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The Front Line: Impact of critical fantasy injuries

Tuesday, 04.09.2013 / 12:00 PM
Matt Cubeta  - NHL.com Staff Writer

Every Tuesday during the season, NHL.com fantasy hockey expert Matt Cubeta will provide you with an in-depth analysis of fantasy forwards in his weekly segment: "The Front Line." From updated rankings to players you should keep a close eye on and much more, Cubeta will be your fantasy forwards expert all season long.

Every season we see numerous NHL players go down with injuries. Sometimes they're long-term injuries and other times they're nothing more than a day-to-day concern. This is nothing new to fantasy owners, and it's something we all have to make decisions about on a daily basis when setting our rosters.

However, this season we seem to have seen even more than the normal amount of injuries. Maybe it's due to the long layoff before the season began, maybe it's because of the shortened training camps, or maybe it's just plain bad luck. But with just under three weeks of regular season action remaining, there are several key players out of their respective lineups.

Instead of our usual "Trending Upward" and "Trending Downward" sections, let's break down the most notable injuries that are likely to have an effect in your fantasy league, and then provide you with some advice on what to do if you own any of these players.

Ilya Kovalchuk, New Jersey Devils

Hasn't appeared in a game since March 23 due to an upper-body injury.

Kovalchuk should resume skating soon, but he's likely still a week or two away from returning to game action.

ADVICE: Even if he does return, it will likely be too late for fantasy owners -- drop him.

Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks

Missed Sunday and Monday's games due to a leg injury.

Getzlaf is listed as day-to-day and he should return to the lineup this week.

ADVICE: Start him as soon as he's declared ready to play.

James Neal, Pittsburgh Penguins

Left Friday's game against the New York Rangers with a head injury.

On Monday, the Penguins revealed that Neal suffered a concussion and will miss at least the team's current three-game road trip.

ADVICE: Keep a close eye on the situation and reserve Neal on your bench for the time being. If he's declared healthy, get him in your lineup immediately; but remember, there's a chance he could be out for a while.

Thomas Vanek, Buffalo Sabres

Has missed the team's last six games due to an upper-body injury.

Vanek is reportedly very close to returning and could be in the Sabres' lineup as early as Tuesday.

ADVICE: Start him as soon as he's declared ready to play.

Jason Spezza, Ottawa Senators

Hasn't appeared in a game since Jan. 27 due to back surgery.

According to Ottawa general manager Bryan Murray, Spezza might not return to the team at all this season.

ADVICE: Drop him.

Marian Hossa, Chicago Blackhawks

Returned to the lineup on April 4 and has played in three games since being sidelined with an upper-body injury.

The Blackhawks have given Hossa just over 18 minutes of ice time per game in the three contests, so clearly he's healthy.

ADVICE: While he hasn't registered a point in any of the three games, you can start Hossa with confidence.

Joffrey Lupul, Toronto Maple Leafs

Missed Toronto's last two games due to an upper-body injury.

Lupul is sidelined with a neck injury and didn't play on Monday, but he has been skating and should return to the lineup soon.

ADVICE: Start him as soon as he's declared ready to play.

Alexander Semin, Carolina Hurricanes

Missed team's last two games with an upper-body injury.

The Hurricanes haven't said much about the injury and they're calling him day-to-day.

ADVICE: Hopefully this will be a short absence; reserve him on your bench for now.

Vincent Lecavalier, Tampa Bay Lightning

Returned to the lineup on April 4 and has played in three games since being sidelined with a foot injury.

Lecavalier has one goal and two assists in the three games and despite averaging just over 14 minutes of ice time in those games, he has looked sharp.

ADVICE: Start him as you normally would.

Patrick Sharp, Chicago Blackhawks

Hasn't appeared in a game since March 6 due to an upper-body injury.

The Blackhawks have said he's very close to returning and could get activated this week.

ADVICE: He might be rusty when he gets back in the lineup, but with center, left wing and right wing eligibility in Yahoo! leagues, you can start him regularly.

Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins

Has missed the team's last three games due to a concussion.

