For real or not for real? That is the question. As we hit the quarter mark on this NHL season, we have a decent enough sample to take a close look at some hot and slow starts to determine whether or not the trend will continue for those players for the rest of the season.
A few notes here: PR stands for the ESPN Player Rater value of each player prior to Tuesday's games. Percentage owned is, obviously, the percentage of ESPN leagues the player is owned in. "For real" means the player's stats this season are a realistic indication of what he will do from here on out. "Not for real" means the player's output this season is either higher or lower than what he will do from here on out.
Patrick Marleau, C, Sharks
PR: 10.77 Pct. owned 100
Things looked promising for Marleau in the preseason as he was skating on the wing with Joe Thornton. Sharks captain Marleau had a lot of questions to answer after an abominable 48-point 2007-08. He is showing up in spades this season, showing terrific chemistry as a winger to Thornton. He is on pace for a career year and should have no trouble getting there as a first-line player on this Sharks squad.
Verdict: For real, again.
Jeff Carter, C, Flyers
PR: 8.54 Pct. owned 100
Carter is tied with Devin Setoguchi for the league lead in shots, as he has been simply peppering the net this season. He has a team-high 11 goals to show for it despite the fact he is third in line in Philadelphia to receive top flankers. So, yes, his skill level is for real, but we need a more rounded game out of Carter before he can be considered a true No. 1 center. If the Flyers do get Brendan Shanahan, Carter would be one of the biggest beneficiaries as another skilled winger would get bumped down the depth chart to Carter's level.
Verdict: For real, and he could even get better. Don't hesitate to make a play for him if Philly inks Shanny.
Steven Stamkos, C, Lightning
PR: -2.84 Pct. owned 62.8
One of the best skaters to come along in several years, Stamkos was looked at as a heavy Calder favorite before the season; therefore, he was also projected to be a decent fantasy centerman. Under coach Barry Melrose, Stamkos never cracked 15 minutes of ice time and had just two goals and two assists through 17 games. Enter Rick Tocchet as interim head coach and Stamkos immediately plays a season-high in minutes in his first game, and then tops it in his second game while firing a team-high nine shots on goal. You better believe Stamkos will be throwing his coming out party sooner than later.
Verdict: Absolutely not real under Melrose. About to get very real under Tocchet. Pick him up now.
Derek Roy, C, Sabres
PR: 2.37 Pct. owned 93.2
Something is way off with Derek Roy this season. After finishing last season with better than a point per game (81 points, 78 games), Roy was supposed to resume his role as the Sabres top pivot, only this time around he would have Thomas Vanek next to him and would be ready to burst out of the gates rather than sauntering out the way he did last season. Vanek has not disappointed, but Roy has only 10 points in 17 games and is a minus-5 to boot. This is a guy who finished at plus-37 two seasons ago! After finishing with 32 goals last season, he is on pace to score 10 this year. Considering that he is also on pace to finish with the exact same number of shots as a season ago, one has to wonder what's up. Roy is nursing a groin ailment this week, but it doesn't sound like something that has been there all along. Given the talented line he plays on, we can give Roy the benefit of the doubt and say he will bounce back, but considering the mysterious circumstances of this drop-off it might be best to not go after him too hard in trade.
Verdict: Probably not for real. That is to say, he'll likely come around but it's still too risky to say, "Trade for him." Unless of course, you are buying very low.
Derick Brassard, C, Blue Jackets
PR: 6.08 Pct. owned 33.0
Now with 19 points in 18 games and a plus-8 on the season, Brassard is showing us why he was such a highly regarded rookie coming into the season. The speedy center was supposed to develop into a point-per-game player, not to be one from the get-go. Well, he's here and he's quite clear about making some noise. Brassard needs to be owned in every fantasy league, not just a third of them.
Verdict: For real. So go pick him up right now. Now!
Alexander Semin, LW, Capitals
PR: 14.05 Pct. owned 100
Is he really the best player in the NHL? No, Semin is not. But that doesn't mean an 80- or 90-point season is out of the question for the skilled Russian. He is slick with the puck and gets to take the ice with some of the best offensive players in the Eastern Conference. Injury is obviously a concern, but so far the ankle that hobbled him for most of last season hasn't been an issue.
