Replacing 36 goals on your top line can be a tall task in a new season. Or maybe it's not difficult at all.
The Boston Bruins traded away 36 goals when they dealt Phil Kessel to the Toronto Maple Leafs during the offseason, but it turns out replacing his production hasn't been all that difficult. In fact, the goals look to be coming from one source that was already on the roster. Marco Sturm, with 14 goals through 40 games, is on pace for a career-high 29 goals, but let's look a little closer at that pace, shall we?
Kessel scored his 36 goals skating on the Bruins' top line last season with Marc Savard and Milan Lucic, and Sturm has replaced him in that position this season. But here we have a big discrepancy in regard to calculating Sturm's potential pace, as Savard and Lucic have missed more games than they've played this season. (They've missed 45 of a combined 80 man-games.)
Here's an interesting way to compare Sturm's pace to Kessel's while factoring in the injuries: Take out the 15 games Savard has missed this season (in which Sturm scored three goals). Savard is one of the most dangerous playmakers in the league, so it's only fair that we compare apples to apples here in an assumption, fair or not, that Savard will stay healthy. In the 25 games in which Sturm and Savard both have been on the ice, Sturm has 11 goals. Over a full 82-game season, that would be, what do you know, 36 goals.
So quite literally, Sturm has replaced Kessel in the Bruins' lineup without the team missing a beat. Obviously, he is not on pace for those 36 goals because he won't get those 15 games without Savard back. But his with-Savard pace (.44 goals per game) means that in the final 42 games means we can expect 18.48 more goals, which would put him at 32 or 33 goals for the season.
And for good measure, Lucic has been activated off injured reserve and should be back on the top line this week. I'll bet the room that Lucic creates will inch Sturm's pace even higher and give him an outside shot at scoring 36 goals after all.
Sturm is still available in 17 percent of ESPN.com leagues, and Lucic is available in 28 percent of leagues. If you are fortunate enough, two-thirds of the Bruins' top line can be nabbed for free in your league.
Troy Brouwer, RW, Blackhawks (owned in 4.2 percent of ESPN.com leagues): The numbers don't necessarily scream for you to pick him up, but Brouwer is spending the vast majority of his 16 minutes of ice time per game with the two hottest scorers in the league, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville seems to have settled on his lines, and Brouwer is clearly a big winner; he is with Toews and Kane both on the first line and the first power-play unit. In the past five games, Kane has nine points while Toews has eight, and Brouwer has three goals. So although the dynamic duo don't involve him in every play, he is still contributing, and more points are bound to be coming his way simply because he's sharing the ice with Kane and Toews.
Alexander Steen, LW, Blues (1.3): With 10 points in his past eight games, Steen is asking for fantasy owners to pay attention, and well, you probably should listen to him. Although he hasn't had the best linemates to work with at even strength in Jay McClement and B.J. Crombeen, Steen has been a member of the first power-play unit for the St. Louis Blues. Even with new coach Davis Payne behind the bench Saturday, Steen was still on the first power-play unit mixed in with David Backes, Brad Boyes and Andy McDonald. Given the way he is playing, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him rewarded by the new coach with a move up the depth chart soon. In the meantime, fantasy owners can enjoy his power-play production; Steen has five points with the man advantage in his past seven games.
Matt Cullen, C, Hurricanes (2.2): Meet Eric Staal's new shotgun. Cullen has been skating on the top line of late and has seven points in his past seven games. On a line with Staal and Jussi Jokinen, Cullen seemingly has found the form that helped him manage 49 points in 59 games two seasons ago. The trick here is whether he will be valuable after the impending return of Erik Cole. You almost can guarantee Cole will return to Staal's wing when he is healthy (as soon as next week), but Ray Whitney has settled onto the second line and leaves Jokinen and Cullen to fight for the other spot beside Staal. Cullen certainly has the advantage given that both Cole and Jokinen are listed as left wingers, but a closer look reveals that all three shoot left-handed, and Cole has been known to play both sides. Keep an eye on the situation, as Staal certainly has turned the corner this season with 18 points in 13 December games. Whoever is skating next to him will have value.
Danny Syvret, D, Flyers: Syvret hasn't scored a single goal in an NHL arena in his career, but he does have one at Fenway Park. Syvret accounted for all the Philadelphia Flyers' scoring in the Winter Classic with his first NHL goal. It was his first goal in 45 career NHL games in parts of four seasons dating back to 2005-06, so it's fair to say he has had an up-and-down career in the minors. Actually, up, down, then up is more accurate. Syvret finished his junior career on a huge high with 69 points and a plus-70 in 62 games for the OHL's London Knights and a World Junior Hockey gold with Team Canada. But being drafted by the Edmonton Oilers was a bit of a curse back then, as the team did not have an AHL affiliate. That meant bouncing around the AHL and never being the focus of development on his team because the coaching staffs were always more concerned with the players who were owned by their NHL affiliate. So Syvret bounced around for three years with four different AHL clubs until a trade brought him into the Flyers' fold. In his first season as a focus for his AHL club's development, he led the league in scoring by a defenseman last season with 57 points in 76 games. He's finally getting a serious look at the NHL level by the Flyers, and although huge production might not be in the cards for him this season with so many good defensemen ahead of him on the depth chart, he should at least start making a name for himself.
Michael Del Zotto, D, Rangers (62.7): There's a reason we always should steer clear of defensemen who have trouble defending. Hmm, what was it again? Something about it being the essence of their position? Or is it the minus-infinity that comes with the inability to cover the right area in your own zone? Yeah, I think that was it. Del Zotto is down to minus-17 and thus on pace for a minus-34 this season. That's atrocious. We were drawn in at the start of the season by his quick start and coach John Tortorella's ability to blindly overlook Del Zotto's shortcomings on defense. Three months later, and with zero points in his past nine games, he is looking like waiver-wire fodder to me. Since Nov. 25, Del Zotto has had just one plus-rating in 18 games (and it was just a plus-1). His total minuses during that span add up to minus-18. Simply put, his plus/minus makes him not worth the trouble.
Rod Brind'Amour, C, Hurricanes (19.7): I'm guessing the owners in nearly a fifth of ESPN.com leagues in which Brind'Amour is owned don't realize it's over for him. He's done. Stick a fork in him. Farewell. He has been a solid fantasy contributor throughout the years, including quite the resurgence three seasons ago, but that won't be happening again. Now at minus-23 and counting, Brind'Amour has been limited by the coaching staff to fewer than 10 minutes per game for the past month and even fewer than five minutes in the past five games. Despite barely being on the ice for the past five games, he is still a minus-4 in them. Say a fond farewell and drop him.
Blues winger Andy McDonald is making a good first impression on Coach Payne with eight points in his past seven games. Payne left well enough alone in his first game and had McDonald on the ice with the Blues' other best players: Backes and Boyes. The new regime could be a very good thing for McDonald. Dustin Byfuglien still isn't getting enough respect in fantasy leagues. He is now consistently the fourth forward on the power play with Kane, Toews and Brouwer. Alex Goligoski is chipping in production, but I'm wondering if it's enough, given his situation. He plays both on and off the power play with Sergei Gonchar and has just two assists in nine games with a minus-6 rating. This is a reminder that Steve Downie is owned in only 3.4 percent of ESPN.com leagues and is turning into a fantasy beast. Thanks to his penalty minutes and role in the top six on a line with Vincent Lecavalier and Alex Tanguay, Downie is putting up both points and PIMs. Jump aboard.
Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com and the 2008 Fantasy Sports Writers Association's Hockey Writer of the Year. You can e-mail him here