"You play fantasy hockey. What do you care about the Cup?"
I don't often use this space for personal stories, but this will be an exception after I spent the better part of eight hours with the Stanley Cup on Monday.
I'll be getting around to that blasphemous quote soon enough, but here's a quick aside for the background to the story: Lord Stanley's mug spent the day in Brant County, Ontario, as part of the municipality's bid to raise public funds for a new twin-pad arena. I covered the events as the sports reporter for the local paper.
On to the meat of the story. At the first event, the county was accepting donations in order to see and photograph the Cup along with Paris, Ontario, native Jay Wells (whose name is engraved on the Cup along with the rest of the 1993-94 New York Rangers). It was here that I watched hundreds of kids shuffle through to get a glimpse of the trophy. I almost don't want to say it because it sounds contrived and cliché, but it's essential I mention that I did notice the awe in many of their eyes as they stood next to the Stanley Cup for a photo. That got me thinking a little. ...
Then there were the dads I spoke to who had children far too young to ever remember the day. When I asked why they came out, the answer was often a simple, "because it's the Cup and because it's here." That got me pondering a little. ...
What really got me dwelling on how important the Cup is as an iconic image, though, was not the very young. It was actually an 80-year-old woman who came to the event all by herself. She stood alone admiring the Cup for several minutes then shuffled over to Jay Wells for a quiet autograph. When I asked her why she made the trip, she said, "Oh, I just really like hockey." That's it. She likes hockey. Period.
Here was someone who doesn't sit around crunching numbers or ranking players. She doesn't assign value to players and then decide which ones are "worth something." I'm quite positive -- though I honestly didn't ask -- that she doesn't feel she "owns" any players, and I doubt she's "dropped" any of them lately. She likes hockey for what it is, and she made sure to go see the Stanley Cup when the opportunity knocked. Just to see it.
It made me realize that we, as fantasy players, can get a little too wrapped up in the numbers game. Who is worth what? Who is on a hot streak? Which goalie is taking over as starter? Even worse, as fantasy players, the allure of the playoffs can sometimes be dampened by the onset of fantasy baseball and the fact that the fantasy hockey season ends with the NHL's regular season.
Top 100 Skaters
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 goals, shots on goal, plus/minus, penalty minutes and average time on ice. Last week's ranking is indicated in parentheses.
1. Alex Ovechkin, LW, Was (1)
2. Sidney Crosby, C, Pit (2)
3. Dany Heatley, RW, SJ (4)
4. Evgeni Malkin, C, Pit (3)
5. Marian Gaborik, RW, NYR (7)
6. Pavel Datsyuk, C, Det (5)
7. Rick Nash, LW, Cls (6)
8. Mike Richards, C, Phi (8)
9. Zach Parise, LW, NJ (9)
10. Jeff Carter, C, Phi (10)
11. Joe Thornton, C, SJ (12)
12. Steven Stamkos, C, TB (14)
13. Anze Kopitar, C, LA (11)
14. Jarome Iginla, RW, Cgy (19)
15. Ryan Getzlaf, C, Anh (16)
16. Bobby Ryan, RW, Anh (17)
17. Corey Perry, RW, Anh (18)
18. Nicklas Backstrom, C, Was (13)
19. Alexander Semin, LW, Was (15)
20. Henrik Zetterberg, C, Det (20)
21. Patrick Marleau, C, SJ (21)
22. Ilya Kovalchuk, LW, Atl (24)
23. Brenden Morrow, LW, Dal (23)
24. Henrik Sedin, C, Van (25)
25. Eric Staal, C, Car (27)
26. Marc Savard, C, Bos (28)
27. Ryan Smyth, LW, LA (26)
28. Scott Hartnell, RW, Phi (29)
29. Patrick Kane, RW, Chi (22)
30. John Tavares, C, NYI (30)
31. Dustin Penner, LW, Edm (44)
32. Mike Cammalleri, LW, Mon (36)
33. Marian Hossa, RW, Chi (78)
34. Travis Zajac, C, NJ (38)
35. Brad Richards, C, Dal (35)
36. Nathan Horton, RW, Fla (45)
37. Vaclav Prospal, C, NYR (32)
38. Paul Stastny, C, Col (37)
39. Daniel Alfredsson, RW, Ott (39)
40. Alexandre Burrows, C, Van (31)
41. Mike Knuble, RW, Was (40)
42. Jonathan Toews, C, Chi (41)
43. Brooks Laich, C, Was (42)
44. Tomas Holmstrom, LW, Det (43)
45. Devin Setoguchi, RW, SJ (34)
46. Olli Jokinen, C, Cgy (54)
47. Vincent Lecavalier, C, TB (46)
48. Loui Eriksson, LW, Dal (47)
49. Ryan Malone, LW, TB (60)
50. Patrik Elias, LW, NJ (52)
51. Mikko Koivu, C, Min (50)
52. Patrick Sharp, C, Chi (51)
53. Shane Doan, RW, Pho (49)
54. Milan Hejduk, RW, Col (53)
55. Tomas Plekanec, C, Mon (56)
56. Teemu Selanne, RW, Anh (57)
57. Chris Kunitz, LW, Pit (33)
58. Ryan Kesler, C, Van (64)
59. Martin St. Louis, RW, TB (59)
60. Phil Kessel, RW, Tor (76)
61. Mike Ribeiro, C, Dal (61)
62. Thomas Vanek, LW, Buf (63)
63. Scott Gomez, C, Mon (58)
64. Jason Arnott, C, Nsh (65)
65. Rich Peverley, C, Atl (85)
66. Daniel Sedin, LW, Van (72)
67. Wojtek Wolski, LW, Col (71)
68. David Clarkson, C, NJ (48)
69. Jakub Voracek, RW, Cls (68)
70. James Neal, LW, Dal (74)
71. Brian Gionta, RW, Mon (55)
72. Ryane Clowe, RW, SJ (75)
73. David Booth, LW, Fla (66)
74. Dustin Brown, RW, LA (70)
75. Martin Havlat, LW, Min (79)
76. Mikael Samuelsson, RW, Van (83)
77. David Perron, LW, StL (80)
78. Kyle Okposo, RW, NYI (81)
79. Joe Pavelski, C, SJ (NR)
80. Tim Connolly, C, Buf (82)
