Front Line: Deconstructing Mike Fisher

At what point can I possibly acknowledge Mike Fisher as an elite-level forward, or should that even happen? While he remains in the 70s on my list, Fisher has maintained a Player Rater value as the 14th-best forward for ESPN standard leagues this season. Fisher is an odd case, though. He achieves his value in a sneaky way: a specialized attack on three categories.

Most of Fisher's Player Rater value comes from three places: Goals, power-play goals and shots on goal. His six power-play tallies rank him decently in that category, and of course, have fueled his goal total to the point where it's earning value as well. Add in his membership in the triple-digit shots club at this point in the season (a club with fewer than 30 members) and you can account for most of Fisher's value this season. His numbers in the other categories are middle-of-the-road -- basically just enough to earn some positive value, and enough to make sure he doesn't hurt your team anywhere else.

So elite is the wrong word for Fisher; he just manages to make average look really good. Can he keep it up, though? Sure he can. His pace for assists this season is actually not too far off his normal numbers; it's just his goals that are elevated. So as long as the Ottawa Senators keep using him as finisher on the power play and look to him to help fill the Dany Heatley void, Fisher can maintain this increase in scoring. Especially if his linemate, Alexei Kovalev, starts pulling his weight.

So where does Fisher belong in the rankings? I still think the 70s is a good place for him. These rankings are meant to help with value over the remainder of the season, and when you are looking at value over the remainder of the season for the top 100 you are usually thinking about trades. Fisher isn't the type of guy you go after in trade to help your team win. He's the decision to take a pitch on a 3-0 count in the bottom of the ninth with two outs, your team down by two, the pitcher on deck and a runner on first. The safe thing to do, but if you are trying to move up the standings you need a player who better represents the decision to swing away. (I apologize as there wasn't really an appropriate hockey analogy here. I considered using a pulled-goalie approach, but that got convoluted too quickly).

I think Fisher's value can be more useful for a team that is already doing well in the standings and just wants to hang on. His type of production should better serve an owner who can absorb the drop if Fisher suddenly becomes Mike Fisher again.

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 (3)
4. Evgeni Malkin, C, Pit (4)
5. Marian Gaborik, RW, NYR (5)
6. Zach Parise, LW, NJ (7)
7. Rick Nash, LW, Cls (6)
8. Mike Richards, C, Phi (9)
9. Pavel Datsyuk, C, Det (8)
10. Joe Thornton, C, SJ (10)
11. Steven Stamkos, C, TB (11)
12. Anze Kopitar, C, LA (12)
13. Corey Perry, RW, Anh (14)
14. Patrick Marleau, C, SJ (20)
15. Jarome Iginla, RW, Cgy (13)
16. Nicklas Backstrom, C, Was (17)
17. Bobby Ryan, RW, Anh (18)
18. Alexander Semin, LW, Was (19)
19. Henrik Zetterberg, C, Det (21)
20. Ryan Getzlaf, C, Anh (15)
21. Jeff Carter, C, Phi (16)
22. Henrik Sedin, C, Van (24)
23. Dustin Penner, LW, Edm (29)
24. Ilya Kovalchuk, LW, Atl (22)
25. Brenden Morrow, LW, Dal (23)
26. Eric Staal, C, Car (25)
27. Marc Savard, C, Bos (26)
28. Ryan Malone, LW, TB (36)
29. Nathan Horton, RW, Fla (35)
30. Mike Cammalleri, LW, Mon (27)
31. Patrick Kane, RW, Chi (30)
32. Paul Stastny, C, Col (39)
33. Marian Hossa, RW, Chi (32)
34. Scott Hartnell, RW, Phi (28)
35. Travis Zajac, C, NJ (33)
36. Brad Richards, C, Dal (34)
37. Ryan Smyth, LW, LA (31)
38. John Tavares, C, NYI (38)
39. Olli Jokinen, C, Cgy (42)
40. Daniel Sedin, LW, Van (59)
41. Mikko Koivu, C, Min (52)
42. Alexandre Burrows, C, Van (43)
43. Brooks Laich, C, Was (40)
44. Phil Kessel, RW, Tor (46)
45. Jonathan Toews, C, Chi (44)
46. Loui Eriksson, LW, Dal (49)
47. Tomas Holmstrom, LW, Det (45)
48. Mike Knuble, RW, Was (37)
49. Daniel Alfredsson, RW, Ott (41)
50. Vaclav Prospal, C, NYR (47)
51. Vincent Lecavalier, C, TB (48)
52. Milan Hejduk, RW, Col (50)
53. Patrik Elias, LW, NJ (51)
54. Rich Peverley, C, Atl (57)
55. Patrick Sharp, C, Chi (53)
56. Shane Doan, RW, Pho (54)
57. Tomas Plekanec, C, Mon (55)
58. Ryan Kesler, C, Van (56)
59. Martin St. Louis, RW, TB (58)
60. Wojtek Wolski, LW, Col (64)
61. Jason Arnott, C, Nsh (61)
62. Andrew Brunette, LW, Min (72)
63. Kyle Okposo, RW, NYI (75)
64. Maxim Afinogenov, RW, Atl (65)
65. Thomas Vanek, LW, Buf (67)
66. Ryane Clowe, RW, SJ (73)
67. James Neal, LW, Dal (69)
68. Mikael Samuelsson, RW, Van (70)
69. Brian Gionta, RW, Mon (71)
70. Mike Ribeiro, C, Dal (60)
71. Mike Fisher, C, Ott (84)
72. David Perron, LW, StL (74)
73. Martin Havlat, LW, Min (85)
74. Matt Moulson, LW, NYI (76)
75. Joe Pavelski, C, SJ (77)
76. Teemu Selanne, RW, Anh (62)
77. Bill Guerin, RW, Pit (86)
78. Alexei Ponikarovsky, LW, Tor (NR)
79. Dustin Brown, RW, LA (82)
80. Tim Connolly, C, Buf (79)
81. Stephen Weiss, C, Fla (91)
82. Brendan Morrison, C, Was (83)
83. Devin Setoguchi, RW, SJ (63)
84. Danny Briere, C, Phi (88)
85. Jarret Stoll, C, LA (NR)
86. Kris Versteeg, RW, Chi (89)
87. Milan Michalek, RW, Ott (90)
88. Niclas Bergfors, RW, NJ (95)
89. Chris Kunitz, LW, Pit (87)
90. Milan Lucic, LW, Bos (92)
91. Matt Stajan, C, Tor (NR)
92. Blake Wheeler, RW, Bos (93)
93. Mason Raymond, LW, Van (96)
94. Matt Duchene, C, Col (94)
95. Jamie Langenbrunner, RW, NJ (NR)
96. Michael Frolik, C, Fla (NR)
97. David Backes, C, StL (98)
98. Chris Stewart, RW, Col (NR)
99. Jason Pominville, RW, Buf (99)
100. Jason Spezza, C, Ott (100)

