Front Line: Injury returnees

With both the fantasy and real trade deadlines in the rearview mirror, there are few things that can help boost your team more than a hot streak from the usual waiver-wire fodder.

That is, until you start looking at the potential returnees from injury. Some have been out a while and some not so long, but a lot of impact fantasy players find themselves in the free-agent pool when they get hurt, especially late in the season.

When it was announced on Saturday that Sidney Crosby is targeting a return to the Pittsburgh Penguins' lineup on Thursday, it took moments for him to be picked up in the 16 percent of ESPN leagues where he was dropped. With Sid off the table, we will have a look at some other potential returns that could have a fantasy impact (though not likely to be as great as Crosby's).

Martin Havlat, San Jose Sharks: Out since December for surgery to repair his hamstring, Havlat has worked himself back to where he could very well return this coming week. He's available in 68 percent of leagues, so now is the time to jump on him. He will jump back onto a line with Logan Couture and Ryane Clowe, and the trio should start doing some damage immediately.

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. Steven Stamkos, TB (1)
2. Evgeni Malkin, Pit (2)
3. Ilya Kovalchuk, NJ (6)
4. Claude Giroux, Phi (4)
5. James Neal, Pit (7)
6. Scott Hartnell, Phi (8)
7. Daniel Sedin, Van (3)
8. Marian Gaborik, NYR (17)
9. Marian Hossa, Chi (10)
10. Pavel Datsyuk, Det (57)
11. Zach Parise, NJ (15)
12. Martin St. Louis, TB (11)
13. Henrik Sedin, Van (5)
14. Blake Wheeler, Wpg (65)
15. Patrick Sharp, Chi (14)
16. Corey Perry, Ana (9)
17. Jason Spezza, Ott (13)
18. Patrick Marleau, SJ (24)
19. Anze Kopitar, LA (12)
20. Jarome Iginla, Cgy (26)
21. Ryan Kesler, Van (21)
22. Evander Kane, Wpg (76)
23. John Tavares, NYI (18)
24. Alex Ovechkin, Was (30)
25. Patrick Kane, Chi (23)
26. Sidney Crosby, Pit (NR)
27. David Backes, StL (19)
28. Tyler Seguin, Bos (25)
29. Phil Kessel, Tor (20)
30. Joe Thornton, SJ (36)
31. Johan Franzen, Det (56)
32. Michael Ryder, Dal (81)
33. Jamie Benn, Dal (27)
34. Teemu Selanne, Ana (22)
35. Henrik Zetterberg, Det (28)
36. Rick Nash, Cls (29)
37. Eric Staal, Car (16)
38. Jeff Skinner, Car (61)
39. Bobby Ryan, Ana (43)
40. Jeff Carter, LA (34)
41. Taylor Hall, Edm (35)
42. Brad Richards, NYR (50)
43. Jordan Eberle, Edm (38)
44. Teddy Purcell, TB (48)
45. Ryan Getzlaf, Ana (39)
46. Patrice Bergeron, Bos (41)
47. Matt Moulson, NYI (31)
48. Olli Jokinen, Cgy (67)
49. Logan Couture, SJ (37)
50. Andy McDonald, StL (64)
51. Milan Lucic, Bos (52)
52. Mike Ribeiro, Dal (58)
53. Radim Vrbata, Pho (49)
54. Gabriel Landeskog, Col (46)
55. Alexander Semin, Was (53)
56. Patrik Elias, NJ (54)
57. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edm (51)
58. Max Pacioretty, Mon (70)
59. Steve Sullivan, Pit (63)
60. David Krejci, Bos (55)
61. T.J. Oshie, StL (66)
62. Erik Cole, Mon (79)
63. Joe Pavelski, SJ (33)
64. Loui Eriksson, Dal (59)
65. Milan Michalek, Ott (83)
66. Alex Burrows, Van (32)
67. Brad Marchand, Bos (40)
68. Curtis Glencross, Cgy (NR)
69. Jonathan Toews, Chi (47)
70. Chris Kunitz, Pit (72)
71. Dustin Brown, LA (73)
72. Bryan Little, Wpg (97)
73. Adam Henrique, NJ (60)
74. Alex Tanguay, Cgy (NR)
75. Ray Whitney, Pho (80)
76. Ryan O'Reilly, Col (75)
77. Ryan Malone, TB (100)
78. Jason Pominville, Buf (71)
79. Pascal Dupuis, Pit (NR)
80. Shane Doan, Pho (82)
81. Justin Williams, LA (62)
82. Derek Stepan, NYR (88)
83. P.A. Parenteau, NYI (85)
84. David Clarkson, NJ (96)
85. Martin Havlat, SJ (98)
86. Stephen Weiss, Fla (78)
87. Mikhail Grabovski, Tor (87)
88. Mike Fisher, Nsh (95)
89. Steve Downie, Col (NR)
90. Martin Erat, Nsh (74)
91. Thomas Vanek, Buf (69)
92. Sergei Kostitsyn, Nsh (NR)
93. Tomas Plekanec, Mon (NR)
94. David Perron, StL (94)
95. David Desharnais, Mon (86)
96. Andrei Kostitsyn, Nsh (NR)
97. David Legwand, Nsh (NR)
98. Jordan Staal, Pit (44)
99. Clarke MacArthur, Tor (99)
100. Dany Heatley, Min (68)