There's hope that he returns before the regular season ends, but we all know concussions are hard to gauge.

ADVICE: Given Bergeron's history, this might not go well for his fantasy owners -- drop him.

Ryan Kesler, Vancouver Canucks

Returned to action Monday night after missing 19 games due to a fractured right foot.

He finished Monday's contest with one goal, a plus-1, two penalty minutes and four shots on goal in 15:51 of ice time, proving he's healthy.

ADVICE: If you have space on your roster, he's worth adding and starting in all formats.

T.J. Oshie, St. Louis Blues

Has missed the Blues' last four games with a lower-body injury.

Oshie skated a little on Saturday and is with the Blues for their current road trip, but there is still no definitive timetable for his return.

ADVICE: Stash him on your bench/IR if you have the room in deep leagues. In shallow leagues, drop him.

Dany Heatley, Minnesota Wild

Has missed the team's last two games due to a shoulder injury.

Heatley is expected to have arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder and there's a slight chance he could be back prior to the end of the regular season.

ADVICE: He wasn't performing up to expectations prior to the injury -- drop him.

Damien Brunner, Detroit Red Wings

Has missed Detroit's last three games due to a lower-body injury.

There is no timetable for his return, but Brunner is currently listed as day-to-day due to a hip flexor injury.

ADVICE: He had just one goal in his previous 16 games when he was healthy, so the injury seals the decision: drop him.

Danny Briere, Philadelphia Flyers

Hasn't appeared in a game since March 18 due to a concussion.

Briere was on the ice with the Flyers at practice on Monday, and it's reported he could return to their lineup as early as Saturday.

ADVICE: Briere had just 13 points and a minus-13 in 26 games when he was healthy, so even if he does return to the Flyers lineup, you're best off leaving him on your bench or on waivers.

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On a separate note, last week I talked about how Evgeni Malkin became the new No. 1 fantasy forward to replace Sidney Crosby. However, in Malkin's last two games, he was held without a point and a total of just two shots on goal during both contests. Meanwhile, Alex Ovechkin has continued to dominate the world of fantasy hockey with 16 goals and seven assists over his last 14 games, earning him the rank as the new top forward. While I expect Malkin to rebound and get more comfortable playing with Jarome Iginla, the potential loss of James Neal could take a hit on Malkin's value. Make no mistake, Malkin is elite, he's just not No. 1 anymore. That honor belongs to Ovechkin -- for now.

TOP 100 FANTASY FORWARDS

These rankings are based on expectations of the season going forward. The plus or minus for each player is movement based on our most recent rankings -- NR means not ranked in previous rankings. They are based on a standard fantasy league with these offensive categories: G, A, plus/minus, PIMs, PPP, SOG.

