It looks as though Daniel Alfredsson used his more than three weeks off recovering from an upper-body injury to focus on how he could put the Ottawa Senators on his back and carry them to a late-season run. At least that's what I take from Alfie's consecutive three-point games in his return to the ice. Could Alfredsson help generate some fantasy value on this team for anyone not named Mike Fisher?
Let's start by giving some context to just how bad the situation has been. Before the season, Dany Heatley was traded and the sacks of beans the Sens received in return have failed to yield a beanstalk of any significance (Jonathan Cheechoo has 13 points while Milan Michalek has concussion problems and just one goal since Dec. 1). Jason Spezza had a miserable start to the season with just 19 points in 30 games before hurting his knee. Free agent Alexei Kovalev has come on a bit of late, but was an afterthought for the first two months of the season. Alfredsson's six points in two games since returning from injury represent almost 20 percent of his total this season. The only Senators defenseman in the top 50 defensemen on the ESPN Player Rater is there for his penalty minutes (Matt Carkner). Brian Elliott and Pascal Leclaire both have sub-.900 save percentages. To be perfectly succinct: The only Ottawa Senators player worth owning in fantasy hockey to this point has been Mike Fisher.
Top 100 Skaters
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 goals, shots on goal, plus/minus, penalty minutes and average time on ice. Last week's ranking is indicated in parentheses.
1. Alex Ovechkin, LW, Was (1)
2. Sidney Crosby, C, Pit (2)
3. Dany Heatley, RW, SJ (3)
4. Marian Gaborik, RW, NYR (4)
5. Evgeni Malkin, C, Pit (5)
6. Zach Parise, LW, NJ (6)
7. Patrick Marleau, C, SJ (8)
8. Mike Richards, C, Phi (7)
9. Joe Thornton, C, SJ (9)
10. Henrik Sedin, C, Van (11)
11. Ilya Kovalchuk, LW, Atl (15)
12. Anze Kopitar, C, LA (10)
13. Nicklas Backstrom, C, Was (13)
14. Corey Perry, RW, Anh (14)
15. Rick Nash, LW, Cls (12)
16. Jarome Iginla, RW, Cgy (16)
17. Steven Stamkos, C, TB (17)
18. Bobby Ryan, RW, Anh (18)
19. Daniel Sedin, LW, Van (19)
20. Patrick Kane, RW, Chi (24)
21. Alexander Semin, LW, Was (22)
22. Ryan Malone, LW, TB (21)
23. Jeff Carter, C, Phi (23)
24. Ryan Getzlaf, C, Anh (20)
25. Eric Staal, C, Car (25)
26. Jonathan Toews, C, Chi (26)
27. Dustin Penner, LW, Edm (27)
28. Nathan Horton, RW, Fla (28)
29. Pavel Datsyuk, C, Det (30)
30. Marian Hossa, RW, Chi (31)
31. Alexandre Burrows, C, Van (36)
32. Mike Cammalleri, LW, Mon (32)
33. Brad Richards, C, Dal (33)
34. Paul Stastny, C, Col (38)
35. Ryan Smyth, LW, LA (35)
36. Henrik Zetterberg, C, Det (41)
37. Brenden Morrow, LW, Dal (29)
38. Loui Eriksson, LW, Dal (37)
39. Scott Hartnell, RW, Phi (34)
40. Mikko Koivu, C, Min (39)
41. Vincent Lecavalier, C, TB (40)
42. Olli Jokinen, C, Cgy (44)
43. Brooks Laich, C, Was (43)
44. Martin St. Louis, RW, TB (45)
45. Patrick Sharp, C, Chi (46)
46. John Tavares, C, NYI (42)
47. Tomas Plekanec, C, Mon (47)
48. Ryan Kesler, C, Van (51)
49. Tim Connolly, C, Buf (53)
50. Patrik Elias, LW, NJ (50)
51. Shane Doan, RW, Pho (52)
52. Mike Knuble, RW, Was (48)
53. Stephen Weiss, C, Fla (54)
54. Milan Hejduk, RW, Col (55)
55. Marc Savard, C, Bos (56)
56. Travis Zajac, C, NJ (57)
57. Bill Guerin, RW, Pit (63)
58. Tomas Holmstrom, LW, Det (58)
59. Daniel Alfredsson, RW, Ott (69)
60. Phil Kessel, RW, Tor (59)
61. Martin Havlat, LW, Min (62)
62. Andrew Brunette, LW, Min (60)
63. Wojtek Wolski, LW, Col (64)
64. Mason Raymond, LW, Van (65)
65. Mike Fisher, C, Ott (68)
66. Steve Downie, RW, TB (75)
67. Jason Arnott, C, Nsh (66)
68. Ryane Clowe, RW, SJ (67)
69. Maxim Afinogenov, RW, Atl (61)
70. Brian Gionta, RW, Mon (73)
71. Kyle Okposo, RW, NYI (70)
72. Chris Stewart, RW, Col (78)
73. Jamie Langenbrunner, RW, NJ (81)
74. Joe Pavelski, C, SJ (77)
75. Teemu Selanne, RW, Anh (49)
76. Vaclav Prospal, C, NYR (72)
77. David Backes, C, StL (85)
78. Mikael Samuelsson, RW, Van (76)
79. Patric Hornqvist, RW, Nsh (99)
80. Rich Peverley, C, Atl (71)
81. Niclas Bergfors, RW, NJ (79)
82. Alexei Ponikarovsky, LW, Tor (80)
83. Milan Lucic, LW, Bos (82)
84. Kris Versteeg, RW, Chi (87)
85. Thomas Vanek, LW, Buf (83)
86. Rene Bourque, LW, Cgy (91)
87. James Neal, LW, Dal (74)
88. Danny Briere, C, Phi (86)
89. Michael Frolik, C, Fla (88)
90. Matt Moulson, LW, NYI (89)
91. Nik Antropov, RW, Atl (90)
92. Brendan Morrison, C, Was (92)
93. Dustin Brown, RW, LA (93)
94. Dustin Byfuglien, LW, Chi (94)
95. Jarret Stoll, C, LA (95)
96. Derek Roy, C, Buf (96)
97. Troy Brouwer, RW, Chi (97)
98. Simon Gagne, LW, Phi (100)
99. Guillaume Latendresse, RW, Min (NR)
100. Blake Wheeler, RW, Bos (NR)
Now let's take a moment to look ahead. Even though it's just a two-game sample, Alfredsson looks rejuvenated. On a line with Fisher and Nick Foligno, Alfie is skating faster and shooting crisper than he has been all season. If he can come back refreshed, maybe the same can hold true for Spezza, who is expected to be back on the ice within a week. Meantime, Kovalev has had a roller-coaster couple of weeks, with 10 points in his past nine games but also a minus-7 over his past eight contests. Still, there are clear signs of life and if Spezza could come back and anchor a second line with Kovalev, the Sens might have secondary scoring for the first time this season.
