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Fantasy value of bubble Olympians

Ben Bishop is on the bubble for Team USA, but he's been quite valuable in fantasy. Al Bello/Getty Images

If you are wondering if you approach the NHL more from a fantasy or real world perspective as a fan, there is no better time to find out which side you are on than as Olympic rosters are being announced. Some countries have already declared their intentions, but the two with the most question marks have yet to make their big reveal. The U.S. will unveil its roster following the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on Wednesday, while Canada will announce at some point before the Jan. 7 roster deadline. You may not be able to decide if you are more of a hockey fan or fantasy fan, but watching real life GMs build "fantasy" teams for the Olympics can help clarify the situation for you.

Let's look at two players who are "on the bubble" to represent their home country at the Olympics, but would be no-brainers for any fantasy roster.

Chris Kunitz, F, Pittsburgh Penguins: Kunitz is the third-best skater in the NHL for a fantasy hockey owner to possess. In the ESPN standard fantasy hockey game, Kunitz's rotisserie value only trails linemate Sidney Crosby and the Chicago Blackhawks' Patrick Kane. Yet, Kunitz is a name that is rarely mentioned as an option for Canada's Olympic roster. Of course, pundits and analysts do not know the mind of Team Canada decision-maker Steve Yzerman, but the fact that Kunitz is not mentioned in discussions of the team is evidence of the divide between fantasy hockey value and real hockey value. Kunitz has 42 points this season -- more than all but five other NHL players -- and his plus-21 plus/minus rating is tied for the league lead with Anze Kopitar. When it comes to linemate familiarity, we've seen T.J. Oshie's role with David Backes used time and time again to defend him as a possible selection for the U.S. roster, but there's no love for the fact that Kunitz has chemistry and familiarity with Canada's best player.

Fantasy owners would give you Patrice Bergeron (considered a lock for Canada's third line) in exchange for Kunitz any day of the week. But Bergeron is a good example of why different players matter more on the ice than they do in our fantasy rosters. Bergeron's grit and defensive awareness on Canada's third line will help the team more in tight games than having Kunitz's experience with Crosby.

This argument around Kunitz is a prime illustration of the focus we are required to give to linemates and stars by association in the fantasy world. Remember that before he was wingman to a superstar, Kunitz never really managed to establish much fantasy value in his career. He owes it to his connection with Crosby. While you can use chemistry and familiarity to break ties for the Olympic roster, it should not be used to select one player over another more talented player. With so many superstars on the Olympic teams, there are likely other players that could perform even better than Kunitz on a line with Crosby; and where, exactly, would that leave Kunitz? We need to keep the linemate arguments where they belong, which is in the fantasy realm.

The Top 200

Note: Sean Allen's top 200 players 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 for skaters, and wins, goals-against average and save percentage for goalies. Last week's ranking is indicated in parentheses.