Rising and Falling

Chris Stewart, RW, Avalanche (debuts at No. 98): Since settling in for first-line duties with the Colorado Avalanche, Stewart has been a firecracker. He has 15 points in his past 12 games, a plus-5 and 19 penalty minutes as well. The debut at No. 98 may seem overly cautious, but his value stems largely from his current role, so until he is solidified as an unquestioned top-line player, there is some risk. However, once it becomes clear he isn't going anywhere, look for Stewart to rise quickly. My gut says he will be elite over the rest of the season, but my head says approach with caution.

Kyle Okposo, RW, Islanders (up 12 spots): Okposo seems to have found his place on the Islanders' second line with Josh Bailey and Frans Nielsen, but he is not jumping in the rankings because of his work with them. Okposo is still a big part of the Isles' first power-play unit with John Tavares, Matt Moulson, Mark Streit and recently Rob Schremp. In his past six games, Okposo has eight assists, and six of those helpers came on the man advantage.

Bobby Ryan, RW, Ducks (up 1 spot): Ryan has seven points in five games with a plus-4 and has still just gained one spot to No. 17 on the list. I wanted to single him out this week to show just how little movement I expect among the top players from here on out. Things are always shuffling, but the value of the top 30-40 players has become relatively stable. A big week out of Ryan doesn't do much for his ranking because all of these top players will have their big weeks from time to time. So when someone moves six spots up to No. 14, like Patrick Marleau, you know he is doing something right.

Mike Ribeiro, C, Stars (down 10 spots): He's not doing anything particularly wrong this year, but overall Ribeiro's numbers are down. With Brad Richards emerging as the offensive leader for the Dallas Stars, it seems Ribeiro has had to settle for a secondary role. With only 15 assists on the season so far, we can expect him to finish with his lowest total since donning a Stars uniform in 2006-07. This drop is simply to get Ribeiro closer to what he is actually worth at his current pace.

Scoring Lines

"If you, like I, are a constant traveler on the "Rob Schremp might do something soon" bandwagon, get out your tickets. Schremp has three points in three games -- including his first NHL goal -- after almost a month as a healthy scratch. He is getting a ton of power-play time and an opportunity with fellow young Islanders star Jesse Joensuu, who is up from the AHL.

"Their lines are shuffled so much it's hard to keep caring, but the Edmonton Oilers have Dustin Penner with Sam Gagner and Gilbert Brule again. Naturally, this is a boon to both Gagne and Brule for the time being.

"Jamie Langenbrunner's reappearance in the top 100 might be short-lived after he was spotted on a line with Jay Pandolfo and Rob Niedermayer. Hopefully his checking-line assignment doesn't last.

"Even though Mike Knuble is back with the Washington Capitals, he is not playing top line or top power-play duties at the moment. That significantly reduces his value.

Power Plays

"Andrei Kostitsyn is not only on the top line with Mike Cammalleri and Tomas Plekanec, but on the first power play as well. That only increases the chances that his value continues to rise this season.

"Things are definitely looking up for Martin Havlat, as not only are Kyle Brodziak and Guillaume Latendresse looking like solid even-strength linemates for him, but he is joining Mikko Koivu, Andrew Brunette and Antti Miettinen on the power play.

"Ryan Callahan is back on the power play with Marian Gaborik, Vaclav Prospal and Ales Kotalik for the New York Rangers. He has three power-play points in two games.

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.