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Monday, March 18, 2013
Updated: April 2, 9:14 PM ET
Front Line: Real value of assists

By Sean Allen
Special to ESPN.com

We continue our look at the secondary assist in the NHL by removing them from all forwards and reshuffling the scoring race. For a longer explanation about what we've done, check out this week's Fantasy Forecaster, but we'll give you a quick summary here.

The NHL doesn't track primary versus secondary assists (at least not publicly), so all assists are created equal on the scoresheet. We would argue not all assists are created equal and, in fact, some secondary assists are not a very good indicator of a player's ability to help collect points. We have built a spreadsheet that tracks all secondary assists for players who had at least eight assists or 10 points as of March 13. It is updated through games played on Sunday, March 17.

The idea is to look at which players are collecting most of their points through goals plus primary assists and consider whether they deserve to be valued more than they might be at the moment. The point is not to discount players who happen to be collecting a lot of secondary assists.

Nazem Kadri and Phil Kessel, Toronto Maple Leafs: When we remove secondary assists from the scoring race, these Maple Leafs teammates jump from being tied for 22nd in the league with 27 points to being tied for eighth in the league with 24 points. Both Kadri and Kessel play apart from each other on the ice and have managed to only collect three secondary assists this season. While Kessel has been enjoying success with James van Riemsdyk on the top line, Kadri has had some ups and downs. Expect a sustained "up" the horizon, as Kadri not only has Matt Frattin back from an injury on one wing but now has Joffrey Lupul back from a broken arm on the other side. Kadri set up two Lupul goals Saturday. If you act fast, Lupul is still available in 38 percent of ESPN leagues because his return was kept pretty quiet until he suited up on Saturday.

Matt Duchene
Matt Duchene has been piling up the points through goals and as the primary assist man.

Matt Duchene, Colorado Avalanche: There is a natural degree of frequency for the top scorers in the league when it comes to secondary assists. Even though we are implying that there may be a little luck involved in the secondary assist, the top players in the league naturally collect a ton of them because they touch the puck so often. So when a player is already among the league leaders in points but also manages to have a minimal number of secondary assists, it is time to get excited. Duchene has collected only four secondary assists this season and is tied for fifth in the league with 26 points when we only count goals plus primary assists. We can also single out Pavel Datsyuk among the elite players generating primary assists this season. He is one behind Duchene with 25 goals plus primary assists and only has five secondary assists this season. All those primary assists are going to set up someone to score and both Jamie McGinn (Duchene) and Justin Abdelkader (Datsyuk) are available to deep league owners.

Mike Ribeiro and Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals: A reminder that the secondary assists aren't going anywhere and you should not de-value players based on inflated points from secondary helpers. But if you are choosing between the two Capitals centermen, you definitely want to lean Ribeiro. Both players have 21 assists this season, but Backstrom loses a lot of ground when you remove the secondary assists. With a grand total of 10 goals plus primary assists this season, Backstrom equals the output of players like Nick Bonino, Kyle Chipchura and Matt Cooke. Not exactly the company of fantasy dynamos. Ribeiro, on the other hand, has 22 goal plus primary assists to tie him for 17th in the league with Jonathan Toews and Andrew Ladd.

Teddy Purcell, Tampa Bay Lightning: Strict playmakers have a tendency to accumulate a lot of secondary assists, many of which are deserved points for setting up a goal. But when a playmaker actually comes through with mostly primary assists, they should get some extra attention. Of Purcell's 18 assists this season, only three have not been of the primary variety. His goals plus primary assists total of 20 is good to tie for 24th in the league with such names as Ilya Kovalchuk and Sam Gagner. Purcell lined up with Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos most recently, as the team looks for a new depth chart without Vincent Lecavalier. Sticking with St. Louis and Stamkos would mean a huge finish for Purcell as he starts to pick up some extra secondary assists on top of what he is already producing. St. Louis, by the way, leads all NHL players with 19 secondary assists.

Mike Cammalleri, Calgary Flames:This man deserves some more fantasy respect. Currently with 20 points in 23 games this season, Cammalleri has actually been dropped in a small percentage of ESPN leagues this week. That should tell you he is not beloved in the fantasy world as much as he maybe should be. Thanks to only three secondary assists this season, Cammalleri has 17 goals plus primary assists, which is actually top 50 among forwards. To give you some more perspective, his 17 points without secondary assists puts him in a tie for scoring with Rick Nash, Claude Giroux, Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin. That is not bad company.

Some quick hits on secondary assists.

• What do Adam Henrique, Vladimir Tarasenko, Shawn Matthias, Alex Galchenyuk and Jakob Silfverberg have in common? Beside the fact that they are all young and very talented, they don't have a single secondary assist this season among them.

