Hold your nose and digest a large grain of salt for this week's Forecaster. Oh, it's here all right. The ultimate fantasy scheduling tool that compares each team's matchup against its opponent based on key statistics that have been accumulated over the season and the past 21 days.
…And that is where we have a problem. The season and the past 21 days both equal exactly seven days of hockey right now. That means the Forecaster figures are based on a minuscule sample size. That means it's nowhere near as powerful as it will be later on.
Not that we are saying the Forecaster calls it perfectly with a larger sample size. If that were the case, we wouldn't have given you the Forecaster at all and we'd be living in Las Vegas. But nothing beats the Forecaster when it comes to putting an apples-versus-oranges debate into context.
Example: You have to decide between Olli Jokinen and Mike Ribeiro for your final lineup spot. In the past, you would look at the schedule and side with Jokinen as the no-brainer given the Calgary Flames four-game schedule versus the Dallas Stars three games. But the Forecaster says the combined offensive rating for the Flames' four games is 18, while the combined rating for the Stars' three games is 20. It's not such a clear-cut decision now, is it?
These are the kind of tidbits I'll be rooting around for each week as the Forecaster not only shows you the upcoming schedule, but rates it. The thing is, you have to bear with us until the Forecaster has enough statistics to start spitting out much more meaningful matchup ratings. While I don't discount this week's Forecaster chart as useless, I don't see myself making crucial decisions based off it when the average NHL team has barely played three games.
Still, here it is and following it will be some hopefully helpful recommendations for the week ahead.
"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.
Underrated Islanders: Even with the team's two biggest catalysts hurt, John Tavares ailing and Kyle Okposo out, the New York Islanders offense is humming. Doug Weight (available in 92 percent of leagues) is tearing it up, most recently on a line with Nino Niederreiter and Michael Grabner. Weight has a goal and three assists in three games and three of his points have been on the power play. Then there is the Isles "top line" featuring Josh Bailey, Blake Comeau and P.A. Parenteau. Comeau and Bailey have a combined eight points and both are available in at least 75 percent of ESPN leagues. Even when Tavares makes a forthcoming return to the ice, Comeau and Bailey should continue to see key ice time with him. Their numbers could get even better. The Islanders are on the road against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers, so this is a great week to test-drive some of them.
New York, New York: The New York Rangers offense deserves just as much kudos as their counterparts on Long Island. Coach John Tortorella has a club that, at least in the early going, looks super aggressive on the puck and is not afraid to shoot. Derek Stepan's spectacular rookie debut aside, Brandon Dubinsky is the one actually leading the charge with four points through two games. Available in 60 percent of ESPN leagues, Dubinsky isn't even skating on the top line. Centering Artem Anisimov and Ryan Callahan, Dubinsky has three goals and an assist while his linemates have three points and two points respectively. The trio even acted as the Rangers de facto power play unit against the Islanders on Monday. With a four-game week on tap, don't hesitate to sub-in some of the unheralded Rangers forwards. Daniel Girardi is also a solid option on the back end.
Beware the two game schedule: The Detroit Red Wings, Edmonton Oilers, Florida Panthers, Montreal Canadiens, Philadelphia Flyers and Phoenix Coyotes all have a two-game week on tap. That doesn't mean you bench Pavel Datsyuk, Mike Richards or Tomas Plekanec, but you don't necessarily need to be starting Jiri Hudler, Bryan McCabe or Shawn Horcoff. To each his own in deciding your fantasy lineup, but a two-game week from McCabe can easily be bested by a four-game week from a free-agent like the Lightning's Brett Clark.
I'm picking up Matt Taormina wherever I can find him. The numbers aren't there yet, but this puck-moving defenseman is the quarterback for what can be very potent New Jersey Devils power play. On the ice with Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise, Travis Zajac and David Clarkson, the points will surely be coming for this rookie defenseman. It seems like an odd choice to use an unheralded rookie as the QB, but it worked wonders for Michael Del Zotto last season (at least for his points). The reason Clarkson is the fourth forward for the Devils power play is because of an injury to Brian Rolston that will sideline him for the next four to six weeks. Rolston underwent sports hernia surgery on Thursday. Things actually break even for Clarkson, though. While his value is reduced at even strength due to the loss of a solid linemate like Rolston, his new role on the power play should make up for it. Jannik Hansen has a serious chance to prove his worth for the Vancouver Canucks. While Alex Burrows remains sidelined, Hansen has slipped into a top-six role. Playing with the speedy Mason Raymond and two-way Ryan Kesler, Hansen is a darkhorse to earn some significant playing time over the next few weeks. Andrei Loktionov skated on the Los Angeles Kings top line on Tuesday in a win over the Atlanta Thrashers. The rookie playmaker played over 17 minutes on a line with Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown. The Kings are still working out roles for this season so the situation bears watching. Anyone playing with Kopitar is good for some points. In the meantime, Ryan Smyth had a three-point game away from Kopitar. With hard-shooting Jarret Stoll and Justin Williams, Smyth looked invigorated. Williams and Stoll are both available in over 90 percent of leagues if the trio stays together and produces. Be aware that Mike Modano is playing the role of fourth forward on the Detroit Red Wings power play. Along with Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Nicklas Lidstrom and Tomas Holmstrom, Modano is poised to reap rewards if he can remain with the unit.
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 e-mail him here