Verdict: Mostly for real. He won't win the Art Ross, but he'll be good enough to hang onto unless you can trade him for Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby or Alexander Ovechkin.
Patrick Sharp, LW, Blackhawks
PR: 8.14 Pct. owned 100
Sharp grabbed everyone's attention when he ripped off a streak of 10 games with 15 points from mid-October to the start of this month, and he did it while playing on Chicago's second line with Martin Havlat and either Dustin Byfuglien or Troy Brouwer. Trouble is, Sharp isn't an 80-point guy, and a recent four-game absence from the score sheet should help us remember that. With his hot start, he could roll off a career-best season, but it would still be shocking to see him top 65 points. Unless he is shifted back onto the Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane line (unlikely with the way Kris Versteeg has played), then Sharp is due for some rough patches.
Verdict: Not for real. If someone thinks he is a point-per-game player, feel free to let them have him for someone who actually is a point-per-game guy.
Ryane Clowe, LW, Sharks
PR: 11.48 Pct. owned 80.0
It's hard to argue against Clowe; his size allows him to perch himself at the top of the crease on one of the most potent power plays in the NHL. In fact, he leads all Sharks with nine man-advantage points. There are no first and second power-play units in San Jose, as both split time evenly. Clowe plays with Joe Pavelski, Milan Michalek, Christian Ehrhoff and either Rob Blake or Marc-Edouard Vlasic. He'll have to fight a bit with Jonathan Cheechoo for time once the former Rocket Richard Trophy winner is healthy again, and it is hard to envision that he will finish the season ahead of Devin Setoguchi or Patrick Marleau for power-play points. Clowe will be useful, but right now is probably the peak time to try and trade him.
Verdict: Somewhat for real. If you can swap him for a tried-and-true 75-point performer, don't hesitate.
Alexander Frolov, LW, Kings
PR: 3.40 Pct. owned 79.1
Frolov is on pace for a full season of fewer than 25 goals and fewer than 55 points. He is not a first-line player on the Kings this season and hasn't been a member of the first power-play unit either. His 35-goal 2006-07 campaign is really starting to look like the aberration in his career, and those holding their breath for another breakout campaign are likely going to start turning purple before he scores 30 goals again.
Verdict: For real. See if anyone in your league still thinks he can approach 30 goals and trade him away for a No. 2 winger.
Devin Setoguchi, RW, Sharks
PR: 10.46 Pct. owned 88.1
Tied for the league lead in shots on goal, Setoguchi is taking advantage of his role in the lineup with veterans Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau by being a great finisher. Setoguchi is similar in style and stature to fellow Shark Jonathan Cheechoo, only he is younger and faster. Yes, that does mean Setoguchi is a legitimate contender for the Rocket Richard trophy this year and should be held on to for dear life in your league.
Verdict: For real. That means 12 percent of you need to add him right now.
Martin St. Louis, RW, Lightning
PR: 4.24 Pct. owned 100
Like most of his fellow Lightning, St. Louis has disappointed through the beginning of the season. Four goals and nine assists is nothing to sneeze at, but he hasn't been the No. 1 right-winger he was drafted as, either. St. Louis, along with fellow linemates Vincent Lecavalier and Vaclav Prospal, will be the biggest beneficiaries of the coaching change, though. Rick Tocchet has already installed an up-tempo game that features the run-and-gun offense that was put in place with the flurry of free-agent signings during the offseason. The Bolts fired a ridiculous 52 shots at Tomas Vokoun in Tuesday's loss. That is a good sign for featured players like St. Louis.
Verdict: Unreal so far. The real Marty St. Louis is about to stand up. Get him while you can.
Alexei Kovalev, RW, Canadiens
PR: 4.42 Pct. owned 100
Kovalev has 12 points in 16 games, which isn't bad, until you realize that that puts him on pace to barely top his power-play numbers from last year alone. Kovalev's linemates, Andrei Kostitsyn and Tomas Plekanec, aren't doing any better. This looks like a case of a new line overtaking the supposed first line as the one responsible for the offense. In this case, Alex Tanguay, Saku Koivu and Chris Higgins are playing well enough that they are being leaned on to do the scoring. It's also of great concern that Kovalev has been dogging it on more than one occasion this season, reminiscent of his first few years as a Hab and his seasons as a Ranger. The fire Kovalev had last season just doesn't seem to be there, and if you can still swap him for a strong forward, don't hesitate.