• For players with double-digit assists, Backstrom leads the way with 66.7 percent of his assists coming as the secondary helper. David Perron is next with 63.6 percent of his assists and St. Louis has 63.3 percent of his assists as the lesser of the two. Tyler Ennis, Wayne Simmonds, Paul Stastny, Joel Ward, Zack Smith, Brenden Morrow and Mikhail Grabovski are the only other players over 60 percent with at least 10 assists.

• On the other end of the scale, Galchenyuk leads the way for players with at least 10 assists by having zero secondary helpers. Derick Brassard has only 9.1 percent of his assists as the secondary one. Jordan Eberle, Jordan Staal, Teemu Selanne, Purcell, Kadri and Kessel are the only other players under 20 percent.

• We mentioned that St. Louis leads the way with 19 secondary assists. Backstrom is second with 14 and Henrik Zetterberg is third with 12. Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz and Jakub Voracek are tied with 10.

• All five of R.J. Umberger's assists this season have been the secondary helper.

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. Sidney Crosby, Pit (1)
2. Steven Stamkos, TB (2)
3. John Tavares, NYI (3)
4. Eric Staal, Car (4)
5. Corey Perry, Ana (5)
6. Alex Ovechkin, Was (6)
7. James Neal, Pit (7)
8. Tyler Seguin, Bos (8)
9. Claude Giroux, Phi (9)
10. Ilya Kovalchuk, NJ (10)
11. Rick Nash, NYR (12)
12. Alexander Semin, Car (13)
13. Anze Kopitar, LA (14)
14. Jakub Voracek, Phi (11)
15. Chris Kunitz, Pit (17)
16. Daniel Sedin, Van (15)
17. Ryan Getzlaf, Ana (16)
18. Jonathan Toews, Chi (19)
19. Martin St. Louis, TB (20)
20. Pavel Datsyuk, Det (21)
21. Thomas Vanek, Buf (18)
22. Matt Moulson, NYI (22)
23. Marian Hossa, Chi (23)
24. Henrik Sedin, Van (24)
25. Henrik Zetterberg, Det (25)
26. Mike Ribeiro, Was (26)
27. Phil Kessel, Tor (27)
28. Patrick Kane, Chi (28)
29. Max Pacioretty, Mon (29)
30. Jamie Benn, Dal (31)
31. Taylor Hall, Edm (32)
32. Scott Hartnell, Phi (30)
33. Jiri Tlusty, Car (33)
34. Matt Duchene, Col (39)
35. James van Riemsdyk, Tor (34)
36. Jordan Eberle, Edm (35)
37. T.J. Oshie, StL (37)
38. Patrice Bergeron, Bos (38)
39. Wayne Simmonds, Phi (36)
40. P.A. Parenteau, Col (43)
41. Jarome Iginla, Cgy (40)
42. David Backes, StL (41)
43. Jason Pominville, Buf (42)
44. Tomas Plekanec, Mon (44)
45. Bobby Ryan, Ana (45)
46. Joe Thornton, SJ (46)
47. Zach Parise, Min (49)
48. Jeff Carter, LA (47)
49. Evgeni Malkin, Pit (57)
50. Patrik Elias, NJ (48)
51. Nazem Kadri, Tor (54)
52. Evander Kane, Wpg (50)
53. Brad Marchand, Bos (51)
54. Andrew Ladd, Wpg (60)
55. Marian Gaborik, NYR (52)
56. Patrick Marleau, SJ (53)
57. Mike Richards, LA (55)
58. Mikko Koivu, Min (56)
59. Joffrey Lupul, Tor (NR)
60. David Perron, StL (58)
61. Nicklas Backstrom, Was (59)
62. Milan Lucic, Bos (64)
63. Alex Burrows, Van (61)
64. Troy Brouwer, Was (62)
65. David Clarkson, NJ (63)
66. Teddy Purcell, TB (70)
67. Chris Stewart, StL (74)
68. Logan Couture, SJ (65)
69. Sam Gagner, Edm (66)
70. Cody Hodgson, Buf (75)
71. Justin Williams, LA (69)
72. Cory Conacher, TB (68)
73. Joe Pavelski, SJ (71)
74. Jeff Skinner, Car (72)
75. Damien Brunner, Det (73)
76. Paul Stastny, Col (76)
77. Loui Eriksson, Dal (77)
78. Dustin Brown, LA (81)
79. Gabriel Landeskog, Col (79)
80. Brad Boyes, NYI (80)
81. Michael Ryder, Mon (78)
82. Mike Cammalleri, Cgy (85)
83. Carl Hagelin, NYR (82)
84. Alex Tanguay, Cgy (83)
85. Blake Wheeler, Wpg (84)
86. Teemu Selanne, Ana (86)
87. Brad Richards, NYR (91)
88. Jaromir Jagr, Dal (87)
89. Derek Stepan, NYR (88)
90. Saku Koivu, Ana (89)
91. Jordan Staal, Car (90)
92. Jonathan Huberdeau, Fla (92)
93. Tyler Ennis, Buf (93)
94. Kyle Turris, Ott (NR)
95. Brandon Saad, Chi (99)
96. Ryan Callahan, NYR (95)
97. Ryan O'Reilly, Col (97)
98. David Krejci, Bos (96)
99. Eric Fehr, Wsh (94)
100. Vladimir Tarasenko, StL (NR)

