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The Front Line: March Madness has arrived in fantasy

Tuesday, 03.18.2014 / 12:00 PM
Matt Cubeta  - NHL.com Fantasy Insider

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 insider all season long.

March Madness is something we all associate with NCAA basketball, and understandably so. It's a time that captures so many people with its excitement, upsets and heroics.

But what many people don't realize is that March also signifies the end is near in fantasy hockey. If you're in head-to-head leagues your playoffs have just begun. If you're in points leagues or the traditional rotisserie league, you're likely holding on for dear life or fighting to climb in the standings despite time running out. In a way, the month of March is fantasy hockey's own March Madness.

In lieu of the NCAA tournament, let's have a college basketball-themed look at some key fantasy hockey forward storylines:

The No. 1 seed -- Florida = Sidney Crosby

The Gators earned the top overall seed in the tournament, and in fantasy hockey Crosby has been far and away the best player in the game. He consistently has contributed in all categories and he's the only player currently on pace for more than 100 points (108).

The unbeaten -- Wichita St. = Alex Ovechkin

The Shockers are 34-0 heading into the tournament and will look to see if they can stay unbeaten through March. Ovechkin looks like he's a runaway to be unbeaten for the second straight season in the goal-scoring category. With 45 goals in 65 games (nine more than Corey Perry's 36, who ranks second), Ovechkin continues to shine as the NHL's best pure goal-scorer.

The Surprise -- Louisville = Alexander Steen

Louisville is a No. 4 seed and I believe they could surprise people and bring home the title. Steen has been arguably the biggest surprise in fantasy hockey this season, and despite missing 11 games due to injury he has 30 goals and 53 points in 57 games.

The Sleeper -- Gonzaga = Johan Franzen

While a household name these days, Gonzaga long has been known as the sleeper in college basketball and this season as a No. 8 seed they could make a sneaky run. In fantasy hockey Franzen clearly is a household name, but he's been slowed due to injury this season and somehow is available in 25 percent of Yahoo leagues. He's the type of player I believe can carry a fantasy team in this final month.

The Veteran -- Kentucky = Jaromir Jagr

No NCAA team has more tournament appearances than Kentucky's 53. In the NHL, no one has been around longer than Jagr, who debuted in 1990 for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Most fantasy owners didn't expect much out of the 42-year-old veteran, but Jagr currently ranks as the 31st most valuable player in Yahoo leagues with 58 points in 68 games.

The Champ -- UCLA = Jonathan Toews

UCLA has 11 NCAA championships and are a No. 4 seed this year. Toews has captained the Blackhawks to two Stanley Cups since 2010 and has been a fantasy stud each season since the Blackhawks' initial Cup run in 2009-10. With 64 points in 68 games this season, Toews has again delivered for his owners.

TRENDING UPWARD

Milan Lucic, Boston Bruins -- Lucic currently is on pace to match his career-high of 62 points and has been extremely productive over the past two months. He has nine goals and 13 assists in the past 22 games. Known as one of the better all-around fantasy players in the game, Lucic has not disappointed this season in any category (21 goals, 31 assists, plus-26, 71 penalty minutes, 12 power-play points, 126 shots on goal).

Valtteri Filppula, Tampa Bay Lightning -- The newly formed line of Filppula centering Ryan Callahan and Ondrej Palat has been quite good, with Filppula leading the way. He has two goals, six assists and a plus-5 rating in the past five games. With 49 points in 63 games Filppula should be trusted in all formats down the stretch.

Mike Cammalleri, Calgary Flames -- Over the past 14 days in Yahoo leagues, only five forwards have been more valuable than Cammalleri, who has five goals, three assists and five power-play points during that time. Cammalleri might not have the most talented group of players surrounding him, but if you're in need of some goals and power-play production he makes for a good addition (he's available in 64 percent of leagues).

TRENDING DOWNWARD

Martin St. Louis, New York Rangers -- In seven games with the Rangers St. Louis has no goals and two assists. He hasn't produced nearly as much as I was expecting. There's some room for error with having to adjust to a new system and new teammates, but I figured he'd have at least one goal by now. Expect him to finish the season strong as the Rangers push for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but for now he drops seven spots and falls outside the top-20.

Mikko Koivu, Minnesota Wild -- In seven games since returning from his ankle injury Koivu has two assists. What's more alarming is that during those seven games he's totaled 10 shots on goal. Koivu still is seeing plenty of ice time per game, but it appears he's fallen behind Mikael Granlund on the team's center depth chart. Koivu now centers the second line with Matt Moulson and Nino Niederreiter. Koivu still is a tremendous playmaker but you should bench him until he heats up.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers -- Nugent-Hopkins hasn't scored a goal since Jan. 26. At that time he was putting up points at a solid pace -- he had 40 points in 52 games (.77 points per game). In the 15 games since his last goal he has four assists and now sits at 44 points in 67 games (.66 points per game). Add in the fact that he has a minus-17 rating and it's pretty obvious why he's on the cusp of falling out of my top-100 forward ranks.

KEEP AN EYE ON ...

Anders Lee, New York Islanders -- As NHL.com contributor Matt Sitkoff pointed out Monday, Lee currently is skating on the Islanders' top line, with Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo. The trio has excelled to this point and Lee is looking like a forward whose stock will be on the rise heading into next season's fantasy pools. Lee has six goals, four assists, a plus-5 rating and 27 shots on goal in nine games this season.

