It's about time we discussed the main tweak to the Forecaster this season. I've steered some of the focus away from the actually ratings generated within the Forecaster so far this season, mainly because the sample size is still relatively small compared to what it could be. Now that we are actually starting to get some numbers that are meaningful, it's time to let you in on the change.
It's a subtle, but very effective change to the overall ratings each team receives for its week ahead. Last season the overall rating was, more of less, an average of each team's offensive and defensive ratings for its individual games during the week. A nice number to see, of course, but it lacked some level of context for the bigger picture.
This season, the overall rating that appears for each team's week is actually a comparative rating to the entire week ahead. Rather than simply average each team's individual game, the Forecaster takes the process a step further by averaging every NHL team's rating and then comparing that average back.
OK, maybe an example will help. Look below and you will see that the Philadelphia Flyers have four games during the week ahead with offensive ratings of 7, 6, 7 and 5. But wait, they have an overall offensive rating for the week of O:8. Why is that? It doesn't make sense in terms of simple averages, but that is where the bigger picture comes in. Because if you compare the overall average of all offensive ratings for every NHL team in every NHL game this coming week, the Flyers actually have one of the top offensive options for the coming week. The mean average for the Flyers four games is only an O:6, but when compared to the average for the whole league an O:6 over four games is really an O:8 for the week in question.
Conversely, look at the Colorado Avalanche. The Avs have two games, one rates as an O:6 and the other an O:9. But given the context the entire week, the Avalanche rate as an O:5 for the week. Why? Because their two games don't compare well to the overall average.
The old Forecaster would have shown you an O:6 for the Flyers and an O:8 for the Avalanche. That, while not deceiving, is not the bigger picture. The new ratings of O:8 for the Flyers and O:5 for the Avalanche now capture the fact that Danny Briere is more likely to get you more points next week in four games than Paul Stastny is in two games.
At the end of the day, this change to the Forecaster means that every team is being rated in the context of the week ahead instead of on an overall basis. The big advantage here for you, is that you will now see your best options for the week sticking out like a sore thumb.
"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.
Blackhawks all 10s: The Chicago Blackhawks take home the cake for ratings next week. With a 10 in both offense and defense, the Hawks are your best bet for some free-agent help. The recent injury to Marian Hossa is good news (for non-Hossa owners) as the line changes free up some possible sleepers. Jack Skille skated alongside Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp on the first line Wednesday and offers a solid pickup, if only for next week's great schedule. Dave Bolland is also being given a solid opportunity on the second line with Patrick Kane. Perhaps the overall best pickup from the Hawks, and someone who is available in more than 30 percent of leagues, is Brian Campbell, who is recovering from a knee injury. He skated with the team Wednesday and could return next week. Whether he steps back in to the top pairing on the power play is debatable, but his passing skills are undeniable and bound to get him points.
Last call for Michal Neuvirth: He is still available in 10 percent of leagues, but he absolutely shouldn't be. Neuvirth has all but nailed down the starter's gig for the Washington Capitals, whether Semyon Varlamov is healthy or not. His stats will only become more impressive over the next week, thanks to the Caps' D:7 rating. Get him now, or never.
No rush on Flames: If you've been debating as to whether or not to pick up some hot free-agent Calgary Flames, now might not be the best time. The Flames have one of the worst ratings on the week for offense. Rene Bourque us almost owned in every league now, and probably should be, if he and Olli Jokinen are going to display any chemistry. Brendan Morrison, on the other hand, is still widely available. Give him another week before looking again, though; there are better options for the week ahead.
Canucks on tap: The excellent offensive rating aside, there is plenty of reason to look to the Vancouver Canucks for help. The biggest reason is because Jeff Tambellini continues to skate beside the Sedin twins. One game and one goal might be considered a fluke, but two games and two goals means you need to pay attention. Of course, Alexandre Burrows is due back on Tuesday and should resume skating with Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin. Or will he? If Tambellini can continue to provide offense between now and then there is always the consideration that the Canucks use Burrows to help bolster the depth chart. It's doubtful, but possible, and you are always better safe than sorry when it comes to the Sedins.
If it hasn't become apparent to you just yet, Antti Niemi was hiding behind a good defense last season and isn't half the goalie Antero Niittymaki is. Niitty is available in more than 40 percent of leagues and is a borderline No. 1 goaltender thanks to the San Jose Sharks' winning ways. He's not getting the most minutes on the New York Rangers' power play, but Michal Rozsival is making effective use of the time he does get. Despite a slight knee injury, he has six points in eight games, including three points on the power play. Noah Welch made his season debut with the Atlanta Thrashers and skated 18 minutes on the second pairing. He'll probably go right back down when some other defensemen get healthy, but I still like his potential as a power-play quarterback. Just pointing out the fact that Alex Pietrangelo's ice time jumped significantly over the past two games and he could be on the verge of a breakout with the St. Louis Blues. Also keep an eye on teammate Alexander Steen, who scored his first goal of the season on Thursday but has been taking a heck of a lot of shots on goal and playing big minutes on the power play. The Phoenix Coyotes' Kyle Turris is going to be a rollercoaster this season. After playing the team's No. 1 center for a couple games and notching four points, he played just over eight minutes on Thursday. Remember how Jeff Schultz wasn't really dominating last season yet he had a ridiculous plus/minus because his defense partner was Mike Green? Well, have a look at the Buffalo Sabres' Steve Montador this season thanks to his position beside Jordan Leopold. Obviously, if Marian Hossa is out any length of time, Tomas Kopecky loses his stardom by association. Feel like a gamble? Jordan Staal is expected back next week and may end up in the top six with either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin.
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.