Rising and Falling

Chris Stewart, St. Louis Blues (up seven spots to No. 67): Stewart is definitely the unexpected points leader of the Blues this season. He is still just working his way up to being universally-owned in ESPN league, jumping 17 percent this week to 99 percent ownership. Tabbed for a third-line role this season, Stewart has benefitted from the slew of injuries in front of him. Even as the team gets healthier with the return of Alex Steen and Vladimir Tarasenko in the past couple of weeks, T.J. Oshie is now on injured reserve and Andy McDonald isn't ready to return yet. There is no question that Stewart has cemented an ongoing role in the top six now, it will just be a matter of finding out at who's expense. That is, of course, assuming the Blues can ever get back to full health. The bottom line is that Stewart is a safe investment going forward, regardless of who returns to the club.

Cody Hodgson, Buffalo Sabres (up five spots to No. 70): For more than a month now it has been Hodgson, not Thomas Vanek leading the Sabres on the top line. During the past 14 games for the Sabres, Vanek has three goals, eight points and a minus-2 rating. Hodgson, who plays on the top line with Vanek and Jason Pominville, has six goals, 11 points and a plus-1 rating. And Hodgson is doing it all without the help of power-play production. He has just one power-play point this season and has averaged more than a minute less than Vanek or Pominville on the man advantage. Expect that to change as he gets more responsibility on the power play. He could overtake Vanek in scoring by the end of the season.

Brandon Saad, Chicago Blackhawks (up four spots to No. 95): As should continue to happen more often than not while Patrick Sharp is out of the lineup, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa stepped up their game against the Dallas Stars on Saturday with two goals apiece. Sharing the ice with Toews and Hossa is Saad. He had two assists on Saturday to give him nine assists in his past nine games. All it takes is being on the ice with Toews and Hossa to pick up some points, but Saad is more than just a go-between for the two star players. Saad has shown breakaway speed on several occasions this season and has puck-handling skills to keep up with anyone. If Saad keeps his plum assignment, there may be enough time for him to get himself into the Calder Trophy discussion by the end of the season.

Scoring Lines

Tyler Johnson, Tampa Bay Lightning: The current AHL goals leader got some love in this week's Fantasy Forecaster, but we will mention him again after he made his presence felt Saturday. Johnson currently leads the AHL with 32 goals for the Syracuse Crunch and was recalled when Vincent Lecavalier got hurt. After skating a quiet 11 minutes in his debut, Johnson had a goal and an assist Saturday against the Carolina Hurricanes. And he did it skating on the fourth line with fewer than nine minutes of ice time. As we mentioned in the Forecaster, Johnson has familiarity with Cory Conacher from last season in the AHL and could be a quick adapter to the NHL during his time up. He has at least three weeks until Lecavalier is expected back, though Benoit Pouliot's return might be the ticking clock on Johnson forcing the Lightning to keep him.

Devin Setoguchi, Minnesota Wild: The Wild are starting to get some secondary scoring from the trio of Matt Cullen, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Setoguchi. Because Setoguchi is the pure goal scorer of the three, he has the most potential to help fantasy owners. With four goals in his past three games, Setoguchi has also fired 10 shots on net and managed a plus-4 rating. The uptick in scoring is significant because Bouchard just returned from a three-game stint in the press box as a healthy scratch. If a rejuvenated Bouchard is lighting fires for Setoguchi and Cullen, the line could have medium-to-deep league relevance for the remainder of the campaign.

Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks: He may be a defenseman in your league, but he is a forward for the Sharks. Often playing on a line with Joe Thornton and Logan Couture, Burns has made a quick transition back to the forward ranks (where he played during his development). Already with five points in three games, you will want to jump at the chance to get Burns into your lineup because he is eligible as a defenseman. He is still available in 55 percent of ESPN leagues and will make a better fantasy defenseman than most. He is sixth on the ESPN Player Rater among defensemen for the past seven days, even though he is playing as a forward.

Infirmary

Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins: Malkin still hasn't been spotted back at a Penguins practice as he deals with an upper-body injury. Skating on his own is fine, but he'll need to practice for us to get excited about a chance at a return. It looks like owners might have to plan to go another week without him. Remember to go have a look at Beau Bennett after Malkin finally does return. Bennett has been waiting patiently for a chance to get into a groove with Malkin and James Neal on the second line.

T.J. Oshie and Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues: Oshie is still day-to-day but was put on injured reserve to make room for more bodies. Tarasenko returned to the lineup on Saturday and got an assist. But it looks like Tarasenko will have to earn his way back into favor with coach Ken Hitchcock. The Russian rookie played limited minutes on the third line while Matt D'Agostini filled in for Oshie in the top six.