Print and Go Back 2010 [Print without images]

Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Updated: December 31, 12:33 PM ET
Thin Blue Line: Lidstrom slipping

By Victoria Matiash
Special to

As we switch calendars and reach the halfway point of the regular season, perhaps it's time to face reality with regards to preconceived notions we have about one of our superstars. As difficult as the concept may be for some hockey fans to stomach, maybe Nicklas Lidstrom is no longer the fantasy stud he was in the past. Take a moment now to violently spittle in protest or utter a subdued "no guff" under your breath, depending on your preferred position in the matter.

Alright then: Let's face facts, the Detroit Red Wings aren't the same team they were last season or the year before. Not only did they lose Marian Hossa, Jiri Hudler, etc. before October, but the early loss of Johan Franzen for the bulk of the campaign continues to hurt. At least Valtteri Filppula is back after missing a chunk of time and Henrik Zetterberg is due to return early in the New Year, but it's been a rough go for a team used to playing with so many weapons on offense. No wonder Lidstrom's numbers are mediocre (15 points in 39 games). Furthermore, the Red Wings' captain is no spring chick either. He's facing the big 4-0 in April, and it may be a bit unkind to expect the same type of production he's provided in earlier years.

Top 75 Defensemen

Note: Victoria Matiash's top 75 defensemen are ranked for their expected performance in ESPN standard leagues from this point on, not on the statistics that have already been accrued. ESPN standard stats include goals, assists, power-play goals, shots on goal, plus/minus, penalty minutes and average time on ice. Last week's ranking is indicated in parentheses.

1. Mike Green, Was (1)
2. Dan Boyle, SJ (2)
3. Zdeno Chara, Bos (3)
4. Duncan Keith, Chi (4)
5. Chris Pronger, Phi (5)
6. Sergei Gonchar, Pit (7)
7. Andrei Markov, Mon (40)
8. Dion Phaneuf, Cgy (6)
9. Drew Doughty, LA (11)
10. Christian Ehrhoff, Van (12)
11. Kevin Bieksa, Van (8)
12. Jay Bouwmeester, Cgy (9)
13. Tobias Enstrom, Atl (14)
14. Mark Streit, NYI (13)
15. Scott Niedermayer, Anh (16)
16. Stephane Robidas, Dal (15)
17. Nicklas Lidstrom, Det (10)
18. Lubomir Visnovsky, Edm (17)
19. Ryan Whitney, Anh (19)
20. Brian Campbell, Chi (24)
21. Shea Weber, Nsh (20)
22. Brian Rafalski, Det (18)
23. Kimmo Timonen, Phi (21)
24. Sheldon Souray, Edm (23)
25. Brent Seabrook, Chi (22)
26. Matt Carle, Phi (25)
27. Erik Johnson, StL (26)
28. Ed Jovanovski, Pho (28)
29. Tomas Kaberle, Tor (34)
30. Michael Del Zotto, NYR (27)
31. Marc-Andre Bergeron, Mon (32)
32. Braydon Coburn, Phi (30)
33. Kyle Quincey, Col (33)
34. Adrian Aucoin, Pho (31)
35. Bryan McCabe, Fla (38)
36. Pavel Kubina, Atl (36)
37. Zach Bogosian, Atl (29)
38. Cam Barker, Chi (37)
39. Francois Beauchemin, Tor (39)
40. Tyler Myers, Buf (41)
41. Alex Goligoski, Pit (35)
42. Rob Blake, SJ (44)
43. Craig Rivet, Buf (42)
44. Andy Greene, NJ (56)
45. Filip Kuba, Ott (45)
46. Niklas Kronwall, Det (49)
47. Marek Zidlicky, Min (48)
48. Dennis Wideman, Bos (43)
49. Ryan Suter, Nsh (46)
50. Kris Letang, Pit (47)
51. Joni Pitkanen, Car (51)
52. Alexander Edler, Van (53)
53. Anton Stralman, Cls (54)
54. Mattias Ohlund, TB (50)
55. Keith Yandle, Pho (70)
56. Roman Hamrlik, Mon (55)
57. Victor Hedman, TB (57)
58. Derek Morris, Bos (58)
59. Dennis Seidenberg, Fla (59)
60. Tom Gilbert, Edm (60)
61. Jaroslav Spacek, Mon (61)
62. Matt Carkner, Ott (62)
63. Matt Niskanen, Dal (52)
64. Ian White, Tor (66)
65. Kurtis Foster, TB (65)
66. James Wisniewski, Anh (64)
67. John-Michael Liles, Col (67)
68. Denis Grebeshkov, Edm (68)
69. Jack Johnson, LA (73)
70. Marc-Edouard Vlasic, SJ (72)
71. Brent Burns, Min (71)
72. Randy Jones, LA (74)
73. Matt Gilroy, NYR (69)
74. Mark Giordano, Cgy (78)
75. Paul Martin, NJ (63)

