The ESPN Player Rater compares each player's production with the rest of the league's and rates his performance in each category to come up with a sum total. The best players in the league flirt with the 20 mark.
But the player rater, when necessary, also can score a negative number.
It's the subbasement of the fantasy hockey world, and no owner wants to spend too much time looking around down there. But just like with any other subbasement, if you spend enough time sifting through all the garbage, you might find something of value.
Before we get to a busy week in the Forecaster (literally; all teams play at least three games), I thought I would highlight a few possible gems I found in the subbasement. All the following players have a negative value attributed by the ESPN Player Rater as of Thursday morning.
James van Riemsdyk, Philadelphia Flyers: Although he started the season strong, van Reimsdyk might be one of the worst offenders with a negative player rater value when you consider his ice time, linemates and overall pedigree. The No. 2 pick of the 2007 draft has four assists in 13 games, minimal shots on goal and no penalty minutes to speak of. Perhaps the Flyers already have too many cooks in the kitchen when it comes to offense, or perhaps van Riemsdyk has the sophomore blues. Either way, he has been a healthy scratch lately and should be held on to only in the deepest of fantasy leagues.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic, San Jose Sharks: It's almost unbelievable that a guy playing for a strong offense like the Sharks' -- and playing 20 minutes a night -- would go pointless through the first 15 games of the season. This is a guy who posted six goals and 30 assists two seasons ago. If nothing else, you would think he would have at least touched the puck before a goal went in at some point. To be fair, Vlasic has been passed on the depth chart by Jason Demers, so it isn't as if he is the second option for the Sharks anyway. Still, he is putting his time in, and this team can score goals. He will still get close to 25 points this season, so using him as a fifth defenseman in deeper leagues is still an option.
Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings: To be fair to Doughty, the ESPN Player Rater doesn't account for games played, so the fact that he missed six games does hurt him. But for a guy who was supposed to be top-five among defensemen, Doughty's one assist in eight games shouldn't be making his owners feel good. He is still getting the ice time, the power-play time and the skilled teammates to work with, so what gives? To me, it's a problem with his trigger that should be easy to work out. Doughty has 11 shots on goal this season. In eight games, that is a terrible number. What's worse? He had five shots on goal in the first game of the season. That's right. He has taken six shots on goal in his past seven games. He is not a powerhouse shooting defenseman from the point, so a few slow nights is no big deal, but this trend goes back a ways and continues post-injury. The bottom line is that it does not appear as though Jack Johnson has taken over any of Doughty's role and appears as though Doughty should be just fine after adjustments. Trade for him while the trading is good.
Scott Gomez, Montreal Canadiens: Gomez has just four points through 16 games as the second line for the Canadiens continues to underachieve. Just how bad it has been is being overstated, though. He's not a fantasy star anymore, but Gomez did finish as a strong fantasy asset last season with 59 points. That was after a stretch last season in which Gomez went 14 games in October and November with only five points. That is almost as bad a slump as he is in right now, but he turned it around for a good finish. Coach Jacques Martin has switched things up and placed Gomez with Andrei Kostitsyn and Maxim Lapierre while Brian Gionta skates with Tomas Plekanec and Mike Cammalleri. The shake-up should be enough to knock the cobwebs off of Gomez and Gionta.
"O" (offense) and "D" (defense) matchup ratings are based upon a scale from 1 (poor matchup) to 10 (excellent matchup), and are calculated using a formula that evaluates the team's year-to-date and past 21 days' statistics, their performance in home/road games depending on where the game is to be played, as well as their opponents' numbers in those categories. The Games T / H column lists the team's total number of games played as well as home games (T / H), and lists the cumulative rating from 1-10 of that week's matchups.
Bruins, Flyers, Sharks, Canucks, Kings are best bets: Some of the offenses you likely would list off the top of your head are the ones that make the best picks for fantasy hockey owners in the week ahead. The Boston Bruins, Philadelphia Flyers, San Jose Sharks, Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings all have the quality combination of having at least a 7 for both their offensive and defensive rating. All five teams have a four-game week, too. These clubs should put up impressive totals in the coming seven days, so lean on them when you can. Free-agent options include Scott Parse (playing with Anze Kopitar), Patrice Bergeron (on top line with David Krejci hurt), Blake Wheeler (working the first power-play unit), Jason Demers (first power-play unit) and Nikolay Zherdev (finally showing something on a line with Mike Richards).
Avalanche all offense: Aside from the fact that the week ahead looks like a bad time to fool around with Peter Budaj as your goaltender, the week also forecasts as a week of gunslinging by the Colorado Avalanche offense. The main reason I draw your attention to this is to highlight Brandon Yip. On a line with Matt Duchene and Milan Hejduk, Yip has started to benefit from the talent of his linemates. With three goals and two assists over his past five games, Yip is showing why even an energy-line forward can be a fantasy force with the right linemates. There will be hot and cold streaks, but with the Avs' first line missing T.J. Galiardi and a favorable week ahead, now is a good time to put Yip to good use.
Don't mess with Texas: The Forecaster is telling us that home games for the Dallas Stars are very favorable and the week ahead calls for three home games that all rate a 10 on the Forecaster for offense. Look to Jamie Benn as an available player who is starting to find his stride. Benn has seven points in nine games since recovering from a concussion and looks strong on the second line with Mike Ribeiro and Brenden Morrow.
Apparently the Habs are terrible at home: I don't know that we've ever seen such a terrible Forecaster rating for a team with three home games on tap. The Montreal Canadiens earn a 1 rating on both offense and defense for the week ahead. With games against the Flyers, Nashville Predators and Toronto Maple Leafs, the Habs barely muster a second glance on the Forecaster because the rating is so terrible. However, the root of the terrible rating (at least on offense) might be the team's 6 percent success rate on the power play. With Andrei Markov back in the fold and P.K. Subban finally notching his maiden goal, that should begin to change. I still wouldn't load up on Habs for the week ahead, though.
It doesn't detract too much from my love for this rookie, but there is a disturbing trend to point out for Jeff Skinner of the Carolina Hurricanes. He has played more than 18 minutes in three games. In those three games combined, he has zero points and a minus-8 rating. In his other 13 games played, he has 15 points and is plus-5. Does anyone else want to tell the Maple Leafs that it isn't a slump but rather the expected result when you assemble a team with only two players who have above-average NHL skills? Vincent Lecavalier will miss a month with a broken hand, but it shouldn't hurt fantasy owners other than those that own Lecavalier. He wasn't providing a spark for the Tampa Bay Lightning second line anyway. The top line for the Columbus Blue Jackets finally looks exactly like it should. Jakub Voracek, Derick Brassard and Rick Nash are going to be a force to reckon with (as they showed the St. Louis Blues this week). Go out and get Voracek and Brassard where available. Even Nikita Filatov might deserve some attention on the second line with Antoine Vermette and R.J. Umberger. Michael Frolik looks good with Shawn Matthias and Stephen Weiss on his line. With eight points in his past five games, Frolik could finally be throwing his long overdue coming-out party. I doubt he'll turn out to be the hero to turn the entire ship around, but Mattias Tedenby made his NHL debut for the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday -- skating with Jason Arnott and Patrik Elias -- and managed an assist in his first game. Todd Bertuzzi has shifted down to a line with Mike Modano and Daniel Cleary. Whether that is the reason or not, both Cleary and Modano are on a hot streak. They will go hot and cold, but consider using them for now.
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.