Verdict: This is the real Kovalev again. If you can trade him for a 75-point guy, make it happen.
Nathan Horton, RW, Panthers
PR: 4.09 Pct. owned 99.9
Horton's 11 points in 17 games aren't terrible, but it's hardly the production expected from a right winger who was drafted early in the fourth round on average. The Panthers offense has been downright brutal: The Panthers are competing with their fellow Floridians in Tampa Bay for the lowest goal output to date. Horton is as much to blame as anyone. He was also drafted as a plus/minus boon thanks to two straight seasons of plus-15. He hasn't had a "plus" game since October 24 and is minus-4 on the season. He'll improve enough to maybe flirt with another 30-30 season, but the big improvement many expected him to make because Olli Jokinen left town isn't going to happen.
Verdict: For real, unfortunately. You are likely stuck with riding Horton to his finish as he is still too good to drop, but doesn't have enough value in trade to get you anything close to your fourth-round pick.
Brad Boyes, RW, Blues
PR: 3.55 Pct. owned 95.8
Boyes is close to but not quite at the dubious distinction of being "minus-1 per game." Through 16 games, Boyes is a minus-14 and his eight goals and seven assists aren't worth it. You might say that Boyes has been the most useless point-per-game player in fantasy hockey. Considering that he offers no penalty minutes and doesn't even shoot the puck that much, you can do a lot better for your right-wing slots in a standard league. Things are about to get a lot worse, too. Eight weeks with no Andy McDonald means Boyes will be taking a lot of lower-percentage shots because McDonald is a master playmaker who fed Boyes more than his fair share of "gimme" goals.
Verdict: For real, but that's actually a bad thing. Convince someone in your league he'll score 40 goals (and you won't be lying), then trade him. His plus/minus and other empty categories just aren't worth the goals.
Petr Sykora, RW, Penguins
PR: 0.85 Pct. owned 86.7
Sykora is on pace for the same number of assists as last season, but only half the goals. This looks like a case of too many cooks in the kitchen for Pittsburgh's wingers. Ryan Malone and Mark Recchi played a rougher style of hockey than Sykora did, so he was left alone to be the top skilled winger on the team last season. Now Miroslav Satan and Ruslan Fedotenko mirror his style of play. It looks like he'll be sharing his output with them this season instead of having it all to himself.
Verdict: For real. A 50-point right winger is barely worth starting in shallow leagues. You can let him go if there is another option.
Shea Weber, D, Predators
PR: 11.82 Pct. owned 100
Only Mike Green ranks higher on ESPN's Player Rater through a fourth of the season. Weber leads all defensemen for points (18) and goals (8). Entering the season, it was unclear whether Weber, Ryan Suter or Dan Hamhuis would be handed the reins to the Nashville power play, but little did we know that with the power play went the whole offense. Much of the Predators' attack starts and ends with a blue-line play this season. Considering that Weber is leading the Predators in shots on goal, this trend doesn't look to change anytime soon. He's a top-five defenseman this season.
Verdict: Absolutely for real.
Sheldon Souray, D, Oilers
PR: 7.49 Pct. owned 100
He was outside the top 100 picks during drafts this season because fantasy players were afraid of his chronic shoulder problems. Lo and behold, Souray is a top-10 defender so far, tied for third in goals by defensemen and tied for the goal-scoring lead on the Oilers. He also leads Edmonton in ice time and shots on goal. It might even be safe to say that five goals is a bit low for Souray, considering his rocket shot and how often he is using it. If the Oilers can improve their middling power play (17.3 percent, 16th in the league), Souray should be even better in the points department. The injury concerns are legitimate, but don't let that scare you away from someone who could finish as a No. 1 defenseman.
Verdict: For real, and then some. Hold on to him, or float an offer to his owner with a defenseman who is widely viewed as a No. 2 but not performing as one. Wade Redden and Brian Campbell come to mind.