1. Sidney Crosby, F, Pit (2)
2. Alex Ovechkin, F, Was (1)
3. Patrick Kane, F, Chi (4)
4. Corey Perry, F, Ana (3)
5. Evgeni Malkin, F, Pit (5)
6. P.K. Subban, D, Mon (6)
7. John Tavares, F, NYI (7)
8. Erik Karlsson, D, Ott (8)
9. Tuukka Rask, G, Bos (9)
10. Pavel Datsyuk, F, Det (10)
11. Ryan Getzlaf, F, Ana (11)
12. Carey Price, G, Mon (12)
13. Anze Kopitar, F, LA (13)
14. Chris Kunitz, F, Pit (16)
15. Daniel Sedin, F, Van (14)
16. Henrik Sedin, F, Van (15)
17. Jonathan Toews, F, Chi (18)
18. Tyler Seguin, F, Dal (19)
19. Phil Kessel, F, Tor (20)
20. Josh Harding, G, Min (17)
21. Patrick Sharp, F, Chi (21)
22. Marc-Andre Fleury, G, Pit (22)
23. David Backes, F, StL (23)
24. Logan Couture, F, SJ (24)
25. Dustin Byfuglien, D, Wpg (25)
26. Henrik Zetterberg, F, Det (26)
27. Duncan Keith, D, Chi (30)
28. Claude Giroux, F, Phi (33)
29. Nicklas Backstrom, F, Was (29)
30. James Neal, F, Pit (31)
31. Patrick Marleau, F, SJ (32)
32. Bobby Ryan, F, Ott (34)
33. Drew Doughty, D, LA (40)
34. Joe Pavelski, F, SJ (35)
35. Antti Niemi, G, SJ (36)
36. Ben Bishop, G, TB (43)
37. Roberto Luongo, G, Van (37)
38. Eric Staal, F, Car (38)
39. Shea Weber, D, Nsh (41)
40. Corey Crawford, G, Chi (47)
41. Martin St. Louis, F, TB (42)
42. Semyon Varlamov, G, Col (39)
43. Ryan Kesler, F, Van (44)
44. Taylor Hall, F, Edm (45)
45. Jamie Benn, F, Dal (46)
46. Marian Hossa, F, Chi (57)
47. Niklas Kronwall, D, Det (52)
48. Joe Thornton, F, SJ (48)
49. James van Riemsdyk, F, Tor (49)
50. Rick Nash, F, NYR (51)
51. Zach Parise, F, Min (28)
52. Jonas Hiller, G, Ana (68)
53. Kris Letang, D, Pit (53)
54. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, D, Pho (50)
55. Mikko Koivu, F, Min (54)
56. Andrei Markov, D, Mon (55)
57. Alex Pietrangelo, D, StL (58)
58. Thomas Vanek, F, NYI (59)
59. Ryan Suter, D, Min (60)
60. Alexander Steen, F, StL (27)
61. Matt Duchene, F, Col (61)
62. Kyle Turris, F, Ott (75)
63. Kari Lehtonen, G, Dal (62)
64. David Krejci, F, Bos (63)
65. Johan Franzen, F, Det (64)
66. Gabriel Landeskog, F, Col (65)
67. Jaroslav Halak, G, StL (56)
68. Keith Yandle, D, Pho (66)
69. Evander Kane, F, Wpg (69)
70. Max Pacioretty, F, Mon (70)
71. Jaromir Jagr, F, NJ (80)
72. Steve Mason, G, Phi (87)
73. Radim Vrbata, F, Pho (71)
74. Brad Richards, F, NYR (72)
75. Jarome Iginla, F, Bos (83)
76. Jeff Carter, F, LA (73)
77. Justin Williams, F, LA (74)
78. Henrik Lundqvist, G, NYR (76)
79. Jason Spezza, F, Ott (67)
80. Jonathan Bernier, G, Tor (100)
81. T.J. Oshie, F, StL (79)
82. Kevin Shattenkirk, D, StL (99)
83. Brent Seabrook, D, Chi (101)
84. David Perron, F, Edm (81)
85. Jay Bouwmeester, D, StL (82)
86. Jordan Eberle, F, Edm (77)
87. Jakub Voracek, F, Phi (84)
88. Dion Phaneuf, D, Tor (86)
89. James Wisniewski, D, Cls (85)
90. Brandon Dubinsky, F, Cls (88)
91. Milan Lucic, F, Bos (89)
92. Nazem Kadri, F, Tor (78)
93. Bryan Little, F, Wpg (98)
94. Kyle Okposo, F, NYI (91)
95. Andrew Ladd, F, Wpg (92)
96. Cam Fowler, D, Ana (93)
97. Jonathan Quick, G, LA (94)
98. Jeff Skinner, F, Car (95)
99. Derek Stepan, F, NYR (96)
100. Braden Holtby, G, Was (97)
101. Jason Garrison, D, Van (103)
102. Brent Burns, F, SJ (105)
103. Patrice Bergeron, F, Bos (106)
104. Craig Anderson, G, Ott (141)
