Front Line: Rebuilding the Top 100


It's a debate that can come up surrounding almost any construction job: Do you renovate what you have or tear down and build from scratch? In our Front Line column, we tend to renovate on a weekly basis. Last week's Top 100 forward rankings were adjusted and tweaked to come up with this week's Top 100 forwards. Just like a construction project, the rankings are usually passable enough that a complete tear down just doesn't make sense.

To push the analogy further, sometimes after several minor renovations, the small adjustments just don't do the trick anymore. There is a point where you have renovated too much and a demolition is the only remaining option that can bring the project back to life.

This week's Top 100 forward rankings are the result of an exhaustive rebuild. Last week's rankings (and all previous rankings, for that matter) were tucked away for a complete re-ranking of the forwards. No previous ranking was visible in order to not bias the final decision. This was not a renovation job, but rather a tear down-and-rebuild-from-scratch assignment. This is the midseason re-rank of who we think the most valuable 100 forwards will be for the remainder of the 2013 NHL season (based on ESPN.com standard league scoring).

Because this was a complete re-rank, there are some major shifts in value as some players were removed from the ranks while others surfaced for the first time this season. Here's a look at some notable shifts and trends.

Underrated slow starters: Tyler Seguin is the most notable from this group to make a huge jump, but Corey Perry, Rick Nash and Anze Kopitar are highly rated as well. These players started the shortened season up near the top of our ranks, but fell in subsequent weeks as they didn't come out with guns blazing. Some seemed to get lost in the shuffle and never quite returned to the elite status they deserve. Others, like Seguin, are being awarded a new high in the rankings as they have displayed tremendous growth in their games this season (slow start aside). Demolishing the ranks and starting over helped pull out players who were lost in the shuffle and deserved to be ranked higher.

Overrated fast starters: Patrick Marleau is the poster child for this category. His tremendous start to the campaign rocketed him up the rankings from the mid-20s to just outside the top 10. He hung around as memories of his nine goals in five games from the beginning of the season were easy to conjure up. But since then, Marleau has only managed five points in 18 games. Frankly, it's his résumé from previous seasons that keeps him ranked in the Top 100. Joe Thornton, Martin St. Louis, Patrik Elias and Saku Koivu are others who fell during this re-rank based on their lofty previous rankings due to hot starts.

Resurfacing old favorites: A lot of players started on the fringe of the Top 100 this season with expectations that they might work their way up the list if everything went well. Instead, they quickly fell off the list. Several of them have returned as we tore down the old rankings and built anew. Members of the Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers jump off the list for this reason. Both Dustin Brown and Justin Williams fell out of favor with our rankings while they endured a slow start by Anze Kopitar. Now, thanks in no small part to the Kings' second line finding its rhythm, the top line of Kopitar, Brown and Williams is clicking. Both Brown and Williams return to the ranks this week. Same goes for Derek Stepan and Ryan Callahan of the Rangers. They were both in the Top 100 to start the season, but there was no reason to keep them there when coach John Tortorella kept Marian Gaborik, Rick Nash and Brad Richards on a line together. When Torts decided to break up his elite three, the lines took a while to find chemistry. Now Stepan and Callahan are playing with Gaborik on a line and with Nash and Gaborik on the power play.

Previous contributors on the outs: While we may have been premature with moving some players out of the Top 100 earlier this season, there is nothing premature about moving some players out at the halfway point. Such household fantasy names as Johan Franzen, Radim Vrbata, Brayden Schenn and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins complete their fall from grace this week. Franzen isn't doing enough to stay in the Top 100, and faces too many threats to his value with the Red Wings. Franzen works hard around the net and finishes plays, but so does Justin Abdelkader. And it's Abdelkader who is getting the power-play time as of late (not to mention Mikael Samuelsson and Valtteri Filppula are on the injured reserve and will soon vie for key playing time). Vrbata can't shake his lower-body injury and has run out of good will to remain in the rankings while he recovers. We can reconsider when he is healthy. Schenn, unfortunately, loses key ice time with the return of Scott Hartnell. We saw a bright future for Schenn when he was leaned on with Hartnell out, but with everyone healthy, there isn't enough room for him. Finally, Nugent-Hopkins has done nothing to improve his lot since we talked about him in this space a couple of weeks ago. His lack of scoring is inexplicable, but has been going on long enough to heed the trend.

