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Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Updated: March 11, 1:15 PM ET
Thin Blue Line: Whitney finally top dog

By Victoria Matiash
Special to ESPN.com

He won't be playing this NHL postseason, but Ryan Whitney can take a smidge of comfort from being a team's top defenseman. Shortly after Whitney was traded from the Anaheim Ducks to the Edmonton Oilers, we got confirmation that Sheldon Souray will miss the rest of the season with an infected hand. Now, although the pond may be small and lacking majesty -- the Oilers aren't very good -- Whitney is undisputedly the big fish. And after years of skating in the respective shadows of Sergei Gonchar (Pittsburgh Penguins) and Scott Niedermayer (Ducks), that's got to feel kind of nice. Even if it's for just a few weeks.

It didn't take long for Whitney to settle in; he appeared exceptionally comfortable in his very first game as an Oiler on March 5th. Since then, he's lead the team in ice time, averaging nearly 26 minutes/game. With the man advantage, Whitney dominates in terms of minutes and opportunities; only fellow blue liner Tom Gilbert comes close. Best of all, well out of a playoff position, the Oilers have nothing to lose. There's no pressure and you won't find a looser group of skaters in the league at the moment. Following his first three games with his new team, Whitney remains without a point, but that won't last much longer.

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. Duncan Keith, Chi (2)
3. Chris Pronger, Phi (3)
4. Dan Boyle, SJ (4)
5. Sergei Gonchar, Pit (5)
6. Drew Doughty, LA (7)
7. Andrei Markov, Mon (6)
8. Nicklas Lidstrom, Det (10)
9. Zdeno Chara, Bos (8)
10. Tobias Enstrom, Atl (9)
11. Dion Phaneuf, Tor (11)
12. Christian Ehrhoff, Van (12)
13. Mark Streit, NYI (13)
14. Brian Rafalski, Det (16)
15. Kimmo Timonen, Phi (14)
16. Brian Campbell, Chi (15)
17. Scott Niedermayer, Anh (17)
18. Tyler Myers, Buf (19)
19. Shea Weber, Nsh (18)
20. Bryan McCabe, Fla (25)
21. Lubomir Visnovsky, Anh (22)
22. Joni Pitkanen, Car (33)
23. Jay Bouwmeester, Cgy (23)
24. Tomas Kaberle, Tor (21)
25. Ryan Whitney, Edm (31)
26. Stephane Robidas, Dal (20)
27. Erik Johnson, StL (24)
28. Rob Blake, SJ (26)
29. Alex Goligoski, Pit (30)
30. Matt Carle, Phi (29)
31. Marek Zidlicky, Min (28)
32. Brent Seabrook, Chi (27)
33. Pavel Kubina, Atl (34)
34. Kurtis Foster, TB (42)
35. Michael Del Zotto, NYR (38)
36. Joe Corvo, Was (64)
37. Adrian Aucoin, Pho (40)
38. Kyle Quincey, Col (37)
39. Ed Jovanovski, Pho (32)
40. Francois Beauchemin, Tor (35)
41. Mark Giordano, Cgy (45)
42. Keith Yandle, Pho (44)
43. Andy Greene, NJ (39)
44. Anton Stralman, Cls (41)
45. Kris Letang, Pit (43)
46. Cam Barker, Min (46)
47. Alexander Edler, Van (48)
48. Niklas Kronwall, Det (52)
49. Ryan Suter, Nsh (47)
50. Filip Kuba, Ott (36)
51. Craig Rivet, Buf (56)
52. Dennis Wideman, Bos (55)
53. Roman Hamrlik, Mon (50)
54. Braydon Coburn, Phi (51)
55. Zach Bogosian, Atl (49)
56. Brent Burns, Min (60)
57. James Wisniewski, Anh (53)
58. Sami Salo, Van (59)
59. Dennis Seidenberg, Bos (61)
60. Jack Johnson, LA (66)
61. Jaroslav Spacek, Mon (58)
62. Denis Grebeshkov, Nsh (57)
63. John-Michael Liles, Col (63)
64. Tom Poti, Was (62)
65. Ian White, Cgy (65)
66. Tom Gilbert, Edm (75)
67. Brian Pothier, Car (78)
68. Tim Gleason, Car (71)
69. Matt Carkner, Ott (69)
70. Matt Niskanen, Dal (78)
71. Randy Jones, LA (77)
72. Victor Hedman, TB (67)
73. Derek Morris, Pho (54)
74. Dmitry Kulikov, Fla (74)
75. Mattias Ohlund, TB (73)

