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Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Thin Blue Line: Who's on the move?

By Victoria Matiash
Special to ESPN.com

The art of intelligent (read: research-based) speculation never plays a greater part in determining a fantasy hockey player's success than in the days leading up to the trade deadline. Anticipating and preparing for a potential deal can provide a huge edge over the competition. If you can foresee who's moving where and for whom, you're way ahead of the game. And that's why we need to chat about Tomas Kaberle.

Tomas Kaberle
Tomas Kaberle would have great value should he get dealt to the Bruins.

Unless the general managers of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins -- Brian Burke and Peter Chiarelli, respectively -- get into some silly stubborn standoff, the hotly-anticipated Kaberle-to-Bruins deal is going to happen. Depending on when you're reading this, the trade could already be old news. Regardless, here's what we can expect, in terms of fantasy fallout:

A top-20 gem already, Kaberle sees a slight bump in fantasy value as the projected new partner to Zdeno Chara on the Bruins' top power-play unit. The 32-year-old has managed to rack up assists in bunches, year in and year out with the Leafs; imagine what he could accomplish with a team that averages half-a-goal more per game. As a Bruin, Kaberle's plus/minus would be healthier as well.

We can forecast a slight boost in Chara's fantasy worth as well, if you believe a gifted puck-moving defenseman such as Kaberle is more adept as a set-up man than, say, Mark Recchi. Nothing against Recchi, but he belongs in front of the net with the man-advantage, not in position to feed Chara's shot on the opposing point.

Conversely, d-men Dennis Seidenberg and Steven Kampfer would take a hit in the fantasy department should the Bruins deal for Kaberle. It's unlikely Kampfer would even manage to hang on to a spot in the lineup under such circumstances, assuming the 22-year-old isn't part of the package headed to the Leafs in return (a whole other story). Should the Leafs acquire some combination of picks/prospects, as anticipated, in exchange for Kaberle, Carl Gunnarsson will, once again, get regular opportunities to strut his stuff with the extra skater. If that's how it all unfolds, Gunnarsson may secure a spot in the Top 75 before the season is out.

As for other key offensive-defensemen who could move before the Feb. 28 trade deadline, there's been a lot of talk in regards to Bryan McCabe's future with the Florida Panthers. McCabe has spoken out about his desire to remain with the squad, but if the team doesn't make some serious headway up the Eastern standings soon, the veteran blueliner may prefer to join a playoff contender, at least before signing with the Panthers again in the summer as an unrestricted free agent.

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 points, shots on goal, plus/minus, penalty minutes and average time on ice. Last week's ranking is indicated in parentheses.

1. Nicklas Lidstrom, Det (1)
2. Zdeno Chara, Bos (2)
3. Dustin Byfuglien, Atl (3)
4. Dan Boyle, SJ (4)
5. Lubomir Visnovsky, Ana (5)
6. Kris Letang, Pit (6)
7. Christian Ehrhoff, Van (8)
8. Drew Doughty, LA (11)
9. Keith Yandle, Pho (10)
10. Chris Pronger, Phi (12)
11. James Wisniewski, Mon (13)
12. Mike Green, Was (7)
13. John-Michael Liles, Col (9)
14. Shea Weber, Nsh (15)
15. Brian Rafalski, Det (14)
16. Alex Goligoski, Pit (16)
17. Jack Johnson, LA (17)
18. Tomas Kaberle, Tor (19)
19. Tobias Enstrom, Atl (21)
20. Kimmo Timonen, Phi (18)
21. Duncan Keith, Chi (20)
22. Brent Burns, Min (23)
23. Niklas Kronwall, Det (24)
24. Stephane Robidas, Dal (22)
25. Mark Giordano, Cgy (25)
26. Joni Pitkanen, Car (27)
27. Erik Karlsson, Ott (26)
28. Sergei Gonchar, Ott (28)
29. Brent Seabrook, Chi (29)
30. Brian Campbell, Chi (30)
31. Ryan Suter, Nsh (33)
32. Roman Hamrlik, Mon (31)
33. Bryan McCabe, Fla (68)
34. Jay Bouwmeester, Cgy (32)
35. Dennis Wideman, Fla (36)
36. Dion Phaneuf, Tor (34)
37. Marc-Andre Bergeron, TB (38)
38. P.K. Subban, Mon (40)
39. Marc Staal, NYR (35)
40. Cam Fowler, Ana (41)
41. Joe Corvo, Car (43)
42. Kevin Shattenkirk, Col (37)
43. John Carlson, Was (44)
44. Matt Carle, Phi (42)
45. Dennis Seidenberg, Bos (39)
46. Tyler Myers, Buf (49)
47. Andy Greene, NJ (46)
48. Alex Pietrangelo, StL (51)
49. Jordan Leopold, Buf (48)
50. Sami Salo, Van (50)
51. Marek Zidlicky, Min (75)
52. Anton Babchuk, Cgy (58)
53. Kevin Bieksa, Van (47)
54. Fedor Tyutin, Cls (52)
55. Jamie McBain, Car (54)
56. Francois Beauchemin, Ana (53)
57. Andrej Meszaros, Phi (56)
58. Paul Martin, Pit (59)
59. Erik Johnson, StL (60)
60. Cody Franson, Nsh (61)
61. Grant Clitsome, Cls (62)
62. Dmitry Kulikov, Fla (45)
63. Andrew MacDonald, NYI (55)
64. Kurtis Foster, Edm (57)
65. Adrian Aucoin, Pho (63)
66. Carlo Colaiacovo, StL (64)
67. Dan Girardi, NYR (65)
68. Ed Jovanovski, Pho (67)
69. Brett Clark, TB (69)
70. Zach Bogosian, Atl (73)
71. Nikita Nikitin, StL (NR)
72. Michael Del Zotto, NYR (66)
73. Pavel Kubina, TB (70)
74. Mark Streit, NYI (75)
75. Filip Kuba, Ott (NR)