Rising and falling

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. Sidney Crosby, Pit (1)
2. Steven Stamkos, TB (2)
3. John Tavares, NYI (3)
4. Eric Staal, Car (4)
5. Corey Perry, Ana (27)
6. Alex Ovechkin, Was (10)
7. James Neal, Pit (11)
8. Tyler Seguin, Bos (32)
9. Claude Giroux, Phi (8)
10. Ilya Kovalchuk, NJ (13)
11. Jakub Voracek, Phi (34)
12. Rick Nash, NYR (26)
13. Alexander Semin, Car (23)
14. Anze Kopitar, LA (33)
15. Daniel Sedin, Van (9)
16. Ryan Getzlaf, Ana (41)
17. Chris Kunitz, Pit (21)
18. Thomas Vanek, Buf (12)
19. Jonathan Toews, Chi (19)
20. Martin St. Louis, TB (6)
21. Pavel Datsyuk, Det (14)
22. Matt Moulson, NYI (25)
23. Marian Hossa, Chi (18)
24. Henrik Sedin, Van (17)
25. Henrik Zetterberg, Det (7)
26. Mike Ribeiro, Was (28)
27. Phil Kessel, Tor (37)
28. Patrick Kane, Chi (5)
29. Max Pacioretty, Mon (48)
30. Scott Hartnell, Phi (40)
31. Jamie Benn, Dal (22)
32. Taylor Hall, Edm (24)
33. Jiri Tlusty, Car (74)
34. James van Riemsdyk, Tor (54)
35. Jordan Eberle, Edm (39)
36. Wayne Simmonds, Phi (44)
37. T.J. Oshie, StL (43)
38. Patrice Bergeron, Bos (61)
39. Matt Duchene, Col (53)
40. Jarome Iginla, Cgy (58)
41. David Backes, StL (51)
42. Jason Pominville, Buf (38)
43. P.A. Parenteau, Col (64)
44. Tomas Plekanec, Mon (46)
45. Bobby Ryan, Ana (63)
46. Joe Thornton, SJ (16)
47. Jeff Carter, LA (88)
48. Patrik Elias, NJ (29)
49. Zach Parise, Min (35)
50. Evander Kane, Wpg (57)
51. Brad Marchand, Bos (78)
52. Marian Gaborik, NYR (36)
53. Patrick Marleau, SJ (15)
54. Nazem Kadri, Tor (80)
55. Mike Richards, LA (85)
56. Mikko Koivu, Min (56)
57. Evgeni Malkin, Pit (20)
58. David Perron, StL (75)
59. Nicklas Backstrom, Was (67)
60. Andrew Ladd, Wpg (66)
61. Alex Burrows, Van (60)
62. Troy Brouwer, Was (91)
63. David Clarkson, NJ (52)
64. Milan Lucic, Bos (55)
65. Logan Couture, SJ (42)
66. Sam Gagner, Edm (45)
67. Vincent Lecavalier, TB (47)
68. Cory Conacher, TB (49)
69. Justin Williams, LA (NR)
70. Teddy Purcell, TB (50)
71. Joe Pavelski, SJ (31)
72. Jeff Skinner, Car (69)
73. Damien Brunner, Det (70)
74. Chris Stewart, StL (81)
75. Cody Hodgson, Buf (82)
76. Paul Stastny, Col (NR)
77. Loui Eriksson, Dal (89)
78. Michael Ryder, Mon (98)
79. Gabriel Landeskog, Col (93)
80. Brad Boyes, NYI (97)
81. Dustin Brown, LA (NR)
82. Carl Hagelin, NYR (NR)
83. Alex Tanguay, Cgy (84)
84. Blake Wheeler, Wpg (87)
85. Mike Cammalleri, Cgy (NR)
86. Teemu Selanne, Ana (65)
87. Jaromir Jagr, Dal (73)
88. Derek Stepan, NYR (NR)
89. Saku Koivu, Ana (72)
90. Jordan Staal, Car (71)
91. Brad Richards, NYR (76)
92. Jonathan Huberdeau, Fla (NR)
93. Tyler Ennis, Buf (77)
94. Eric Fehr, Wsh (NR)
95. Ryan Callahan, NYR (NR)
96. David Krejci, Bos (79)
97. Ryan O'Reilly, Col (100)
98. Clarke MacArthur, Tor (NR)
99. Brandon Saad, Chi (NR)
100. Dustin Penner, LA (NR)

Jiri Tlusty, Carolina Hurricanes (up 41 spots to No. 33): This huge jump in the rankings means that we think Tlusty is legit as the third member of one of the top lines in the NHL. Eric Staal and Alexander Semin combine to make a powerful force in the offensive zone, and Tlusty is the one lucky enough to be standing with them on the ice. The results have been astonishing, as Tlusty has 21 points in 24 games this season. That follows a career-high 36 points in 79 games last season. It gets even better when you consider that the line didn't really click in January and Tlusty was pointless in the first five games of the season. That's right, he has 21 points in his past 19 games. That is a sustained streak of production that gives us every indication it's going to continue. Does his value derive 100 percent from playing on a line with Staal and Semin? Absolutely. But with the way Tlusty is playing, there is no way he is leaving the side of Staal and Semin short of an injury.