There are other positive signs as well. The No. 5-ranked goaltender on the ESPN Player Rater for the past week is named Brodeur, but it's not Martin. Mike Brodeur put in a pair of solid performances for the Senators during a recent call-up, including a shutout of the New York Rangers. Elliott currently is dealing with the flu but, pushed by Brodeur's solid showing, had his best game in over a month on Monday against the Boston Bruins. If the Sens can become confident in their goaltending, the forwards can play a stronger game on offense. It seems that Elliott and Brodeur are the best bet for that to happen at this point.
So what to do from a fantasy standpoint? Spezza is the focus for now, because he has the combination of being available in almost 30 percent of ESPN leagues and the history of being a fantasy standout. Scoop him up if he is available on the waiver wire or try to acquire him in trade if he is not. He shouldn't cost too much in a swap unless his owner is a die-hard Sens fan. I'd also consider a pickup on Foligno in deeper leagues. Even though he hasn't done much in recent weeks, he will land a role in the top six forwards somewhere, and if the team can turn things around, the points and plus/minus will come.
Rising and Falling
Alexandre Burrows, RW, Vancouver Canucks (up five spots): Simply put, he's definitely on fire. Burrows has 11 goals in his past seven games, including a pair of hat tricks. Sure, there is the whole controversy surrounding the jawing with referee Stephane Auger, but its impact on fantasy hockey is Burrows getting 16 penalty minutes in that game. I've held the line on Burrows in the rankings all season, keeping him among the top forwards even when his performance didn't justify it, because of this exact kind of outburst. Burrows has the perfect chemistry with Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin, and you should expected elevated play from Burrows for the rest of the season. Remember, Burrows had 29 points in the final 34 games of last season, including a plus-23 after the All-Star break.
Patric Hornqvist, RW, Nashville Predators (up 20 spots): With so many of his goals coming on the all-important power play, it's time for Hornqvist to take a leap up the rankings closer to where he deserves to be. It's been tough coming around on someone who was never considered to be a top-line guy as a prospect, but Hornqvist just keeps scoring. Even with linemate Jason Arnott out for the past two games, Hornqvist still managed a goal and a plus-2 with Marcel Goc and Steve Sullivan on his line. He's still available in more than half the leagues.
Brenden Morrow, LW, Dallas Stars (down eight spots): Whether it's because of the injury or just generally slowing down, Morrow has hit a rough patch. He's been day-to-day for a while now with an upper-body injury and has just three points and a minus-5 rating in his past nine games. Clearly Morrow is a little out of his element without playmaker Mike Ribeiro on the ice with him. Since Ribeiro may not be back before the Olympic break, Morrow owners could be in for a rough time until March.
• With Teemu Selanne out now with a fractured jaw, Matt Beleskey has been given a shot on the Anaheim Ducks' top line with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. So far, his two points and a minus-4 are nothing to write home about, but there are fewer places more desirable to line up in the NHL, so he could earn some sneaky value in the future.
• Nik Antropov has been back for only three games, but Ilya Kovalchuk's scoring has already perked up. Look for some of the other Atlanta Thrashers who have been struggling lately (Maxim Afinogenov, Slava Kozlov) to follow suit.
• Slow and steady is winning the race for Wayne Simmonds. The Los Angeles Kings forward has been playing with Anze Kopitar and Ryan Smyth in place of the injured Justin Williams. With no signs that Williams will be back anytime soon, Simmonds should continue to have some value. He has 26 points and a plus-16 in 44 games this season.
• It's not an overpowering total for Petr Prucha, but he has found some value on the Phoenix Coyotes' top line with Martin Hanzal and Radim Vrbata. Going back 13 games, Prucha has eight points and a plus-6.
• With Andrei Kostitsyn sidelined, it's starting to look like Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta and Benoit Pouliot are the new top line for the Montreal Canadiens. The trio is also turning tricks on the power play.
Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com and the 2008 Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Hockey Writer of the Year. You can e-mail him here.