1. Alex Ovechkin, Capitals (+2)

2. Steven Stamkos, Lightning (same)

3. Patrick Kane, Blackhawks (+1)

4. Evgeni Malkin, Penguins (-3)

5. Eric Staal, Hurricanes (same)

6. Jonathan Toews, Blackhawks (+2)

7. John Tavares, Islanders (-1)

8. Ryan Getzlaf, Ducks (+2)

9. Rick Nash, Rangers (+3)

10. Corey Perry, Ducks (+3)

11. Claude Giroux, Flyers (same)

12. Chris Kunitz, Penguins (-3)

13. Zach Parise, Wild (+1)

14. Pavel Datsyuk, Red Wings (+1)

15. Anze Kopitar, Kings (+1)

16. Phil Kessel, Maple Leafs (+3)

17. Martin St. Louis, Lightning (+1)

18. Henrik Sedin, Canucks (+3)

19. Daniel Sedin, Canucks (+1)

20. Taylor Hall, Oilers (+5)

21. Nicklas Backstrom, Capitals (+7)

22. Henrik Zetterberg, Red Wings (same)

23. Alexander Semin, Hurricanes (-6)

24. Marian Hossa, Blackhawks (NR)*

25. Tyler Seguin, Bruins (-1)

26. Thomas Vanek, Sabres (-3)

27. Nazem Kadri, Maple Leafs (+3)

28. Mike Ribeiro, Capitals (-2)

29. Joe Thornton, Sharks (same)

30. Evander Kane, Jets (+5)

31. Matt Duchene, Avalanche (+2)

32. Max Pacioretty, Canadiens (-1)

33. PA Parenteau, Avalanche (-6)

34. Matt Moulson, Islanders (-2)

35. Joffrey Lupul, Maple Leafs (-1)

36. Jakub Voracek, Flyers (+3)

37. Mikko Koivu, Wild (-1)

38. Vincent Lecavalier, Lightning (NR)*

39. Jamie Benn, Stars (+1)

40. Jarome Iginla, Penguins (-3)

41. Brad Marchand, Bruins (+5)

42. Patrick Marleau, Sharks (-1)

43. Logan Couture, Sharks (same)

44. Wayne Simmonds, Flyers (+1)

45. Alexandre Burrows, Canucks (+2)

46. Andrew Ladd, Jets (-4)

47. Michael Ryder, Canadiens (+10)

48. Tomas Plekanec, Canadiens (same)

49. Bobby Ryan, Ducks (same)

50. Dustin Brown, Kings (+10)

51. Marian Gaborik, Blue Jackets (+15)

52. Patrik Elias, Devils (-8)

53. Ray Whitney, Stars (-1)

54. Sam Gagner, Oilers (-3)

55. Jordan Eberle, Oilers (same)

56. Joe Pavelski, Sharks (-6)

57. Jason Pominville, Wild (+2)

58. Jeff Carter, Kings (same)

59. Chris Stewart, Blues (-6)

60. David Backes, Blues (+3)

61. Ryan Kesler, Canucks (NR)*

62. Justin Williams, Kings (+11)

63. Pascal Dupuis, Penguins (-9)

64. Jaromir Jagr, Bruins (+1)

65. Johan Franzen, Red Wings (-1)

66. Radim Vrbata, Coyotes (+1)

67. Derek Stepan, Rangers (+9)

68. Jeff Skinner, Hurricanes (-12)

69. Gabriel Landeskog, Avalanche (-7)

70. Milan Lucic, Bruins (-1)

71. Alexander Steen, Blues (-1)

72. Scott Hartnell, Flyers (-11)

73. David Clarkson, Devils (-2)

74. David Krejci, Bruins (+3)

75. James van Riemsdyk, Maple Leafs (same)

76. Mike Richards, Kings (+2)

77. Brad Richards, Rangers (+5)

78. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Oilers (+13)

79. Cody Hodgson, Sabres (-11)

80. Troy Brouwer, Capitals (-8)

81. Jiri Tlusty, Hurricanes (-7)

82. Teemu Selanne, Ducks (-3)

83. Brent Burns, Sharks (NR)

84. Loui Eriksson, Stars (same)

85. Ryan Callahan, Rangers (same)

86. Jordan Staal, Hurricanes (-5)

87. Blake Wheeler, Jets (+1)

88. David Perron, Blues (-8)

89. Ryane Clowe, Rangers (NR)

90. Shane Doan, Coyotes (+7)

91. Devin Setoguchi, Wild (-4)

92. Ryan O'Reilly, Avalanche (-6)

93. Jonathan Huberdeau, Panthers (+5)

94. Brandon Saad, Blackhawks (+5)

95. Tyler Ennis, Sabres (-6)

96. Steve Ott, Sabres (NR)

97. Teddy Purcell, Lightning (-5)

98. Vladimir Tarasenko, Blues (-8)

99. Nail Yakupov, Oilers (NR)

100. Kyle Turris, Senators (-5)

* Was listed on IR in last week's rankings

Players that dropped out of previous rankings: Daniel Alfredsson, Brayden Schenn

Injured: Sidney Crosby, Ilya Kovalchuk, James Neal, Jason Spezza, Patrick Sharp, Patrice Bergeron, Dany Heatley, T.J. Oshie, Damien Brunner, Danny Briere, Paul Stastny, Milan Michalek, Kris Versteeg, Stephen Weiss, Steve Downie

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