P.A. Parenteau, Colorado Avalanche (up 21 spots to No. 43): Count us in the camp that expected a huge drop in points from Parenteau this season following his separation from John Tavares and the New York Islanders. How wrong we were. Parenteau is not only keeping his value away from longtime linemate Tavares, but he's also improving his value to fantasy owners. With 25 points in 24 games this season, Parenteau might surprise even the most ardent supporters as he's averaging more than a point per game. Taking his balanced approach to offense to a line with the resurgent Matt Duchene turned out to be the perfect combination for Parenteau. The opportunities are increasing for him as the Avalanche continue to get stronger in terms of personnel; recently, coach Joe Sacco has even turned to a five-forward power play with Parenteau as one of the main shooters alongside Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan O'Reilly and Paul Stastny.

Loui Eriksson, Dallas Stars (up 12 spots to No. 77): It's a rather top-heavy combination, but the Stars have finally found a top line that can score with some consistency. Eriksson is settled back in with Jamie Benn and Jaromir Jagr on the top line after a very slow start to the season that included a lot of depth-chart shuffling. At one point, it appeared that Brenden Morrow had edged out Eriksson for that key role on the top line, but Eriksson fought his way back with consistent play and a good showing on the power play. He finally pushed Morrow out of the way about the same time the Stars dealt Michael Ryder for Erik Cole. Now, Eriksson seems settled on the top line and the trio is joined by Cole, not Morrow, when it's time to go on the man advantage. Ray Whitney could upset the apple cart when he returns (as early as Tuesday) from a broken foot, but it's more likely that the Stars use Whitney to supplement the second line now that they have a top line that is clicking. Of course, Whitney may also end up being used to replace Benn, who was hurt on Saturday (the word "concussion" has been mentioned). Either way, Eriksson seems to have found his way and should retain value.

Scoring lines

Shawn Matthias, Florida Panthers: Tomas Kopecky has seemingly made a name for himself in fantasy circles with his recent performance that was highlighted two weeks ago by a hat trick against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Hat tricks can have a funny way of elevating value more than they should sometimes. While Kopecky looks like the team's star on the ESPN Player Rater, it's Matthias who you might want to pay attention to. Matthias, Kopecky and Jack Skille have looked like the Panthers' best line in recent weeks, and the maturation of Matthias is the driving force. At 25 years old, Matthias seems to have developed into his 6-foot-4 frame while retaining breakaway speed. With excellent size and hands, Matthias may eventually get an assignment farther up the depth chart, leaving Kopecky and Skille behind. Matthias has points in four consecutive games -- and five of his past six -- and the Panthers need someone to replace Stephen Weiss in the top six. Matthias' chance may come sooner than later.

Lars Eller, Montreal Canadiens: Rotisserie owners might be more interested in Eller's services than head-to-head league owners. Quietly, Eller has settled in to a defense-focused third-line role for the Canadiens. But playing with an emphasis on his own end can't contain the natural-scoring instincts of Eller for long. He has displayed a tendency to bust out for multi-point games every once in a while. Eller has seven points in his past 10 games, but all of them have come in just three contests. Because of the inconsistency, head-to-head owners could go a full week with no production from Eller, but roto owners would have a player who is No. 71 on the ESPN Player Rater for the past 30 days.

Ryan Johansen, R.J. Umberger and Nick Foligno, Columbus Blue Jackets: Someone has to score for the Blue Jackets. Increasingly, it looks like the task is falling on this solid scoring-line trio. With Umberger's scoring upside, Johansen's untapped playmaking potential and Foligno's feisty, power forward attributes, this combination makes sense on paper. The trio has produced three goals in March (all three have a point), and overall have collected 14 points in six March contests. With few other options to choose from, this line will be relied upon to continue scoring for the Jackets. Foligno might have the most appeal for fantasy owners because of his history with penalty minutes, but Umberger has shown an ability to get hot. The bottom line is that if you need to gamble on some available players in your league, look no further.


Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins: Malkin is out for up to two weeks with an undisclosed injury. Bench him or put him on your injured reserve, but don't do anything rash. Even in a short season, a week of Malkin is better than two weeks of many other players. James Neal gets a value boost in the interim because he takes well to playing with Chris Kunitz and Sidney Crosby, but Pascal Dupuis and Beau Bennett are left in the lurch until Malkin returns.

Patrick Sharp, Chicago Blackhawks: Losing sharp, who is out 3-4 weeks with a shoulder injury, is a devastating blow to the Hawks as well as to fantasy owners. Patrick Kane survived without him on Sunday by scoring three points with Dave Bolland and Viktor Stalberg as linemates. We will have to see whether Kane can keep the unit strong, but more likely is that offensive responsibilities will begin to fall to Jonathan Toews, Brandon Saad and Marian Hossa. That means Saad might have to keep up his current pace of eight points in the past seven games.

Mike Richards, Los Angeles Kings: Richards left Saturday's game after taking a hit and didn't return. The Kings then called up their top AHL prospect, Tyler Toffoli, on Sunday. Fingers crossed that Richards is OK, because he, Jeff Carter and Dustin Penner were just starting to come on as a unit. If he does miss time, Toffoli will hopefully suffice as a top-six forward. He has 28 goals and 48 points in 55 games with the Manchester Monarchs this season.