jarome Iginla and the Flames in 2008-09. On the other hand, he is three years older, and Curtis Glencross has been very reliable with Iginla and Olli Jokinen on the top line. In his Flames debut over the weekend, Cammalleri ended up playing half the game with Lee Stempniak and Mikael Backlund and the other half with Iginla. One thing we do know is that Cammalleri will get work with Iginla on the power play. To that end, he scored the Flames' only goal on the man advantage in the 4-1 loss to the Kings.

Mike Fisher, Nashville Predators: Fisher and Martin Erat have a hot streak going, and it will be worth paying some attention to. Fisher has eight points in six games, and four of those points have come with the man advantage. It probably helps to be playing with Erat both on and off the power play. If Fisher can cement that role going forward, there is a chance he could earn mild value over the remainder of the season.

Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for He is the 2008 and 2009 Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Hockey Writer of the Year. You can send him a note here or tweet him @seanard with the hashtag #FantasyHockey for a timelier response.