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Front Line: Crosby injury fallout

4/1/2013

We've been talking about the Pittsburgh Penguins an awful lot lately, but when a team is producing the biggest fantasy stars, making the biggest trades and then losing the best fantasy player to injury, it's hard not to mention them.

Sidney Crosby is out "indefinitely" after having surgery for a broken jaw. Sid was hit in the face by a puck on Saturday night against the New York Islanders on a play where you can see teeth flying in the slow-motion replay. The injury overshadowed Jarome Iginla's Penguins debut and the team's 15th consecutive win.

The immediate fallout, without word about whether Crosby will return sooner rather than later, is that we have dropped Crosby out of the No. 1 spot in the fantasy rankings. But until we know more about the injury and Crosby's return to the ice, he only falls a few spots (to No. 7 overall). Remember these rankings are for the remainder of the fantasy season, so putting the six players ahead of Crosby means he is being ranked in an absolute best-case scenario for this week. We are suggesting that those are the six players that might outperform Crosby over the remainder of the NHL season if Crosby misses three or four games.

If the injury turns out to be significant and he misses a majority of the 12 games remaining, then obviously the impact to his fantasy ranking is much greater. But keep in mind that these rankings had Crosby in the No. 1 spot, followed by a big gap and then No. 2. He was annihilating the competition this season.

The gap is part of the reason we are leap-frogging Evgeni Malkin into the No. 1 spot with Crosby hurt. Malkin has been nowhere near the top spot this season. A couple of injuries have limited Malkin to a No. 38 ranking among forwards on the Player Rater. But Malkin is now healthy, taking over the No. 1 line in Crosby's absence and playing with Iginla as his newest linemate. In other words, Malkin-Neal-Iginla should absolutely be the best line in the NHL with Crosby injured. The rankings reflect that with Malkin in first, Neal in the top 10 and Iginla jumping into the top 20 this week.

Crosby's absence will also have a negative impact on other players, especially Chris Kunitz. Kunitz has been a rock star thanks to Crosby as his linemate, but as we've warned all along, his value is tied to the stardom of Crosby. A Crosby injury before the Iginla trade would not have been quite as devastating because Kunitz would have played on a line with Neal and Malkin, where he was a top-100 forward last season. But now with Iginla in the fold, Kunitz (and Pascal Dupuis for that matter) will have Brandon Sutter, Brenden Morrow and Tyler Kennedy as potential linemates. Kunitz falls in the rankings in tandem with Crosby, but remember this is best-case scenario. Kunitz might not be a top-100 player with Crosby out of the picture for an extended period of time.

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

Rising and Falling

Nazem Kardi, Toronto Maple Leafs (up eight spots to No. 27): Kadri has done an incredible job of steadily sneaking up the rankings each week and really has had a breakout season worthy of more accolades. His 17 goals are tied for eighth in the league and his 39 points are good for sixth. Kadri has been getting better as the season goes on, with bursts of multi-point efforts. The performance is more impressive when you consider that his ice time was suppressed at the beginning of the season and he has been playing second fiddle for linemates to Phil Kessel all season. Joffrey Lupul is the most recent catalyst with Kadri, as the duo combined for a Kadri hat trick plus one goal by Lupul on Saturday night. Kadri has been a top-10 forward on the ESPN Player Rater this season, so this ranking does appear cautious. The biggest concerns are a couple recent point droughts where Kadri has gone a couple game without finding the score sheet. Coach Randy Carlyle has also been whimsical with the line combinations, and though we've cited Kadri's perseverance despite the line combinations as a strength, it's bound to catch up with him at some point. If you are looking to find fantasy value in this situation, consider picking up Nikolai Kulemin. He was the third member of the Kadri-Lupul line on Saturday and finished with an assist and a plus-3 rating.

Shawn Matthias, Florida Panthers (enters at No. 84): We discussed Matthias' potential in this space back on March 11. Since that time, Matthias has worked his way on to the Panthers' top line with Jonathan Huberdeau and Peter Mueller and the result is five goals in the past three games. Still available in 95 percent of ESPN leagues, Matthias has been staying with the trio on the power play as well. The Panthers have turned their eye to the future and are playing the team's future stars with regularity, that includes big ice time for the Huberdeau-Mueller-Matthias line. Ranking both Matthias and Huberdeau at the back end of the top 100 means we think this trio will have a strong finish.

Thomas Vanek, Buffalo Sabres (down 17 spots to No. 38): It's going to be hard not to rank Vanek while accounting for his inconsistency in the future. His incredibly hot start to this season followed by a sharp fade brings back memories of when he had only eight goals over the final 40 games of last season. Or even the season prior to that when he jammed in 21 of his points in the final 19 games to recover from a down campaign. Currently, Vanek is coming off a March riddled with injuries, when he scored just six points in nine games. That follows a January and February with 27 points in 20 games. Vanek is still day-to-day with a muscle strain, but we can't give up on him completely in fantasy leagues. If he doesn't snap out of his funk in the next week though, there will be precious little time left to do something redeeming with his season.

Scoring Lines

Ray Whitney, Dallas Stars: Whitney is playing some inspired hockey again for the Stars, but with trade rumors surrounding one of his linemates at even strength and another linemate on the power play, we decided to give it a week before he returns to the top 100. If the Stars lose Derek Roy (playing with Whitney at even strength) and/or Jaromir Jagr (playing with Whitney on the power play), it would have a ripple effect on Whitney's production. On the other hand, the Stars are on the bubble and could very well push for a postseason position. Whitney's availability has almost dried up, but he is still there in 5 percent of ESPN leagues if you act quickly.

Marcus Johansson, Washington Capitals: Coach Adam Oates took the long way to achieve what he all hoped he would for the Capitals this season: getting Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom scoring again. The two are back to their old tricks again of late, and Johansson is the not-so-innocent bystander as the third member of their line. Don't hesitate to pick him up. He has 10 points in his past nine games thanks to his plum spot in the lineup.

Martin Hanzal and Shane Doan, Phoenix Coyotes: While Radim Vrbata returned to the top 100 this week following an extended injury, Doan and Hanzal remain on the bubble. That doesn't mean they should remain on the bubble of your fantasy plans, though. As long as the Coyotes continue to put their best three players on the ice as a trio, they should continue to score. Though Doan's availability is drying up quickly, Hanzal can still be part of your plans off the free-agent pile.

Tyler Toffoli, Los Angeles Kings: It's hard to recommend him because his ice time is so suppressed still, but Toffoli has been a great addition to the Mike Richards and Jeff Carter line in place of Dustin Penner. While spelling Penner during the past couple weeks, Toffoli has picked up five points in seven games and a plus-5 rating. However, he is liable to play just 10 minutes per night. That could change, but it will take time.

Infirmary

Henrik Zetterberg, Detroit Red Wings: Zetterberg is day-to-day with a groin injury and is expected to miss Monday's game, his second since the injury. Weekly leagues have a decision to make as the Wings do get two days off after Monday before playing three more games during the week. Zetterberg could feasibly be back for the majority of the week's games, but groin injuries can be fickle in hockey.

Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp, Chicago Blackhawks: Hossa is close to a return from an upper-body injury, as he is being examined on a game-by-game basis. Sharp is also being eyed for a possible return on Monday. Hossa's return really only hurts the limited fantasy value Michael Frolik had while replacing him on the top line with Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad. The same formula is true for Sharp as he likely bumps Jimmy Hayes of the second line and reunites with Patrick Kane. Sharp was only dropped in a very small number of leagues during his injury, but have a look.