Front Line: Lots of injured stars late

Updated: April 8, 2013, 4:30 PM ET
By Sean Allen | Special to ESPN.com

Injuries were all the rage at the start of this shortened NHL campaign and injuries remain one of the biggest factors here in the final weeks of the season. It was a Pierre LeBrun piece here on ESPN.com that highlighted the issue very well back in January.

Here is the relevant quote from that Jan. 24 piece: "Nobody is getting caught off guard here. Injuries are part of the game in any season, and certainly everyone involved knew that would be the case cramming these games in. But with such a compacted schedule and likely very little separating teams in the standings over a shortened season, the dominant storyline all season long, without question, will be injuries and teams' ability to survive them."

As true now as it was then. The main news of this week as we head into the final couple of weeks of the season is injuries. This is the playoffs for head-to-head leagues and the final jostling for position in rotisserie and points leagues, and it's happening with several impact players on the shelf. Four of the top 20 players from two weeks ago, who were perfectly healthy at the time, are now on the sidelines. Let's look at the biggest injury news around the league.

[+] EnlargeSidney Crosby
Charles LaClaire/USA TODAY SportsIt's pretty hard to trust Sidney Crosby to provide much for fantasy teams down the stretch.

Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins: Official word from coach Dan Bylsma is that Crosby has not experienced any concussion symptoms since taking a vicious puck to the face more than a week ago. That said, we don't have a timetable for a return and Crosby isn't working out. Will he be back for the final week of the season or wait until the playoffs? That seems to be the question. He stays in the ranks near the bottom of the top 100, because a return is still plausible and it's Crosby we are talking about. But don't hold your breath to have him in your lineup when it counts the most. It's too bad, really. He probably has most owners in the thick of things for their respective league. Where can you take advantage on the Pens' roster? That depends on our next subject, as well.

James Neal, Pittsburgh Penguins: Things were just starting to look up for Neal on Friday when he took an elbow to the head and was on uncertain footing as he left the ice. With Crosby out, it looked like Neal, Evgeni Malkin and Jarome Iginla were the new top line for the Penguins (which puts them pretty high in the running for best in the league). Now we don't have an update on Neal yet, but the team should have one out for everyone on Monday. If it's a concussion, don't expect him back for the remainder of the season. That makes Chris Kunitz more interesting, as he would slide onto the line with Malkin and Iginla. In that scenario, don't look for too much fantasy value down the rest of the Pens' depth chart as Brenden Morrow and Jussi Jokinen lack the support to do much damage on their own accord.

If we get word that Neal is relatively healthy (doubtful if the team has been mum this long), then he remains a strong play and Kunitz's value gets depressed pending a miraculous Crosby return.

Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins: For a player with concussions scattered throughout his playing career, even a mild concussion means he is out for a while. It is probably not going out on too much of a limb to expect Bergeron to miss the rest of the regular season. The Bruins just got Jaromir Jagr to put into their top six, so Bergeron's absence won't completely devastate the team. It's more important to have him healthy for the playoffs, anyway. The values don't shift much for the rest of the B's, as Jagr is an adequate replacement for a top line.

Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks: It looks like Getzlaf is truly day-to-day with a leg injury and could return as early as Monday night's game against the Edmonton Oilers. But you never know how these injuries will go this season and if Getzlaf misses any more time fantasy owners need to grab Andrew Cogliano. The speedy forward has two points in two games as Getzlaf's replacement on the top line with Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan.

Alexander Semin, Carolina Hurricanes: Semin has an upper-body injury that doesn't come with a lot of information. To be honest, it's pretty impressive for him to have made it to this point of the season without already missing a ton of time with injury. Semin's history with missed time is well-documented, so don't be shocked if he ends up missing a handful of games. If he is not back Monday night against the Boston Bruins, there are two places to look. Semin's actual top-six replacement has been the recently returned Tuomo Ruutu. Skating with Jeff Skinner and Jordan Staal, Ruutu has the skills to put up a bunch of points (if he, himself, can stay healthy). But there is also AHL call-up Zac Dalpe, who scored the team's only goal with Semin absent on Saturday. Dalpe started a beautiful passing play with Eric Staal and Skinner before finishing it on a one-timer into the top corner of the New York Rangers' net.

Thomas Vanek, Buffalo Sabres: Vanek is edging close to a return from an upper-body injury. So close that it came as a surprise when he didn't play on Sunday. That means Tuesday is a likely return for the team's top scoring forward. While he might miss Jason Pominville, the Sabres still have some weapons left for Vanek to play with. His return should result in a decent output of points for himself and a return to value for Cody Hodgson, who has been left in the lurch with now Vanek or Pominville. There is also potential for a sleeper as the third member of the line. Nathan Gerbe and Kevin Porter top the list as potential linemates to replace Pominville.

T.J. Oshie, St. Louis Blues: The entire Blues lineup is missing the presence of Oshie, who is returning slowly from a nagging lower-body injury. Oshie is not missed in the win column, mind you, but from a fantasy perspective. David Perron and David Backes have both been struggling to put up the points we expect of them and one factor might be their linemate is missing. Oshie is skating and coming back soon, so maybe the Blues get an overall boost in the coming days.