81. J.P. Dumont, LW, Nsh (90)
82. Andrew Brunette, LW, Min (84)
83. Maxim Afinogenov, RW, Atl (NR)
84. Matt Moulson, LW, NYI (95)
85. Alexei Kovalev, RW, Ott (62)
86. Bill Guerin, RW, Pit (77)
87. Danny Briere, C, Phi (87)
88. Mike Fisher, C, Ott (88)
89. Milan Michalek, RW, Ott (NR)
90. Milan Lucic, LW, Bos (67)
91. Blake Wheeler, RW, Bos (89)
92. Jason Spezza, C, Ott (86)
93. Brendan Morrison, C, Was (93)
94. Mason Raymond, LW, Van (91)
95. Kris Versteeg, RW, Chi (92)
96. James vanRiemsdyk, LW, Phi (NR)
97. David Backes, C, StL (NR)
98. Derek Roy, C, Buf (96)
99. Jason Pominville, RW, Buf (97)
100. Niclas Bergfors, RW, NJ (NR)
We should all take some time to take a step back once in a while and watch a hockey game without worrying about who scores and who is on the ice when they do. We need to remember to treat the game with the same reverence I watched so many people give the Cup.
Luckily, I had already been thinking about all this by the time the evening gala with the Cup rolled around and I had a conversation with someone who delivered that quote at the top: "You play fantasy hockey. What do you care about the Cup?" ... So naturally, I had an answer equipped that explained to him how we aren't just stat-heads on a math mission, and that we play fantasy hockey because we love the game so much.
Though I did admit that sometimes we fantasy folks could use a friendly reminder to that effect…
And in a hypocritical turn of events, I now continue this column by justifying why some players are ranked higher than others, overanalyzing line combinations and going on mini math missions. Enjoy!
Rising and Falling
Marian Hossa, RW, Blackhawks (up 45 spots): Beating the most optimistic recovery forecast for his offseason surgery and scoring two goals in his return, Hossa makes an enormous leap into elite territory this week. The initial depth chart has him on the ice with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane almost exclusively, giving the Hawks a line with their three most potent weapons. Not only should Hossa experience a boost in production, but Toews and Kane could be in for good things as well. With 57 games left, it wouldn't be a shock to see Hossa on pace for 60 points despite the missed time. He should be as productive as he was in his peak seasons with the Atlanta Thrashers.
Dustin Penner, LW, Oilers (up 13 spots): I consider myself among those who believed in a resurgent Penner this season, but even I am surprised to see him at No. 6 on the ESPN Player Rater with two months of the season elapsed. Penner is a perfect fit for coach Pat Quinn's style, and he is using his strength to control the puck like he did when he made a name for himself with the Anaheim Ducks. With Ales Hemsky out for the season, Penner has no more competition for the title of "most valuable Edmonton Oiler" and he continues to answer the bell. There is no more questioning it: He is, for all intents and purposes, elite this year.
Chris Kunitz, LW, Penguins (down 24 spots): You may question the size of the drop in the rankings for a player who is due to return from injury sooner than later, but Kunitz will no longer be guaranteed a roster spot next to Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. Maxime Talbot is now back from a shoulder injury that has kept him out of the lineup all season, and his particular mix of grit and skill is alluring for any configuration of the Pittsburgh Penguins' top six forwards. Consider that the third line is almost completely set in stone with Michael Rupp, Jordan Staal and Tyler Kennedy, and you can see how easy it is to be concerned about Kunitz. I doubt he'd slip to fourth-line minutes, but he may end up on some kind of rotation in the top six. Either way, his production after he heals a lower-body injury doesn't look nearly as promising as it did when Talbot was also hurt.
•Devin Setoguchi is being eased back from a leg injury that has kept him out of the San Jose Sharks' lineup on two separate stints this season. He'll still be productive, but he no longer looks to have the potential of a No.1 forward.
•If Alex Ovechkin's knee injury doesn't turn out to be serious, have a look at Alexandre Giroux for possible deep-league help. He has skated with Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom over the past two games.
•As David Backes begins to heat up for his second-half tear, he seems to be bringing his linemates -- Paul Kariya and T.J. Oshie -- with him. In the past three games, Kariya has flashed a shots-on-goal pace we haven't seen from him since the 1990s, taking 19 shots in that span. For his part, Oshie has four points in his past four games.
•The line making noise in the desert at the moment is one consisting of Scottie Upshall, Matthew Lombardi and Lauri Korpikoski. Korpikoski actually was just filling in for the injured Peter Mueller. Consider it just one more reason to be down in Mueller this season.
•Despite ranking eighth on the team in power-play time over the past five games, David Krejci is showing signs of his sophomore form with three power-play points.
Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com and the 2008 Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Hockey Writer of the Year. You can e-mail him here