Now some fantasy owners will insist Lidstrom has already spent too much time in the top 10 of this ranking list based on reputation alone. That may be true, but those exceptional players who have consistently earned their reputations of being the very best have a tendency to return with a scoring vengeance once there's a dip in respect. Just when you're about to write them off, they make you look dumb. That's what's most frightening; at any point, Lidstrom could explode and return to his productive form from previous seasons -- especially with Zetterberg and Filppula back on the ice. For crying out loud, he has over 1,000 points in the NHL! It's just not likely he'll regain that form soon, though, considering the amount of high-quality scorers currently healthy enough to play in front of him. That's why he drops seven spots to No. 17. But no further.

The above philosophy also applies to fellow Red Wings' blue liner Brian Rafalski, although he's just slightly younger. There's no use in wasting the space with repetition; he drops four spots for the same reasons given for Lidstrom's dip.

Rising and Falling

Keith Yandle, Phoenix Coyotes (up 15 spots): Although his performance was a bit surprising initially, the 23-year-old's consistent production can't be shrugged off any longer. Yandle has eight points spread relatively evenly over his past 14 games, and that's with a healthy Ed Jovanovski in the lineup. A regular contributor with the man advantage, he also has nine power-play points to date. There's little question Yandle plays third fantasy fiddle to Jovanovski and Adrian Aucoin, but the Coyotes are a competitive force and the young skater is one of the reasons why. Plus, he's owned in less than 7 percent of leagues.

Mathieu Schneider, Vancouver Canucks (off): According to the Vancouver Sun, Schneider was placed on waivers on Tuesday. Apparently displeased with his lack of playing time, the 40-year-old veteran wanted a trade but the team wasn't able to find a suitable partner with which to deal. Until he has a new home, Schneider isn't worth a fantasy lick.

Andrei Markov, Montreal Canadiens (up 33 spots): He has seven points in his five games back since recovering from a lacerated leg. By all accounts, he's completely healthy. He's one the best offensive defenseman to skate in the NHL in the past five years, and wasn't too shabby before then either. Enough?

Matt Niskanen, Dallas Stars (down 11 spots): At minus-8, Niskanen hasn't registered a single point since earning an assist on Nov. 23. Fifteen games isn't a slump, it's an all-and-out drought. Outside of Stephane Robidas, the Stars' blue line doesn't hold much fantasy value at the moment. If you can, drop Niskanen and pick up the aforementioned Keith Yandle. There's an excellent chance he'll be available (see above: 7 percent ownership).

Tomas Kaberle, Toronto Maple Leafs (up 5 spots): Halfway through the season, Kaberle has 32 assists (plus three goals) and shows no inkling of letting up. After an abysmal start, the Maple Leafs players are having a good time out there, and that includes Kaberle. Will he finish with 70 helpers? Despite his talent, one would believe not. But who would've thought he'd have over 30 at this point either?

Key injury notes

• According to the Detroit Free Press, Niklas Kronwall is skating with the Red Wings and should return to the lineup any day now. Kronwall was extremely productive -- garnering 13 points in 21 games -- before spraining his knee in November.

• The Montreal Canadiens' Roman Hamrlik is listed as questionable for a Wednesday's game with the Tampa Bay Lightning as he nurses a sore knee. That's all the info available at this stage, but the injury doesn't strike as too serious.

• The Los Angeles Kings' Randy Jones has missed two games in a row with a wonky noggin and neck. He's listed as "day-to-day" and should be monitored mildly.

Power play performers

You have to give the New Jersey Devils' Andy Greene full credit for stepping up and filling in for the injured Paul Martin, taking Martin's role on the team's power play like it's always been his own. With 22 points in 34 games (including 11 scored with the man advantage), Greene carries solid fantasy value at present. It certainly doesn't hurt that Martin's return date has been pushed back to the end of January, at the earliest. If Greene is available, and he is in more than half of leagues, snag him.

Victoria Matiash is a fantasy hockey analyst for