Joffrey Lupul, Toronto Maple Leafs: Lupul has been on fire since coming back from a broken forearm, but has had to deal with other ailments. The latest is a sore neck as the result of being hit early during last week's game against the Philadelphia Flyers. Lupul passed his concussion tests and just needs to get over the soreness before a return, so that should be imminent. Lupul has 14 points in seven games since returning from his broken arm and needs to be in every fantasy lineup that can get him. Nazem Kadri and Nikolai Kulemin are the other beneficiaries of his return.

Patrick Sharp, Chicago Blackhawks: Somebody in the Hawks' lineup is going to benefit big time from the return of Sharp to the lineup as early as Tuesday. Sharp will rejoin Patrick Kane, leaving room for one other lucky forward. Right now, it appears Marcus Kruger or Daniel Carcillo would have the inside track for the role, as Kane's most recent linemates, but Dave Bolland will be in the running, too. Whoever gets the assignment will enjoy the same kind of fantasy windfall that has come to Brandon Saad as the man on a line with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa.

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

Rising and falling

Marcus Johansson, Washington Capitals (enters ranks at No. 50): When your linemates are No. 1 and No. 3 on the ESPN Player Rater among forwards during the past month, it's acceptable to rocket up the rankings from outside the top 100 to inside the top 50. Johansson has been the beneficiary of Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom rediscovering their chemistry during the past couple of weeks. Maybe it's because many teams have run out of transactions or stopped trying, but Johansson is still available in an insane 73 percent of ESPN leagues. Go all-in on him during the final couple of weeks, because it doesn't look like anything can slow down Ovechkin right now. Johansson has multipoint games in three of his past five and five of his past 10.

Shane Doan, Phoenix Coyotes (enters ranks at No. 70): Martin Hanzal, Radim Vrbata and Doan would have had a very good fantasy season together if Hanzal and Vrbata hadn't been battling health issues all season. In the short time the trio has been together, they are scoring at a consistent pace with Doan leading the way for value. All three players were ditched from fantasy rosters midseason and continued to lose ownership until lately. Doan and Vrbata are almost universally owned again, but Hanzal is still available for help.

Benoit Pouliot, Tampa Bay Lightning (enters ranks at No. 88): The idea of this column is to try to help identify players who can still make a difference in your fantasy league, so don't scoff at the ranking so quickly. No, Pouliot hasn't done much since getting hurt in early March. But he is healthy again and playing with two of the best linemates in the NHL in Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis. There are very few depth-chart spots in the league more enviable than Pouliot's current assignment. Remember, he had eight points in a six-game burst during a stretch in the same role earlier this season.

Scoring lines

Frans Nielsen, Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey, New York Islanders: It's hardly a sneaky move at this point as the trio has been making some quiet noise for the past couple of weeks. But if you have slumping forwards at any of the forward positions and need a replacement you can count on for consistency, these Islanders are a bit sneaky in that sense. This line is an example of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. Nielsen, Okposo and Bailey did this exact same strong finish to the season last year and should be money in the bank for an above-average pace going forward. Nielsen has eight points in the past nine, Okposo has five points in the past eight and Bailey has five points in the past four games.

Nail Yakupov, Edmonton Oilers: Available in 50 percent of ESPN leagues after his modest start to the season quickly cooled, Yakupov has found his scoring touch again. With three goals and five points in the past four games, the Oilers rookie is looking to close the season on a high note and could be of use to fantasy owners who may have cast him aside (rightly so) earlier this season. Maybe it's the fresh blood of Magnus Paajarvi on his line with Sam Gagner that has refreshed Yakupov or maybe it's him adjusting to the NHL's adjustments to him. Either way, he looks like a solid start from here out.

Martin Havlat, San Jose Sharks: It hasn't been over-the-top production by any means, but Havlat has looked solid on a line with Joe Thornton and converted defenseman Brent Burns. Seven points in the past 11 games is a stark improvement on Havlat's fantasy value from earlier this season, though, which was essentially nonexistent. The Burns experiment has been a huge success and he will be on the line for the foreseeable future. That does make Havlat a fringe play in most leagues and a strong add in deep leagues where he might be available.

Quick hits

• If you are one of the owners who is in limbo with any combination of Crosby, Neal or Bergeron on the sidelines, you need to take a shot in the dark with big upside. Mats Zuccarello fits that bill. The skilled Norwegian has yet to stick at the NHL level, but he has a wicked trigger finger and is playing with Brad Richards and the re-invigorated Ryane Clowe post-trade deadline. Zuccarello is also getting time on the power play with Rick Nash.

• From that same vein of trying to hit it big with a long shot, Simon Gagne has points in three straight and has history of finishing a season strong. Remember that just two seasons ago Gagne had 19 points in the final 19 games of the 2010-11 season before posting 15 points in 17 playoff games. He still has skill and it is showing through during the past week. It might not continue, but what if it does?

Gustav Nyquist has been dominating the AHL whenever he's been down this season. Now he has a couple of points in a row in the NHL with the Detroit Red Wings. He is playing with Johan Franzen and Valtteri Filppula on the second line.

• The mass exodus from the Dallas Stars' roster left room for rookie Alex Chiasson to play on the first line with Jamie Benn and Ray Whitney after being called up from the AHL. He has three goals in three games.

• The Ottawa Senators put new acquisition Cory Conacher on a line with rookies Mika Zibanejad and Jakob Silfverberg. They were responsible for the Sens' only goal on Sunday.

Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He was the 2008 and 2009 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Hockey Writer of the Year. You can tweet him @seanard.

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