In exchange for Whitney, the Ducks picked up Lubomir Visnovsky; no great slouch in the production department himself. Like Whitney, the easily adaptable Visnovsky has settled in quickly, but with a couple of goals to boot. Logging an average of nearly 25 minutes per game, including loads of power-play time, he's found the back of the net twice in his first three games with the Ducks. Visnovsky has put up solid, if not excellent, numbers since entering the league with the Los Angeles Kings back in 2000. It's puzzling as to why he's owned in only 71 percent of ESPN.com leagues. Especially under the present circumstances, when there are new teammates to impress.

As fellow columnist Sean Allen alludes to regularly, often a change of scenery will go a long way in providing a boost to a player, especially in the short term. And with the fantasy hockey season reaching its final stretch, the short term is all with which we need to concern ourselves.

Rising and Falling

Joe Corvo, Capitals (up 28 spots): One would assume the Washington Capitals would be perfectly content to win every game by a score of 7-6. Guns-a-blazin', their wide-open style of play is enough to make any fantasy player salivate (at least in terms of offensive categories). Now, Joe Corvo, a proven producer already, is a member of the squad. He won't near a healthy Mike Green in terms of power-play chances, but he'll still get a few of his own. And with the Caps, there's plenty of scoring chances to go around.

Bryan McCabe, Panthers (up five spots): Considering the workhorse season McCabe has endured, the rest brought on by the Olympic break was just what the doctor ordered. By all accounts, whether the exhaustion was physical or mental or a combination of the two, Florida's top blue liner is now fresh as a spring daisy. If you don't buy that, check out the nine points he's earned -- including three power-play assists -- in the four games since play resumed.

Derek Morris, Coyotes (down 19 spots): An asset when he skated alongside Zdeno Chara with the Boston Bruins, Morris is now just another member of a pretty solid group of defensemen in his return to the Phoenix Coyotes. Fantasy-wise, Adrian Aucoin, Keith Yandle and Ed Jovanovski all carry more value.

Injury Notes: Zdeno Chara missed the Bruins' Tuesday night tilt with the Maple Leafs, nursing what's called a mild lower body injury. It doesn't seem serious at this point, but monitor his situation.

Battling a lower-body injury, Filip Kuba missed his third straight game on Tuesday night. Listed as day-to-day, he didn't travel with the Ottawa Senators and the team doesn't return home until next Tuesday to face the Maple Leafs.

Nashville Predator Shea Weber is due back any day now after missing a couple of games with a hurt arm or hand. New teammate Denis Grebeshkov is also out injured, at least for another week, with a lower-body injury.

Potent Pairings

While the title "Barker and Burns" may inspire visions of a gritty, seventies-era, cop TV drama set in St. Louis, to hockey fans in Minnesota it's just a promising on-ice partnership. Cam Barker, recently acquired by the Wild, is getting along fabulously with Brent Burns. With five points between them in the five games they've played together, the growing chemistry is evident and effective; both are plus-four in that span. If Burns' seemingly mild hip injury, sustained Tuesday night, is nothing serious, these two could work very well together until the end of the season. Keep an eye on them.

Power Play Performers

Even Brian Pothier himself may have been slightly surprised by how quickly the coaching staff with the Carolina Hurricanes put their faith in his abilities with the man-advantage. But since his arrival from the Washington Capitals as part of the Corvo trade, Pothier has skated a ton on the 'Canes power play and has a power-play assist to show for it. He won't light up your fantasy scorecard, but available in nearly 99 percent of ESPN.com leagues, he's a body with some potential.

Victoria Matiash is a fantasy hockey columnist for ESPN.com