Travis Zajac, New Jersey Devils: The "on the horizon" timeline given by head coach Peter DeBoer is a bit of a head-scratcher, but Zajac has been spotted skating "hard" laps in practice. That means his re-return from an Achilles tendon injury should be sooner than later. For the sake of fantasy owners desperate enough to give him a look right now, let's give Zajac one more week off and hope for a return when the Devils are home on March 23. That would make him available for only the final week and a half of the season, but that is also a key time in fantasy. DeBoer was quoted as wanting to use Zajac to take the pressure off Adam Henrique. That means Zajac would be playing some center between Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise. He's available in 73 percent of ESPN leagues, so you can probably wait another week to get him, but not much longer than that.

Mikko Koivu, Minnesota Wild: Koivu, despite his terrific value on a per-game basis, is not a wise choice to gamble on for a triumphant return. Though he has returned to practice, he is still wearing a no-contact jersey for his injury and there are reported rumblings about shutting him down if the Wild continue to tumble out of the playoff race. Down to their third goaltender due to injury, the Wild could continue to put distance between themselves and the postseason. Koivu is available in 45 percent of ESPN leagues, but perhaps that number should continue to grow instead of drop.

Simon Gagne, Los Angeles Kings: Another place that may be tempting to look, but is probably a false hope. After a strong second half last season with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and with former linemate Jeff Carter now in town with the Kings, Gagne seems like a natural choice to look for increased production when he returns. The problem is that return is up in the air, way up in the air. Gagne is skating on his own for a return from his concussion, but he is taking the progression very slowly. Available in 72 percent of ESPN leagues, Gagne is a true long shot at this point.

As for Nicklas Backstrom of the Washington Capitals, Vincent Lecavalier of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Nathan Horton of the Boston Bruins, don't circle your calendars with a return date. Neither Backstrom nor Horton is even skating, while Lecavalier can't do anything with his wrist yet.


While we are looking through the injury stories around the league, we might as well check in on some of the other happenings that don't quite fit in with the players above.

Corey Perry, Anaheim Ducks: Already missing one game with a shoulder injury, there is a chance Perry will miss a couple more after being helped off the ice on Saturday against Dallas. If he is out long, no one really benefits and Ryan Getzlaf suffers.

David Desharnais, Montreal Canadiens: Having a magical end to his season with 16 points in the past 13 games, Desharnais missed Saturday's tilt with a lower-body injury. Any prolonged absence would mean Tomas Plekanec can be fantasy relevant again on the top line with Erik Cole and Max Pacioretty.

