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Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Thin Blue Line: Paul Martin returns

By Victoria Matiash
Special to

With a solid week of play under his pads, rest assured that Paul Martin is feeling adequately recovered from an arm injury that knocked him out much longer than expected. Martin has seen an increase in ice time, contest by contest, since his return to the New Jersey Devils' lineup on March 17; he logged more than 22 minutes during Tuesday's win over the Columbus Blue Jackets. His power-play goal and even-strength assist also went a ways toward assuring all that he's feeling comfortable again.

Top 75 defensemen

Note: Victoria Matiash's top 75 defensemen are ranked for their expected performance in standard leagues from this point on, not the statistics that have already been accrued. 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. Drew Doughty, LA (6)
6. Sergei Gonchar, Pit (5)
7. Nicklas Lidstrom, Det (8)
8. Andrei Markov, Mon (7)
9. Zdeno Chara, Bos (9)
10. Brian Rafalski, Det (11)
11. Mark Streit, NYI (10)
12. Dion Phaneuf, Tor (12)
13. Christian Ehrhoff, Van (13)
14. Scott Niedermayer, Anh (16)
15. Lubomir Visnovsky, Anh (17)
16. Kimmo Timonen, Phi (14)
17. Tobias Enstrom, Atl (15)
18. Bryan McCabe, Fla (19)
19. Shea Weber, Nsh (18)
20. Tyler Myers, Buf (20)
21. Stephane Robidas, Dal (22)
22. Joni Pitkanen, Car (21)
23. Joe Corvo, Was (23)
24. Tomas Kaberle, Tor (24)
25. Ryan Whitney, Edm (26)
26. Kurtis Foster, TB (25)
27. Matt Carle, Phi (30)
28. Jay Bouwmeester, Cgy (27)
29. Brent Seabrook, Chi (29)
30. Rob Blake, SJ (28)
31. Erik Johnson, StL (31)
32. Alex Goligoski, Pit (33)
33. Ed Jovanovski, Pho (37)
34. Michael Del Zotto, NYR (34)
35. Marek Zidlicky, Min (32)
36. Paul Martin, NJ (NR)
37. Mark Giordano, Cgy (36)
38. Keith Yandle, Pho (35)
39. Adrian Aucoin, Pho (41)
40. Pavel Kubina, Atl (38)
41. Ryan Suter, Nsh (40)
42. Cam Barker, Min (42)
43. Anton Stralman, Cls (46)
44. Kris Letang, Pit (44)
45. Francois Beauchemin, Tor (43)
46. Alexander Edler, Van (45)
47. Niklas Kronwall, Det (47)
48. Kevin Bieksa, Van (59)
49. John-Michael Liles, Col (48)
50. Kyle Quincey, Col (49)
51. Brent Burns, Min (56)
52. Roman Hamrlik, Mon (51)
53. Sami Salo, Van (53)
54. Craig Rivet, Buf (50)
55. Dennis Seidenberg, Bos (54)
56. Dennis Wideman, Bos (55)
57. Andy Greene, NJ (39)
58. Ian White, Cgy (58)
59. Tom Gilbert, Edm (60)
60. Mathieu Schneider, Pho (66)
61. Jaroslav Spacek, Mon (63)
62. Brian Pothier, Car (61)
63. Marc-Edouard Vlasic, SJ (NR)
64. Jack Johnson, LA (62)
65. Marc-Andre Bergeron, Mon (NR)
66. Braydon Coburn, Phi (64)
67. Carl Gunnarsson, Tor (67)
68. Erik Karlsson, Ott (NR)
69. Tom Poti, Was (65)
70. Niklas Hjalmarsson, Chi (71)
71. Filip Kuba, Ott (52)
72. Matt Carkner, Ott (70)
73. Zach Bogosian, Atl (68)
74. Derek Morris, Pho (72)
75. Ron Hainsey, Atl (NR)

It usually takes a couple of games, at least, for a defenseman to get his rhythm back after a prolonged absence. Clearly, any rust that Martin had built up since the end of October has dissipated. This is the fellow who will man the point game in and game out when the Devils' first power-play unit is out on the ice. If he's available in your league, grab him.

As for the lad who filled in for Martin during his absence, Andy Greene did a bang-up job on the Devils' first unit during the past few months. Alas, he's getting only a faint sniff of activity with the man advantage at this stage and no longer carries any real fantasy weight.

Rising and falling

James Wisniewski, Anaheim Ducks (out of the rankings): Suspended for eight games after his nasty brain-jostling hit on the Chicago Blackhawks' Brent Seabrook, Wisniewski won't see any game action until April 3 at the earliest. However, with just four points in his past 14 games (since the start of February), no one's fantasy roster will implode thanks to Wisniewski's well-earned ineligibility.

Marc-Andre Bergeron, Montreal Canadiens (debuts at No. 65): Bergeron is cleared to play for the Habs in Wednesday's game against the Sabres in Buffalo after missing 15 games with a lower-body injury. It would be nice to watch him in meaningful action before unleashing a hearty endorsement. However, if you're desperate, grab him, especially those of you with little to lose in head-to-head leagues. The Canadiens' power play has been nearly stagnant of late, and they will immediately call upon Bergeron to add some spark.

Filip Kuba, Ottawa Senators (down 19 spots): Frankly, enough is enough. Consider this the appropriate occasion to throw in the towel on Kuba's fantasy season. A regular in this column's "Injury notes" section for two straight weeks, Kuba teased his owners by returning to the Senators' lineup Thursday before allegedly reaggravating whatever ailed his lower body. He hasn't played in the Sens' two games since. It matters no more; we're too far gone in the season to wait this roller coaster of a recovery out any longer.

If no other replacement catches your fancy, consider picking up Kuba's stand-in on the Senators' top power-play unit, Erik Karlsson. The 19-year-old Swede netted a goal and an assist in Monday's win over the Canadiens and skated nearly 10 minutes with the man advantage Tuesday night against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Tim Gleason, Carolina Hurricanes (out of the rankings): Hampered by a broken bone in his foot, Gleason is expected to miss a minimum of two more weeks. He was only a marginal fantasy asset before the injury, so this news knocks the feisty blueliner completely off the grid.

Injury notes

Amazingly, Seabrook missed only a couple of games after sustaining last week's brain-rattling hit from Wisniewski (see above). In his return to the ice with the Blackhawks on Tuesday, Seabrook skated more than 22 minutes, garnered two minutes in the sin bin, launched one shot and finished at plus-1. Not dizzying numbers by any means, but not bad, either, under the circumstances. And the Hawks beat the Phoenix Coyotes 2-0, thereby maintaining first place in the Western Conference.

Power-play performers

After missing 17 games with a leg injury, Marc-Edouard Vlasic returned to game ice for the San Jose Sharks this past weekend. His performance during his first game back Sunday against the Edmonton Oilers left little to brag about, but he earned an assist and finished with a team-high plus-3 in his second appearance versus the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday. A staple with the team's second power-play unit, Vlasic could provide your roster with an extra point here and there without being a liability in other categories. And he's available in more than 91 percent of leagues.

Victoria Matiash is a fantasy hockey analyst for