While the NHL All-Star break helped fantasy managers by aiding in the return of keystone players such as Filip Forsberg, Jaden Schwartz and Victor Hedman, this first week back in action hasn't been ideal in the injury universe.
Nathan MacKinnon, C, Colorado Avalanche
The resurgent star is not droppable in any fantasy format, including any leagues in which you'd have to eat his injured spot on your active roster. The timetable for his shoulder ailment is only two to four weeks, so your roster can survive.
The Avalanche, however, will not be so well off without their superstar center. Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen welcome rookie Alexander Kerfoot to the top line for the short term. Kerfoot hasn't scored in two games while playing up the depth chart, but he does have 32 points in 47 games this season while mostly performing in a supplementary role. This time in the spotlight should allow for increased fantasy value, and he's likely useful in leagues with more than 12 teams or deeper rosters.
The trickle-down effect for the entire roster without MacKinnon should mean more losses than wins on the horizon. Given that Semyon Varlamov is back to health for the Avalanche, this should render both goaltenders with little fantasy value for a spell. Jonathan Bernier did more than enough to kill Varlamov's status as the clear No. 1, but the waters are still muddy here. Both goalies should be on the bench for now (but rostered) with a hope that we have a clear stater by the time MacKinnon returns. If I had to pick one, I'd point out that they have identical playing time this season, and I'd go with the better overall stats in every fantasy category -- which belong to Bernier.
Joe Thornton, C, San Jose Sharks
Though they have shared faceoffs since locking in as linemates in 2011-12, Joe Pavelski handles a lot of the center duties on most shifts. So, he doesn't really "shift" over to center with Thornton out for what could be the remainder of the regular season. Thornton's knee issue and corrective action is similar to that of Kevin Shattenkirk, but the difference is that Jumbo Joe is 38 years old. While Taylor Hall bounced back in less than a month from the same procedure last year, Hall is 12 years Thornton's junior.
What happens here? Pavelski loses six-plus seasons of familiarity on the ice, and that counts for a lot. It wouldn't be a surprise to see Pavelski's numbers take a nosedive with Thornton out of the mix. You can't replace the hockey sense of a Joe Thornton, regardless of the youth and enthusiasm of Mikkel Boedker and Chris Tierney.
What this could quickly turn into is Logan Couture taking advantage of the additional pressure to further cement his status as the go-forward No. 1 center for the Sharks. If that's the case, the subtle fantasy value should reside in Tomas Hertl and/or Kevin Labanc. Both players are having quality seasons and could see a boost in both minutes and counting stats while Thornton is out.
Jacob Trouba, D, Winnipeg Jets
If Trouba wasn't on a roster in your ESPN fantasy league before his injury, it's not because he didn't deserve to be. As measured by the ESPN Player Rater, Trouba's overall fantasy value this season still ranks better than Zach Werenski, Torey Krug, Rasmus Ristolainen, Erik Karlsson, Duncan Keith, Justin Faulk and Tyson Barrie, just to name a few defensemen. Trouba plays a lot of minutes and fires a lot of shots on goal, something the Jets will have to tangibly replace for the next six to eight weeks with Trouba on the shelf.
That brings us to Tyler Myers, who has been fighting for second-chair ranking with Trouba behind Dustin Byfuglien all season. But guess what? Back to the ESPN Player Rater, and we see that Myers is ranked 14th among all defensemen for fantasy value this season. That's better than Ryan Suter, Charlie McAvoy, Aaron Ekblad, Mikhail Sergachev and -- drum roll -- Byfuglien. If Myers is going to see an increase in responsibility and an increase in power-play time to what has already been a season worthy of status as a No. 2 fantasy defenseman, well, let's just say you should no longer hesitate and get on board with Myers. He's available in about one-third of ESPN leagues.
Fantasy Forecaster: Feb. 5-11
With 15 teams playing a four-game schedule and only two teams reduced to a two-game schedule, we have a busy NHL schedule after several slow weeks in January due to byes and the All-Star break. A busy week means minimal ways to take advantage of extra games, but maximum detriment from the two teams with light schedules.
The Florida Panthers and Montreal Canadiens are the two teams with only two games to play. It's probably not worth removing Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau or Vincent Trocheck from lineups unless you have a really good option on the bench, but it also puts a damper on picking up Denis Malgin, who has heated up on a new top line with Huberdeau and Trocheck. With the Habs, it's easier to relegate anyone to the bench, as the team has been a relative fantasy wasteland this season. Max Pacioretty might be the exception. There was some talk of Shea Weber returning sooner rather than later, but the latest is that he's just out of a walking boot and not skating yet.
For those new to the forecaster chart, here are some explanations: "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 season-to-date 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 "Ratings" column lists the cumulative rating from 1-10 of that week's offensive ("O") and defensive ("D") matchups.
In the notes -- team, goalie and player -- below, the focus every week will be mainly on players who are available for potential use. Being rostered in less than 50 percent of ESPN leagues is a good generalized cutoff, and I'll include players below 10 percent whenever possible to cater to deeper formats.
With Forsberg back in action, the top trio from early this season of Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson were reunited. Despite being on pace for just under the 30-30 season he turned in last year, Arvidsson is rostered in only 76.3 percent of ESPN leagues. He should be in lineups for the coming week. As a side note, the Mike Fisher announcement is fun and makes for a good hockey story, but it has no fantasy relevance. For us to be interested in a 37-year-old coming out of retirement, it would need to be a guy among the prolific hockey players of our time. Fisher topped out at 25 goals in 2009-10. Great role player, great story, but no impact to fantasy managers.
In recent games for the Ducks, Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Keller, Adam Henrique and Corey Perry have all played on separate lines. The Ducks are clearly seeking some balance at this point in the season. Heading into a week that looks pretty good on paper for scoring, it's tough to decide where to invest when the assets are spread thin. Henrique is probably the best bet for a short-term addition to your team. While his ice time has fallen with the return of Ryan Kesler, he's doing more with it. Henrique is available in more than half of ESPN leagues, despite six goals in his past seven games.
Mrazek's skills displayed a couple seasons ago didn't disappear. To see him rise from the ashes of a horrible season and a half is not a surprise. In the 2015-16 season, Mrazek turned in a better age-23 season than Roberto Luongo, Braden Holtby, Marc-Andre Fleury or Tuukka Rask did in their respective youth. He's been awful since the start of last season, but he's been persevering through some bad times and appears to have come out the other side. He's been light years better than Jimmy Howard for the better part of three weeks and has at least battled this back into a timeshare.
Howard aside, Mrazek has the best ratios of any goaltender to start at least three games in the past three weeks. At the very least, get him onto benches. He was a difference-maker in fantasy during the stretch run in 2015-16.
Ryan Miller, Anaheim Ducks (11.3 percent)
A nagging lower-body injury prevented Gibson from finishing two consecutive games, and he missed Thursday's contest completely. Lower-body injuries can linger for goalies, which could leave Miller with a clear path to a big week. The Ducks have a four-game schedule with games against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Buffalo Sabres, Edmonton Oilers and Sharks.
Jonathan Quick is having a rough spell while heading into a somewhat favorable week of action for the Kings. With the Oilers and Panthers on a three-game docket that also includes a back-to-back set, we'll see Kuemper for a game (maybe two). For his part, Kuemper was a brick wall while Quick dealt with a recent injury.
Steen has won the lottery of Jaden Schwartz's return to health. Rather than stack the deck with Schwartz, Brayden Schenn and Vladimir Tarasenko on the top line, the Blues have settled with Steen in place of Tarasenko. Steen was already riding a hot January, and this role with Schenn-Schwartz should further cement his fantasy status for the short term.