Front Line: Which Flames have value?

The Calgary Flames haven't draw much attention from a fantasy hockey perspective this season. With only one player ranked in the top 150 of the ESPN Player Rater (Jarome Iginla), maybe there is a reason the Flames just seem to exist in the background.

But all situations are deserving of a closer inspection to see if there is not some fantasy goodness to be extracted.

First off, Iginla is doing just fine, a little bit better than expected this season, and is on pace to top last season in just about every fantasy category (plus/minus being the obvious exception). He is a top-30 player and is easily overcoming the negative impact of his plus/minus.

But where is his help? Olli Jokinen and Alex Tanguay both rank well outside the top 100 forwards, yet they are the closest any Flames come to Iginla's fantasy value.

Jokinen clearly has little, if any, chemistry with Iginla. Any hopes of a spark in his second go with the Flames have been dashed much earlier this season. Maybe it's because they are both cooks (goal scorers and shooters) trying to share a kitchen, but it is just not going to happen for these two. Jokinen still maintains a semblance of value thanks to his heavy shot and fight on the puck, but it would appear there is no chance, so long as he remains with the Flames, of returning to top-100 status.

Tanguay is a bit more of a conundrum. He never leaves Iginla's side and has played fairly well this season, yet still doesn't return top-100 value to fantasy owners. I still have Tanguay ranked in the top 100 because I still think he can do better. Maybe the ESPN standard fantasy game just isn't built for a guy like Tanguay. He is a solid playmaker and helps rack up points, but because of his situation with the Flames, he gets no power-play points and has a sore plus/minus. Those could be the additional categories he needs to make up for a lack of shots, penalty minutes and middle-of-the-road ice time. I still hold out hope for Tanguay, as power-play production would boost his value, and fixing a team's power play can be as easy as swapping out personnel already available. I'm not going to say run out and trade for Tanguay, but any upward trend in the Flames' scoring could indicate a big boost to his value.

Currently skating with Tanguay and Iginla on the top line is Brendan Morrison. Certainly arguable as a solid pickup by the Flames (especially given how the team's other centers have performed), Morrison hasn't been lighting the world on fire. There is something to be said for his quiet contributions, though. It has only been a handful of games since Morrison joined the new top line, and he has started to look better lately. Instead of a guy who scores a point every other game and plays 15 minutes, Morrison has four points in his past five games while playing almost 20 minutes. If he is going to be a top-line center, Iginla is certainly a great commodity to have on the wing. I'm not saying top-100 for Morrison anytime soon, but a medium-sized league owner could do worse for a centerman.