105. Zdeno Chara, D, Bos (107)
106. Mike Green, D, Was (109)
107. Brandon Saad, F, Chi (121)
108. Ryan Johansen, F, Cls (110)
109. Shane Doan, F, Pho (102)
110. Jimmy Howard, G, Det (111)
111. Dustin Penner, F, Ana (90)
112. Dan Boyle, D, SJ (113)
113. Daniel Alfredsson, F, Det (114)
114. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, F, Edm (115)
115. Martin Hanzal, F, Pho (125)
116. Paul Stastny, F, Col (116)
117. Matt Moulson, F, Buf (117)
118. Torey Krug, D, Bos (108)
119. Jiri Hudler, F, Cgy (118)
120. Cory Schneider, G, NJ (119)
121. Jason Pominville, F, Min (120)
122. Mike Smith, G, Pho (139)
123. Dustin Brown, F, LA (112)
124. Clarke MacArthur, F, Ott (131)
125. Erik Johnson, D, Col (123)
126. Tomas Plekanec, F, Mon (124)
127. Joffrey Lupul, F, Tor (126)
128. Blake Wheeler, F, Wpg (127)
129. Mike Richards, F, LA (128)
130. Radko Gudas, D, TB (129)
131. Mike Ribeiro, F, Pho (130)
132. Pekka Rinne, G, Nsh (104)
133. Valtteri Filppula, F, TB (173)
134. Ryan O'Reilly, F, Col (132)
135. Mark Giordano, D, Cgy (133)
136. Chris Kreider, F, NYR (134)
137. Cam Ward, G, Car (135)
138. Jaden Schwartz, F, StL (157)
139. Ben Scrivens, G, LA (136)
140. Kevin Bieksa, D, Van (137)
141. Mikhail Grabovski, F, Was (138)
142. Steve Downie, F, Phi (122)
143. Cody Franson, D, Tor (140)
144. Ryan Miller, G, Buf (188)
145. Reilly Smith, F, Bos (164)
146. Victor Hedman, D, TB (162)
147. Scott Hartnell, F, Phi (142)
148. Brian Campbell, D, Fla (143)
149. Ondrej Pavelec, G, Wpg (144)
150. Matt Niskanen, D, Pit (179)
151. John Carlson, D, Was (145)
152. Jonas Gustavsson, G, Det (146)
153. James Reimer, G, Tor (148)
154. Brendan Gallagher, F, Mon (149)
155. Robin Lehner, G, Ott (150)
156. Sergei Bobrovsky, G, Cls (160)
157. Patrik Elias, F, NJ (151)
158. Jussi Jokinen, F, Pit (153)
159. Martin Brodeur, G, NJ (155)
160. Justin Faulk, D, Car (156)
161. Frans Nielsen, F, NYI (158)
162. Alexander Semin, F, Car (161)
163. Steven Stamkos, F, TB (181)
164. Andrej Sekera, D, Car (163)
165. Hampus Lindholm, D, Ana (165)
166. Sam Gagner, F, Edm (154)
167. Patric Hornqvist, F, Nsh (177)
168. Andrew Shaw, F, Chi (168)
169. Brad Marchand, F, Bos (169)
170. Chris Higgins, F, Van (170)
171. Valeri Nichushkin, F, Dal (159)
172. Justin Braun, D, SJ (171)
173. Troy Brouwer, F, Was (196)
174. Nathan MacKinnon, F, Col (172)
175. Wayne Simmonds, F, Phi (195)
176. Nick Bonino, F, Ana (174)
177. Mark Streit, D, Phi (NR)
178. Marek Zidlicky, D, NJ (176)
179. Derek Roy, F, StL (187)
180. Chris Stewart, F, StL (178)
181. Tyler Johnson, F, TB (180)
182. Kimmo Timonen, D, Phi (198)
183. Dan Hamhuis, D, Van (NR)
184. Mike Santorelli, F, Van (190)
185. Vincent Lecavalier, F, Phi (184)
186. Mats Zuccarello, F, NYR (194)
187. Andy Greene, D, NJ (185)
188. Sean Couturier, F, Phi (186)
189. Mason Raymond, F, Tor (182)
190. Roman Josi, D, Nsh (189)
191. Jake Gardiner, D, Tor (191)
192. Alex Galchenyuk, F, Mon (183)
193. Sergei Gonchar, D, Dal (192)
194. Antoine Vermette, F, Pho (193)
195. Ryan McDonagh, D, NYR (NR)
196. Anton Khudobin, G, Car (197)
197. Travis Zajac, F, NJ (199)
198. Kris Versteeg, F, Chi (200)
199. Ryan Callahan, F, NYR (NR)
200. Nick Foligno, F, Cls (NR)