Jay Bouwmeester, D, Panthers
PR: 1.44 Pct. owned 90.3
The Panthers' ability to score is a lost cause so far this season. Only Columbus has a lower conversion percentage on the man advantage and only New Jersey has had fewer chances. Bouwmeester's prime source of production for the past few seasons has been setting things up on the power play. Not only has he been failing to do so over the start of the season -- with just six assists, four on the power play -- but now he has lost his job because a healthy Bryan McCabe has donned a Panthers jersey. In just seven games, McCabe has already tied Bouwmeester's 17 games' worth of production.
Verdict: For real. And we can officially stop waiting for Bouwmeester to break out until he finds a new team.
Andrej Meszaros, D, Lightning
PR: 0.89 Pct. owned 79.8
Brought in to be a power-play spark plug on this Tampa Bay team, Meszaros is playing a ton of minutes, but they are of a defensive nature. He has just five assists through 18 games and is an afterthought on the power play through two games under interim coach Rick Tocchet. Even Steve Eminger is playing more power-play minutes and (ignoring Tuesday's three-point outburst) has just as many power-play points. Meszaros is worthless in fantasy.
Verdict: For real. Drop him.
Marc-Andre Fleury, G, Penguins
PR: 3.68 Pct. owned 100
With a less-than-stellar goals-against average (2.86) and not-so-great save percentage (.907), Fleury has been a bit of a letdown through 14 starts. His current "undisclosed" injury aside, fantasy owners haven't been getting the top-10 goalie they were promised at draft time. The good news is that a slow start means nothing for Fleury. At the end of October last year, he had a 3.50 GAA and a .892 SVP, then in November he posted a 2.71 GAA and .910 SVP. After missing significant time with an injury, Fleury came back for the month of March. Do you remember what he did then? In 13 starts, he posted a 1.45 GAA and .950 SVP. No worries, he'll come around.
Verdict: Not for real, and not for much longer, either. Trust in him and you will be rewarded.
Open Ice Archives
For more of this same kind of analysis you can check out Open Ice every Monday. Here is a quick reference to all the columns so far this season. They all include miniature versions of this kind of "stock value" assessment.
Jose Theodore, G, Capitals
PR: -4.35 Pct. owned 100
Don't stop believin'. Hold on to that goalie. Theodore has been an absolute bust so far in Washington. Signed to a big contract to be the No. 1 goalie Washington needs to be a serious playoff contender, Theodore has posted a terrible 3.11 goals-against average and an even worse .890 save percentage. Brent Johnson might have his job right now if he hadn't been injured during a hot streak last week. Look, the Capitals need Theodore to find his rhythm and play like he did at the end of last year in Colorado. Remember, before January last season, Theodore was 7-8-1 with a 2.90 GAA and .886 SVP. After the calendar flipped on 2008, he was 21-13-2 with a 2.24 GAA and .919 SVP. Keep him on your bench and wait for him to snap into form.
Verdict: For real, for now. Keep him shelved until you see a few solid starts in a row. Offer someone a lowball deal for him to stash him on your bench.
Ryan Miller, G, Sabres
PR: 11.80 Pct. owned 98.2
Miller and the Sabres had a ridiculously hot start to the season, but they are no longer the talk of the league after going 3-7 to follow their 6-1 start. Since opening the season with those six straight wins, Miller is just 3-3-2, and since posting back-to-back shutouts to begin this month, Miller is 1-2-1 with a 3.52 goals-against average and an .880 save percentage. He'll be a good No. 2 goaltender this season, but Miller is not a No. 1.
Verdict: Not for real. If you can disguise him in a two-for-two swap to upgrade your goaltending, do it.
Alex Auld, G, Senators
PR: 9.79 Pct. owned 65.0
No one should be surprised by Auld's emergence. We all knew before the season that Martin Gerber would fizzle out at some point; it just happened a lot sooner than many expected. Auld is continuing to play according to his modus operandi: He struggles when handed a starting role but excels as the underdog backup. The Sens have an above-average defensive core in their own zone with Jason Smith, Anton Volchenkov and Chris Phillips, and that trio alone can help bump up a goaltender's statistics. But if you think Auld will finish as a top-10 goaltender, you're sorely mistaken. He'll slip to No. 2 status before long.
Verdict: Slightly unreal. Keep him if he is your cheap No. 2 goaltender, but if someone comes knocking with a No. 1, don't hesitate to make the switch.
Sean Allen is a fantasy baseball and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.