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. Steven Stamkos, TB (1)
2. Sidney Crosby, Pit (2)
3. Daniel Sedin, Van (3)
4. Brad Richards, Dal (4)
5. Alex Ovechkin, Was (5)
6. Corey Perry, Ana (6)
7. Nicklas Backstrom, Was (7)
8. Henrik Sedin, Van (8)
9. Dany Heatley, SJ (9)
10. Martin St. Louis, TB (10)
11. Alexander Semin, Was (11)
12. Jeff Carter, Phi (13)
13. Anze Kopitar, LA (14)
14. Evgeni Malkin, Pit (12)
15. Jonathan Toews, Chi (15)
16. Eric Staal, Car (16)
17. Pavel Datsyuk, Det (30)
18. Henrik Zetterberg, Det (17)
19. Mike Richards, Phi (18)
20. Ryan Kesler, Van (19)
21. Bobby Ryan, Ana (21)
22. Danny Briere, Phi (22)
23. Patrick Sharp, Chi (23)
24. Rick Nash, Cls (33)
25. Ryan Getzlaf, Ana (20)
26. Joe Thornton, SJ (24)
27. Jarome Iginla, Cgy (25)
28. Mikko Koivu, Min (26)
29. Marian Gaborik, NYR (32)
30. Paul Stastny, Col (27)
31. Loui Eriksson, Dal (28)
32. Alex Burrows, Van (29)
33. Claude Giroux, Phi (35)
34. Patrick Kane, Chi (31)
35. Ilya Kovalchuk, NJ (41)
36. James Neal, Dal (37)
37. Scott Hartnell, Phi (34)
38. Teemu Selanne, Ana (48)
39. Tomas Plekanec, Mon (39)
40. Johan Franzen, Det (40)
41. John Tavares, NYI (46)
42. Milan Hejduk, Col (42)
43. Martin Havlat, Min (43)
44. Dustin Brown, LA (44)
45. Chris Stewart, Col (36)
46. Justin Williams, LA (47)
47. David Backes, StL (45)
48. Matt Duchene, Col (49)
49. Shane Doan, Pho (50)
50. Stephen Weiss, Fla (51)
51. Milan Lucic, Bos (55)
52. Andrew Ladd, Atl (52)
53. Nathan Horton, Bos (38)
54. Logan Couture, SJ (56)
55. Ryan Smyth, LA (53)
56. Marian Hossa, Chi (54)
57. Vincent Lecavalier, TB (66)
58. Thomas Vanek, Buf (57)
59. Phil Kessel, Tor (58)
60. Evander Kane, Atl (59)
61. Scott Gomez, Mon (67)
62. David Krejci, Bos (65)
63. Patrice Bergeron, Bos (76)
64. Brenden Morrow, Dal (61)
65. Patrick Marleau, SJ (63)
66. Mike Ribeiro, Dal (72)
67. Ryane Clowe, SJ (62)
68. Jeff Skinner, Car (71)
69. Alexander Steen, StL (69)
70. Joe Pavelski, SJ (68)
71. Brian Gionta, Mon (70)
72. Brandon Dubinsky, NYR (60)
73. Marc Savard, Bos (73)
74. Ryan Malone, TB (74)
75. Ville Leino, Phi (75)
76. Steve Downie, TB (77)
77. Brooks Laich, Was (78)
78. Tuomo Ruutu, Car (79)
79. Mike Cammalleri, Mon (64)
80. Patric Hornqvist, Nsh (91)
81. Chris Kunitz, Pit (82)
82. David Booth, Fla (83)
83. Jason Pominville, Buf (84)
84. Travis Zajac, NJ (85)
85. Rich Peverley, Atl (87)
86. Alex Tanguay, Cgy (80)
87. R.J. Umberger, Cls (98)
88. Nikolai Kulemin, Tor (89)
89. Wojtek Wolski, NYR (100)
90. Dave Bolland, Chi (99)
91. Bryan Little, Atl (90)
92. Drew Stafford, Buf (92)
93. Mikhail Grabovski, Tor (NR)
94. Sergei Kostitsyn, Nsh (93)
95. Matt Moulson, NYI (94)
96. Dustin Penner, Edm (95)
97. Sean Avery, NYR (NR)
98. Ray Whitney, Pho (96)
99. Mark Recchi, Bos (NR)
100. T.J. Oshie, StL (NR)

Finally, there is Rene Bourque. He is only on pace for 10 fewer points than last season, so why is no one hot on him anymore? This is the easiest answer: consistency of scoring. While Bourque may have a very respectable 15 goals this season, he scored the lion's share before December. In his first 22 games of the season, Bourque had 11 goals. In 25 games since then, he has four goals. It is likely a symptom of just not being in the right place on the depth chart. Last season, the Flames were pretty lucky to find the perfect line for Bourque, with Nigel Dawes and Daymond Langkow. But with both those linemates gone (Dawes with Atlanta Thrashers, Langkow still recovering from a neck injury), so is the magic for Bourque.

So what have we learned? Iginla is as steady as they come; Morrison and Tanguay have potential to contribute; Jokinen and Bourque are showing their best cards already. I'd say that's not a bad lesson for a discussion that I hung on a lack of discussion.