Ben Bishop, G, Tampa Bay Lightning: There are some who are suggesting that Bishop should be the third choice for the U.S. Olympic team, but it's already being publicly reported by the Detroit Free Press that Jimmy Howard will be the third-string goalie to Jonathan Quick and Ryan Miller on the American team. Fantasy owners will quickly tell everyone listening that the U.S. decision-makers accidentally went back in time to 2010 to make their call on goaltending. Quick's numbers haven't been terrible to start the 2013-14 season, but by comparison to the goaltenders that have filled in for him while he has been injured (Ben Scrivens and Martin Jones), Quick's numbers actually do look terrible. Miller has played admirably as the backstop for a rebuilding franchise, but had pretty poor numbers last season. Howard, meanwhile, has struggled or been hurt for the entirety of 2013-14.

Bishop, on the other hand, is the third-best goaltender in the NHL for fantasy owners. Trailing only Tuukka Rask and Josh Harding on the ESPN Player Rater -- which looks at wins, goals-against average and save percentage -- Bishop has easily been the best American-born goaltender this season. If you go strictly by the Player Rater -- which you shouldn't, because backup goalies are given an advantage -- Al Montoya is actually the second-highest rated U.S. goaltender for fantasy purposes.

So what does this tell us about how fantasy owners look at goaltenders compared to the hockey world? We fantasy owners really care most about "what you have done for me lately?" Miller, Quick and Howard easily have the best career track record among U.S. goaltenders, and Bishop wasn't even on the radar until he started having such a strong 2013-14 season. In fact, Cory Schneider is considered by many to be the bigger snub, given his career save percentage and potential arc as a star of the future. Yet, fantasy owners would happily take Bishop before Miller, Howard and Schneider... and maybe even Quick, too.

You see, that is the other aspect of fantasy assessment that this debate highlights: Just how difficult and fickle it is to rank goaltenders. Would a fantasy owner be better to take Quick or Bishop right now in a trade? That isn't as easy a decision as you want it to be, is it? Looking at just the numbers, you really, really want to take Bishop. But when considering what both goaltenders have done over a number of seasons, you would be hard-pressed not to take Quick. Is there a right answer to the question? Absolutely not. In each and every case of comparing Goaltender A to Goaltender B, fantasy owners need to take their own team, own league and own tendencies into account. Quick can be more valuable to one owner and Bishop can be more valuable to another, depending on their respective unique fantasy situations.

The final reminder here is that fantasy owners have a vacation coming up that will provide a rare opportunity during February. With the Olympic break, ESPN.com's fantasy game will treat the entirety of Feb. 10 to March 9 as a single week in the fantasy season. Teams will have five or six games during that timeframe, some at the start and some at the end of the period. But there will be plenty of downtime from fantasy hockey in the middle. Use it as a bonus to get a head start on your fantasy baseball planning, which can fall by the wayside easily for those owners that are usually hot in contention as the fantasy hockey season goes into the stretch run.

Forwards Rising and Falling

Zach Parise, F, Minnesota Wild (down 23 spots to No. 51): Placed on injured reserve over the weekend, it has since been revealed that Parise has a fracture in his left foot. While the Olympics are said to be an easy return target, getting back to the Wild is where reports get fuzzy. Already ruled out for the next week, Parise could miss more time if the Wild want their catalyst back 100 percent healthy. In his absence, the rest of the team loses some of their fantasy luster, but there remains value in Jason Pominville and Mikko Koivu, who continue to meet up on the power play. Also, the return of Mikael Granlund from a concussion has helped offset the loss of Parise in the top six. This is a big chance for Granlund, Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter to make a statement with Parise out. Keep an eye on all three youngsters to see if any take advantage. There could be a windfall with a plum depth-chart role when Parise returns for any of the three players that step up in his absence.

