Here it is, in all its glory! The Forecaster is no longer referencing any numbers from the 2008-09 season in its offensive and defensive rating calculations. No sir, I've taken off the leash and allowed this puppy to roam free among statistics solely from the 2009-10 season.
You might ask: "Is the sample size really big enough though, Sean? Aren't you concerned about the fact some teams have played only seven games?"
My reply: Well, weighing that against the fact that stats from last season don't even reflect the same players, coaches and philosophies in some cases, small sample sizes will be a palatable evil at this point.
Ah, yes, but that does mean you need to have a meticulous eye ready as you consider the numbers for the week. Let me remind you of the calculation for the offensive ratings: I use a combination of goals, shots and power-play success for the subject team versus goals allowed, shots allowed and penalty-kill efficiency for their opponent. But the next part is where some small sample sizes still exist. I then weigh the calculation from three separate stat categories: year-to-date, past 21 days and home/road splits (depending on where the game is played). So while we have stats from the past 21 days and for the season to date that will include at least seven games' worth of numbers for all teams, some teams have an extreme split of home/road numbers. For example, the Toronto Maple Leafs have played only two road games this season as of Friday morning, and now have four on the road this coming week. Similarly, the Minnesota Wild have two home games to take into account when this week's formula was put together. So you can see where some numbers might get swung a certain direction based on the venue.
In fact, take a closer look at the Maple Leafs' ratings for the week. They are thrown off somewhat because of the two-game sample size for road contests this season, both of which were high-scoring affairs (a 6-4 loss to the Washington Capitals and a 7-2 loss to the New York Rangers). But in those games, the Maple Leafs' offense was actually clicking, and managed the six goals on 60 shots. After the four road games this week, I'm going to have a lot more trust in the sample size for the Leafs' future road games, but I don't think they deserve an offensive rating of nine for the week.
"O" (offense) and "D" (defense) matchup ratings are based upon a scale from 1 (poor matchup) to 10 (excellent matchup), and are calculated using a formula that evaluates the team's year-to-date and past 21 days' statistics, their performance in home/road games depending on where the game is to be played, as well as their opponents' numbers in those categories. The Games T / H column lists the team's total number of games played as well as home games (T / H), and lists the cumulative rating from 1-10 of that week's matchups.
Prey on the Predators: Obviously, using only statistics from this season for the Forecaster calculation, the teams that have struggled to find a rhythm are going to jump off the page like the Nashville Predators do. Those are some weak ratings on both offense and defense, which suggest the Preds will continue to flounder without captain Jason Arnott and no identity in net. The Minnesota Wild, Chicago Blackhawks and Dallas Stars all get to pick on the Predators this week and all have at least three games. Make sure to include some players from these teams as one game apiece against the Predators will help bolster their overall numbers for the week. Andrew Brunette (available in 75 percent of ESPN leagues) should continue to play point-per-game hockey and his minus-6 should stabilize this week. Andrew Ladd has been taking shifts with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane and is a strong play.
Aim for the Stars: The Stars not only get to pick on the Predators this week, but also have solid ratings against the Maple Leafs and Florida Panthers. James Neal and Jamie Benn continue to find the net with regularity playing on the team's top two lines. Not only are the matchups good for the Stars' offense, but the defensive ratings are also favorable. Make sure Stephane Robidas and Nicklas Grossman are in your lineup to collect a few plus/minus notches.
Ride the Lightning: The Tampa Bay Lightning might only have a pair of games this week, but both are on home ice, where the team is 3-0-1 this season. Forget about the troublesome plus/minus from some of their players and make sure to start your stud Bolts for the coming week as they face the New Jersey Devils and Ottawa Senators. James Wright and Steve Downie are your sleepers, as both have been spotted among the Lightning's top six lately. Alex Tanguay, meanwhile, was playing on the fourth line during the team's 5-2 win over the San Jose Sharks this past Thursday and can be avoided.
Watch out for the Avalanche: Despite leading the Western Conference as of Friday, the Colorado Avalanche are scheduled for a difficult week on the road with stops against the Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames, Sharks and Vancouver Canucks. Craig Anderson will likely only get three of the starts, but you will want to be careful using him if you have other options. The Avalanche have allowed over 30 shots per game in their seven road contests this season, while the Oilers and Flames are No. 1 and 2 respectively in goals scored per game. While I think the small home/road sample sizes are swaying the defensive rating for the Avalanche a bit too much, the rating is not too far off.
It's still Miller time: The Buffalo Sabres should remain the defensive class of the league as they face the Devils, Maple Leafs and New York Islanders in Week 4. The Sabres trail only the Phoenix Coyotes in goals allowed per game and only the Blackhawks have allowed fewer shots on goal. Meanwhile, the Devils, Maple Leafs and Islanders are all in the bottom 10 in the NHL in goals scored per game. The Sabres' offense might not light up its opponents (although it might go off versus the Leafs), but the defense won't be allowing much through. Ryan Miller is a no-brainer, while Tyler Myers and Henrik Tallinder are strong plays for plus/minus help. Even the fourth line of Paul Gaustad, Matt Ellis and Patrick Kaleta should have some deep-league plus/minus potential.
Bryzgalov's big test: The almost unfathomable start by the Coyotes will be put to the test this week as they face the Rangers, Columbus Blue Jackets, St. Louis Blues and Anaheim Ducks. Ilya Bryzgalov has allowed only nine goals in seven games but will be pelted by the Rangers and their league-leading totals in goals (37) and power-play goals (12). The real caution should be that despite having the best defensive statistics in the NHL so far this season, Bryzgalov and the Coyotes rate no better than a six for their games against the Rangers, Blue Jackets and Blues (though they do get a 10 against the Ducks).
Penguins keep marching: Besides the fact that Alex Goligoski is a must-own player following the loss of Sergei Gonchar, he helps highlight the bottom of this column for the second week in a row. Yes, the Penguins have another strong defensive week on tap, which means your non-fantasy stars from the team can come out to play. That includes Tyler Kennedy, Matt Cooke and Jordan Staal, who all should remain in your lineup. Jay McKee needs to be played for plus/minus help, and now Kris Letang is likely to join Goligoski on the Penguins' power-play blue line. Against the Montreal Canadiens, Blue Jackets and Wild, these unheralded Penguins should rack up plus/minus numbers and chip in some points, too.
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.