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Friday, February 24, 2012
Fantasy Forecaster: Week of Feb. 27

By Sean Allen
Special to ESPN.com

We got an early taste of some NHL trade deadline action this week, as the Columbus Blue Jackets sold off some top assets. Antoine Vermette is now wearing a Phoenix Coyotes jersey, and Jeff Carter joined former teammate Mike Richards with the Los Angeles Kings. The only fantasy relevant asset the Blue Jackets received in return was defenseman Jack Johnson.

The Carter-Johnson swap is pending a physical, but let's assume the deal will go down without a hitch. Carter and Richards have the opportunity to completely turn around their dismal fantasy campaigns to date. However, the two former Philadelphia Flyers stars rarely skated on a line together. During their best fantasy campaigns in 2008-09, Richards was on a line with Mike Knuble and Simon Gagne, while Carter skated with Scott Hartnell and Joffrey Lupul. Both lines remained intact for the power play. So while Carter raked up 46 goals and 84 points and Richards earned himself 80 points, they didn't cross each other's path much that season.

After that magical 2008-09 season, Richards and Carter both regressed to the low 60s for two seasons before they left the Flyers during the offseason. Things have lapsed even further for the pair this season. Richards is on pace for 43 points after missing time with a concussion, but even if he hadn't missed any time, his pace would be 48 points. Carter is on pace for 38 points, but in his defense he has had two stints on the injured reserve. Overall, those are not fantasy-friendly numbers by any means.

Anze Kopitar
Anze Kopitar's skills complement Jeff Carter much more than Rick Nash's did in Columbus.

Now all this talk of a reunion might lead you to think coach Darryl Sutter will put Richards and Carter on a line together, but that is not necessarily the case. A more prudent lineup move would be to put Carter with Anze Kopitar. While Richards knows how to make a play, he earns his keep more through his physical and checking presence. Kopitar is a dynamically skilled playmaker that Carter has lacked with the Blue Jackets this season. Playing on a line with Kopitar would immediately put Carter on a 40-goal pace for the remaining 21 games (another 10 goals or so this season), but the ceiling for production would be even higher. Kopitar would easily be the most skilled linemate Carter has ever worked with.

The remaining question is whether Richards would join the Kopitar-Carter connection. Clearly, few members of the Kings are a good match for Richards (or he wouldn't be on pace for 43 points). Still, he could be invigorated by the linemate he developed alongside with the Flyers. Simon Gagne's return from a concussion would help Richards more than he would by getting whichever winger is bumped from the top line by Carter's presence.

Maybe Sutter pairs Richards and Carter together with regularity for the first time since early in their career and they hit things off. It is a distinct possibility. But given Sutter's defensive tendencies, Richards is more likely to slide into that second line preventative role while Carter takes off on the first line.

Since we don't know what offense will be left in Columbus after Monday's trade deadline (yes, they could still trade Nash), there isn't much point in guessing at how Johnson will perform. He is an obvious upgrade over Fedor Tyutin on the point for a power play that has been improving. However, two top-six forwards have already left town. Wait until at least Monday before deciding if this is doom or opportunity for Johnson.

To fill Johnson's void with the Kings, take an immediate look at Slava Voynov. The talented puck-moving defenseman has been buried on the depth charts but has the skills to be a fantasy asset.

As for Vermette, he slipped into a checking role in his first game with the Coyotes. Playing on a line with Lauri Korpikoski and Shane Doan, he had zero shots on goal and didn't sniff the first power-play unit. He could improve Doan's play as a more talented linemate than what Doan has dealt with but won't likely be a fantasy asset himself.

Offensive Highlights

Colorado Avalanche: Concerns about Steve Downie's role with the Avalanche should be put to rest for now. Downie immediately joined Gabriel Landeskog and Ryan O'Reilly on what is the second line on paper but is perhaps the first line in performance. Available in 36 percent of ESPN leagues, Downie brings penalty minutes and points potential to the table in a tantalizing mix. Remember that an injury limited him to 57 games last season, but he was on a pace for 46 points and 246 PIMs. The only immediate threat to his top-six playing time would be Peter Mueller, who is out with a torso injury. Picking up Downie is likely the wise course, because Mueller was not lighting any fires when he was healthy and has not been a picture of health. Picking up Downie ahead of a four-game week for the Avs makes even more sense. The team earns an O:6 on the Forecaster, but except for the Pittsburgh Penguins and Marc-Andre Fleury, the games should be conducive to scoring. To fill Kyle Quincey's void, Stefan Elliott was recalled from the AHL. With 11 points this season, Elliott doesn't immediately seem appealing, but he notched nine of those points in his first 18 NHL games earlier this season and has 14 points in 26 games in the AHL. Elliott played first unit power-play minutes when Erik Johnson bowed out of Wednesday's game with back spasms. In Quincey's absence (and perhaps Johnson's too), there is potential for Elliott to make some waves.