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 Sidney Crosby, Penguins (same)

2 Alex Ovechkin, Capitals (same)

3 Corey Perry, Ducks (same)

4 Evgeni Malkin, Penguins (same)

5 Steven Stamkos, Lighting (+1)

6 Ryan Getzlaf, Ducks (-1)

7 Patrick Sharp, Blackhawks (same)

8 Phil Kessel, Maple Leafs (same)

9 Claude Giroux, Flyers (+1)

10 Patrick Kane, Blackhawks (-1)

11 Jonathan Toews, Blackhawks (same)

12 Chris Kunitz, Penguins (same) DTD

13 Joe Pavelski, Sharks (+1)

14 Jamie Benn, Stars (+3)

15 Tyler Seguin, Stars (+1)

16 James Neal, Penguins (-3) DTD

17 Nicklas Backstrom, Capitals (+1)

18 Patrick Marleau, Sharks (+1)

19 Marian Hossa, Blackhawks (NR)*

20 Zach Parise, Wild (same)

21 Logan Couture, Sharks (same)

22 Martin St. Louis, Rangers (-7)

23 Matt Duchene, Avalanche (+1)

24 Alexander Steen, Blues (-2)

25 Anze Kopitar, Kings (-2)

26 David Backes, Blues (-1)

27 Taylor Hall, Oilers (+1)

28 Rick Nash, Rangers (-2)

29 David Krejci, Bruins (same)

30 Jarome Iginla, Bruins (+2)

31 Eric Staal, Hurricanes (-4)

32 Milan Lucic, Bruins (+5)

33 James van Riemsdyk, Maple Leafs (-3)

34 Wayne Simmonds, Flyers (-1)

35 Joe Thornton, Sharks (same)

36 Gabriel Landeskog, Avalanche (same)

37 Thomas Vanek, Canadiens (-6)

38 Max Pacioretty, Canadiens (-4)

39 Jason Spezza, Senators (+1)

40 Jaromir Jagr, Devils (+4)

41 Jeff Carter, Kings (-2)

42 Evander Kane, Jets (-4)

43 Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche (-2)

44 Bobby Ryan, Senators (-2)

45 Henrik Sedin, Canucks (same)

46 Kyle Okposo, Islanders (+5)

47 Patrice Bergeron, Bruins (same)

48 Blake Wheeler, Jets (+2)

49 Scott Hartnell, Flyers (-1)

50 Jeff Skinner, Hurricanes (-4)

51 Johan Franzen, Red Wings (-2)

52 Marian Gaborik, Kings (+1)

53 T.J. Oshie, Blues (+1)

54 Andrew Ladd, Jets (+3)

55 Jakub Voracek, Flyers (same)

56 Kyle Turris, Senators (-4)

57 Bryan Little, Jets (+1)

58 Derek Stepan, Rangers (+1)

59 Ryan Johansen, Blue Jackets (+1)

60 Radim Vrbata, Coyotes (+3)

61 Brandon Dubinsky, Blue Jackets (+1)

62 Brad Richards, Rangers (-1)

63 Mikko Koivu, Wild (-7)

64 Clarke MacArthur, Senators (+1)

65 Chris Kreider, Rangers (+1)

66 Alexander Semin, Hurricanes (+3)

67 Jaden Schwartz, Blues (+4)

68 Jordan Eberle, Oilers (-4)

69 David Perron, Oilers (-2)

70 Jason Pominville, Wild (+4)

71 Joffrey Lupul, Maple Leafs (-3)

72 Brad Marchand, Bruins (-2)

73 Nazem Kadri, Maple Leafs (-1)

74 Matt Moulson, Wild (+1)

75 Mats Zuccarello, Rangers (-2)

76 Ryan O'Reilly, Avalanche (+8)

77 Martin Hanzal, Coyotes (+2)

78 Brent Burns, Sharks (same)

79 Valtteri Filppula, Lightning (+6)

80 Brandon Saad, Blackhawks (-4) DTD

81 Patrik Elias, Devils (-4)

82 Shane Doan, Coyotes (same)

83 Daniel Alfredsson, Red Wings (-3)

84 Nick Bonino, Ducks (+3)

85 Jussi Jokinen, Penguins (+5)

86 Tomas Plekanec, Canadiens (same)

87 Loui Eriksson, Bruins (+2)

88 Mike Ribeiro, Coyotes (same)

89 Justin Williams, Kings (+2)

90 Tyler Bozak, Maple Leafs (+2)

91 Gustav Nyquist, Red Wings (+2)

92 Ryan Callahan, Lightning (+6)

93 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Oilers (-10)

94 Ales Hemsky, Senators (+5)

95 Adam Henrique, Devils (-1)

96 Brendan Gallagher, Canadiens (+1)

97 Michael Cammalleri, Flames (NR)

98 Troy Brouwer, Capitals (+2)

99 Ondrej Palat, Lightning (NR)

100 Dustin Brown, Kings (-5) DTD

* Appeared on injured list last week

Players that dropped out of previous rankings: Mike Richards

Injured: John Tavares, Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Ryan Kesler, Daniel Sedin, Paul Stastny, Chris Stewart, Tomas Hertl, Pascal Dupuis, PA Parenteau

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