Thomas Vanek, Buffalo Sabres: Vanek is dealing with an upper-body injury after taking a hard check against the Bruins last Thursday. An extended absence by Vanek could have a positive impact on the fantasy useless (so far in a Sabres jersey) Cody Hodgson. Jason Pominville is the offensive catalyst in lieu of Vanek, and Pominville played with Hodgson and Ville Leino on Saturday.

Joffrey Lupul, Toronto Maple Leafs: Lupul is out for what will likely be the remainder of the season, and it's probably no coincidence that the Leafs have been shut out for two straight games. Keep a passive eye on how Carter Ashton is used. The prized prospect is up from the AHL and could replace Tim Connolly next to Phil Kessel and Tyler Bozak since Connolly hasn't been a spark.

Rising and Falling

Please note that I have attempted to err on the side of boldness when it comes to ranking players who may still be available in your league, while docking the ranks of top players who may be slumping or underperforming. Since there is little point in showing you an ordered list of all the players you can no longer trade for or acquire in most fantasy leagues, I felt this was the best approach to keep the list useful. Ranking Andrei Kostitsyn (No. 96) on the list may not be something I would normally do after him posting six points in five games. But with the season dwindling, brother Sergei Kostitsyn drawing an assist on both Andrei's power-play goals on Saturday, and Andrei's availability in 98 percent of ESPN leagues, it makes sense to take a risk and put him on the list.

Evander Kane and Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets (up 54 and 51 spots): The sustained hot play of the two leading Jets bodes very well for the remainder of the regular season. Kane and Wheeler both have a propensity for multipoint games and both have remained on a scoring tear since mid-February. In the past 11 games, Kane has missed the score sheet only once while accumulating eight goals and eight assists. Wheeler similarly has been shut out only once in 11 games and while racking up seven goals and 11 assists. They have both been top-10 fantasy forwards for the past month and should sustain the performance for the coming weeks.

Jordan Staal, Pittsburgh Penguins (down 54 spots): Obviously this drop is assuming that Sidney Crosby makes his triumphant return on Thursday. With Crosby in the lineup, Staal goes back to be a third-line player and, while still more offensively inclined than most other third liners, won't necessarily be a useful fantasy asset. Staal has a point in eight straight games and 11 of the past 12, but the well will dry up as soon as Crosby is back in action.

Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin, Vancouver Canucks (down four and eight spots): Frankly, the only reason the twins aren't dropping further down the list is because this dry spell has gone on so long it has to come to a close soon. It's been five games since Daniel scored a point, and eight games for Henrik. The fact that neither Sedin has a point in the month of March is a serious fantasy concern now that the month is nearly two weeks old. What do we chalk this up as? A cold streak. It has been almost three full NHL seasons since the Sedins had a cold streak. They'll be back scoring within the week. They are too good not to be.

Scoring Lines

Carl Hagelin, New York Rangers: The rookie has taken to lining up with Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards on a line on occasion, and he never seems to leave Richards' side except for the power play. He has seven goals in eight games and appears to be a candidate for a late-season boost to fantasy teams. He is available in 98 percent of ESPN leagues and brings a plus-18 to the table.

Mark Letestu, Columbus Blue Jackets: The second line for the Blue Jackets is picking up its play lately and that includes Letestu. He showed us with the Pittsburgh Penguins last season that he can string together some goal-scoring success and now appears to be ready for another run. He has five points in four games working with Vinny Prospal and is available in 99 percent of ESPN leagues.

Jordan Caron, Boston Bruins: Turns out the Bruins have opted for Caron as the replacement for Rich Peverley (who was the replacement for Nathan Horton) on the second line. Caron has seven points in eight games working with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. Available in 98 percent of ESPN leagues, Caron should continue his run for at least a few weeks, as Horton has no timetable and Peverley is not due back for at least a couple weeks. If Caron is still scoring, he may even stick over Peverley on the second line.

Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is the 2008 and 2009 Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Hockey Writer of the Year. You can send him a note here or tweet him @seanard with the hashtag #FantasyHockey for a timelier response.