New York Rangers: It's time to start leveraging Artem Anisimov to fill some holes in your lineup. Anisimov has been playing with Marian Gaborik and Derek Stepan on the top line for some time and has started to show a level of consistency in recent weeks. With seven points in nine games with a plus-5, Anisimov is available in 92 percent of ESPN leagues. His playing time has been bumped since a three-point outburst on Feb. 5, so there is reason to believe the extra couple of minutes per game will pay dividends. Next week, the Rangers have a four-game schedule, and Anisimov should have no problem providing some value to your roster if you need help.

Offensive Lowlights

Los Angeles Kings: While there is plenty of reason to be down on Richards this season and just cause to have him on your bench (or even dropped in some cases), things are looking up with Carter in town. The Kings have three games and a lowly O:1 on the Forecaster, but Richards has picked up his play this past week and is worth activating while we wait to see how the new-look top six shakes out.

Buffalo Sabres: Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville have lifted Derek Roy up by his bootstraps. Still available in 12 percent of ESPN leagues, Roy should be picked up in all formats. However, expectations should be tempered for the coming week. The Sabres hit the road to take on the Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks and Vancouver Canucks, none of which are favorable matchups. Roy has seven points in the past four games. Of course, the matchup problem isn't an issue if the Sabres are showcasing him for a trade.

Defensive Highlights

Boston Bruins: It's been a rough go for the Bruins during the past few weeks as Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask have struggled. Allowing three goals a game is hardly brutal, but by Thomas' standards, his four-game string was troubling for fantasy owners. However, the past two games Thomas has reduced his allowance to two goals, and the schedule ahead looks beneficial. The Bruins rank a D:8 on a four-game Forecaster week with games against the Ottawa Senators and the three squads from the New York City area. Thomas was bound for a couple of rough patches to bring his numbers back to a normal human level, but there is no reason he can't go back to being a superstar again at a moment's notice. The fact that the rough spell lines up almost exactly with when Nathan Horton was knocked out of the lineup with a concussion appears to be more coincidental than causational, as Horton is rarely in discussions for the Selke Trophy.

Who's Hot/Not

It may be time to decide whether Antti Niemi is really one your reliable players heading into the postseason. A renewed focus on scoring goals has seemed to coincide with a spike in Niemi's goals-against average. That is to say, the Sharks may be sacrificing some defense for some offense.

Niemi's save percentage hasn't dipped below .900 in any one month but is trending at .878 through February so far as the Sharks have allowed the most goals per game during the past three weeks.

If you are headed to the fantasy postseason with Niemi as your No. 1 starter, this stretch is enough to give you pause about considering your own fantasy deadline deal. The Sharks have had success with their focus on offense and may continue to prioritize the offensive zone as opposed to the defensive zone.

Hockey Challenge

Martin Brodeur
Martin Brodeur is enjoying his best month of the season so far. He is 7-1 with a 1.73 goals-against average and .939 save percentage in February.

Best bets: Martin Brodeur ($11.1M) has been on fire, and the New Jersey Devils have a four-game week on the schedule that rates solid defensively. If there is a better choice in net, it is not an obvious one. … OK, so Henrik Lundqvist ($12.8M) might be just as solid a choice as Brodeur in net. The Rangers battle the Devils, Carolina Hurricanes, Tampa Bay Lightning and Bruins next week. … Continue loading up on the Sharks and Canucks on offense, but note that both teams have just a three-game week. Of the offenses with four games, the Ducks look among the best with contests against the Avalanche, Sabres, Calgary Flames and Kings. Consider using Corey Perry ($8.3M) and Teemu Selanne ($7.8M) as staples of your lineup this week. … If you like counting the games played, consider trading in Evgeni Malkin ($9.6M) or James Neal ($8.3M) to make room for the Ducks as the Penguins have just two games. Whether you trade them in depends on how much salary cap room you are saving though, because Malkin and Neal still have a good chance to score some points against the Dallas Stars and Avalanche.

Weekly bargains: The Lightning don't have the best offensive schedule next week, but Teddy Purcell ($6.7M) is a cheap option who has 13 points in the past eight games. … Now might also be a good time to invest in Carter ($6.8M) in his new Kings jersey. His price point is way down from where it will be if he enjoys some post-trade success.

Rentals: A cheaper option in net would be Evgeni Nabokov ($8.1M). The New York Islanders have four games, and Nabokov will be back from the flu before next week. There is a chance he isn't a member of the Islanders next week, so keep that in mind when saving a few bucks. … Alex Goligoski ($6.5M) is still at a great price, and only five defensemen have more points than him during the past two weeks.

My roster for next week:

Martin Brodeur, G ($11.1M)
Henrik Lundqvist, G ($12.8M)
Alex Pietrangelo, D ($6.0M / $7.0M on market)
Brent Burns, D ($6.2M / $6.5M on market)
Dan Boyle, D ($6.7M / $7.1M on market)
Erik Karlsson, D ($7.8M)
Corey Perry, F ($8.3M)
Logan Couture, F ($7.5M / $8.1M on market)
Evgeni Malkin, F ($8.9M / $9.6M on market)
Jeff Carter, F ($6.8M)
Steven Stamkos, F ($9.5M / $9.8M on market)
Ilya Kovalchuk, F ($8.0M / $8.9M on market)

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 send him a note here or tweet him @seanard with the hashtag #FantasyHockey for a timelier response.