Alexander Steen, F, St. Louis Blues (down 33 spots to No. 60): We almost feel guilty now for pointing out Steen's checkered injury history in last week's edition of Open Ice, as it has since been announced that his "upper-body" injury is in fact a concussion and he won't be back "soon," but instead is out indefinitely. The good news is that Steen is still working out, so this should be a short-term concussion and not worth panicking over. In the meantime, this is a chance for the already-breaking-out Jaden Schwartz to shine on a bigger stage. Paired already with T.J. Oshie, look for Schwartz to get a chance on a line with Oshie and David Backes when Backes returns from his own upper-body injury this week.

Steve Downie, F, Philadelphia Flyers (down 20 spots to No. 142): Downie returned from injury to find himself on the fourth line for the Flyers. He can still earn some fantasy value through his penalty minutes, but not much of it. Downie is a fantasy force when he is a top six forward with power-play time, not as a checking line player. If he doesn't find his way up the depth chart soon, he is in trouble of losing all value.

Nazem Kadri, F, Toronto Maple Leafs (down 14 spots to No. 92): The return of Tyler Bozak bumps Kadri to the Leafs' second line. This helps players like Joffrey Lupul and Mason Raymond, who now get Kadri instead of Peter Holland. But it hurts Kadri's overall value. He and Lupul will find a rhythm and heat up a bit, but there isn't as much potential there as there is when Kadri skates with Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk.

Defensemen Rising and Falling

Kevin Shattenkirk, D, St. Louis Blues (up 17 spots to No. 82): The pecking order coming into this season for Blues defensemen was Alex Pietrangelo, Shattenkirk, Jay Bouwmeester. Right now, it's Shattenkirk, Bouwmeester, Pietrangelo. Why is this the case? Potentially it's because of the resurgence of Bouwmeester's on-ice passing and awareness. Pietrangelo and Bouwmeester make it so the Blues have two above-average passing defensemen on the ice at the same time together, cutting slightly into the value of both of them as individuals. But Shattenkirk is on the ice with stay-at-home expert Barret Jackman, who offers no challenge to who should carry the puck in offensive situations. Maybe that is over-analyzing the situation, but the numbers back it up and Shattenkirk is definitely the top producer for fantasy owners going forward.

Goaltenders Rising and Falling

Jonas Hiller, G, Anaheim Ducks (up 16 spots to No. 52): The Ducks are doing an incredible job defensively of limiting the shots that Hiller has to deal with on a nightly basis. The result has been a string of two-goals-against wins that have been absolutely key for fantasy owners lately. However, as great as the starts have been for the wins and goals-against average categories, Hiller doesn't do a whole lot for save percentage (which makes sense, since he's facing fewer shots). In fact, some of his wins with only two goals allowed have included a save percentage below .900. The consistency is great for his value, but for maximum value Hiller should be paired with a goaltender that faces a lot of rubber, like Ryan Miller or Kari Lehtonen.

Craig Anderson, G, Ottawa Senators (up 37 spots to No. 104): The three wins in a row are encouraging, sure, but fantasy owners may not be willing to trust Anderson again just yet. But you absolutely should. Get back on board with Anderson immediately if you have a chance. As we discussed in last week's Forecaster, the power play has been the downfall of Anderson this season, while his even-strength numbers have been solid all along. Well, in those three wins in a row, Anderson forced the Pittsburgh Penguins (first in the NHL on the power play), Washington Capitals (second in the NHL on the power play) and Boston Bruins (sixth in the NHL on the power play) to go 0-for-13 on the power play. That is a huge sign of potentially good things to come.

Quick Hits

James Neal has been crazy awesome as a linemate to Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz. Hopefully he can carry over the hotness to Evgeni Malkin, who could be ready to return this week.

Jonathan Bernier is creating more space on James Reimer. If Bernier owners knew 100 percent that he was the Leafs' No. 1 goaltender every week, his value would gain significantly. But we aren't there yet.

Pekka Rinne is still on crutches and may not be back as quickly as hoped. There still isn't a viable option to start with confidence for the Nashville Predators, as Marek Mazanec and Carter Hutton have peaks and valleys that are too extreme for fantasy owners.

P.A. Parenteau is out for as long as six weeks with a knee injury. That will leave a gaping hole in the Colorado Avalanche top six, and a chance for Jamie McGinn to get hot again like he was at the end of last season.