Rising and Falling

Rick Nash, Columbus Blue Jackets (up nine spots): Back on a line with young players Derick Brassard and Jakub Voracek, Nash has found his groove again. With 10 points during a seven-game streak, Nash is exhibiting the kind of spark that hadn't been in his game since he was on a line with Brassard and Voracek back in November. Hopefully the trio doesn't fade out this time around. I would also have a look at Voracek off the free-agent pile in your league (Brassard is likely taken).

Dave Bolland, Chicago Blackhawks (up nine spots): It is notable that no member of the Blackhawks has more points than Bolland's 11 in his past 13 games. Making it more impressive is that Bolland rarely moves up past the third line or the second power-play unit on the depth chart. We had him down as a sleeper before the season, but things didn't look good when Bolland only managed five points in his first 22 games. He has 18 points in 20 games since breaking out of his funk.

Scoring Lines

Peter Forsberg, Free Agent: Here we go again! One of the greats from the past couple decades has decided, yet again, to give his chronically injured foot another go. Forsberg is practicing with the Colorado Avalanche, trying to show he can still compete at a top level, even though he hasn't played in the NHL since the final few weeks of the 2007-08 season. Forsberg is reportedly skating pain-free from a chronically injured foot that hampered the latter years of his stellar career. I say now is the time to pick him up. Forsberg hasn't been pain-free from his foot ailment since he was with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2005-06 and it showed with his games played, although not necessarily in his point totals. He was still better than a point per game in recent years despite all the trouble. In fact, in nine games with the Avalanche in 2008, he scored 14 points and registered a plus-7. The bottom line here is that Forsberg is ridiculously skilled, has a healthy foot and is working out with a club that -- although surely would have welcomed him back otherwise -- happens to have an opening in the top six with the loss of Tomas Fleischmann for the season. Forsberg is in the ESPN player universe and is definitely worth stashing on your bench with your fingers crossed.

Ryan Stoa, Colorado Avalanche: In the meantime, the Avalanche are trying the rookie Stoa on the top line with Chris Stewart and Paul Stastny. On paper, he is a good fit. Stoa has size, grit and acceptable offensive skills (28 points in 44 games in the AHL this season). It's his physical play that can make a difference though, and that should fit in well with Stewart and Stastny, who fit the scorer and playmaker mold respectively.

Power Plays

New Jersey Devils: Don't look now, but coach Jacques Lemaire seems to have straightened things out for the Devils. Ilya Kovalchuk and Patrik Elias both have great fantasy value during the past two weeks. But it's Brian Rolston, a former Lemaire student with the Minnesota Wild as well, who is looking the most rejuvenated, scoring 10 points during a 6-0-1 Devils streak. Three of those points have come on the five-forward power play being deployed by Lemaire. Rolston still has top-six forward attributes despite being used a third-liner for the majority of the past couple seasons. Definitely consider him for a pickup and get the rest of your Devils back in your lineup.


Pittsburgh Penguins: I admit it. I am now sweating a bit about Sidney Crosby. I'm going to hold back any outward cries of concern until after the All-Star break, though. If the NHL returns from the break and Crosby is still experiencing symptoms of a mild concussion, I think it may be time to think about spinning him off for another top fantasy player. For now, I'd only part with Crosby for Steven Stamkos (or maybe Tim Thomas) in any fantasy league. As for Evgeni Malkin, his knee injury doesn't sound so serious and he should be back after the All-Star festivities.

Detroit Red Wings: Both Pavel Datsyuk and Dan Cleary hope to return to action following the All-Star break. While this is a relief for Datsyuk owners, a shrewd fantasy owner might make a speculative pickup on Cleary in the meantime. Cleary had 26 points in 35 games before hurting his ankle in late December. His ownership was trending up toward 100 percent during a hot streak, but is currently down near 27 percent after his prolonged absence.

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 e-mail him here.