The New York Rangers top the list of teams interested in McCabe's services, and should such a deal go through, Marc Staal, Daniel Girardi, Matt Gilroy and Michael Del Zotto will all experience a dip in fantasy value. Whether they snag McCabe or not, the Rangers need a blueliner with a rifle to play the point with the man-advantage. Presuming they add such an asset, the squad's other defensemen aren't worth as much.

A couple of Ottawa Senators -- Sergei Gonchar and Filip Kuba -- could also move before the deadline. General manager Bryan Murray has the "For Sale" flashing brightly and few are considered "untouchable." Gonchar's hefty contract may be off-putting for many buyers, but Kuba could find another home before the deadline. And, a steady fantasy asset in the past, Kuba's value inflates instantly as soon as he's with any one of several other teams.

Rising and Falling

Anton Babchuk, Calgary Flames (up six spots): I like the team of Babchuk and Jay Bouwmeester as part of the Flames' secondary power-play unit. Offensively gifted, Babchuk displays the admirable wisdom of knowing when to pass and when to shoot, which bodes well for both Babchuk and Bouwmeester. With two goals and three assists in his past four contests, including three power-play points, the 33-year-old Ukrainian veteran is clearly in a groove.

Sami Salo, Vancouver Canucks (even): The Canucks can't be faulted for wanting to envelop their remaining healthy blueliners in bubble wrap for the stretch run. Losing Alex Edler, Keith Ballard, Dan Hamhuis and Andrew Alberts in the past few weeks has been rough, to say the least. And yet, three games in, Salo remains in okay shape! In light of his habit of falling injured with astounding regularity, we're as shocked as anyone. Healthy, Salo could average nearly a point per game, but you just have to hold your breath through every contest.

The Edmonton Oilers (down): Including two assists earned in Tuesday's 4-1 win over the Dallas Stars, Tom Gilbert and Kurtis Foster have a total of three points in their past 11 games combined. To avoid frustrating his development, promising youngster Jeff Petry has been sent back down to the AHL. Unless Zach Bogosian joins the fold, as rumoured, it would be best not to bother with members of the Oilers' blue line until next season.

Key injury notes

• According to the Minnesota Wild, defenseman Marek Zidlicky is considered day-to-day. This health-related update is admittedly more reassuring than when Zidlicky proclaimed himself day-to-day last week. But before we break out the festive "welcome back" noisemakers, a bit of caution may be in order. Zidlicky's shoulder injury was a particularly nasty one, so his body may not hold up. And even if the offensively-talented d-man is fit enough, a game or two to get back into the swing of things would be warranted anyway.

• Unfortunately for the Florida Panthers and Dmitry Kulikov, the youngster is out for at least a couple of weeks with a badly-bruised ankle. It's a shame because he was on a nice roll before sustaining the injury. Dennis Wideman remains the most valuable fantasy asset on the Panthers' blue line until McCabe returns (however temporarily) from a busted jaw.

Mike Green's health situation is still a bit weird. Last week we were told to expect Green back in the Washington Capitals' lineup Saturday and, as promised, the defenseman logged over 22 minutes of ice-time in a 4-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings. Yet, since then, Green sat out one game and is expected to miss Wednesday's contest versus the Anaheim Ducks. We thought the puck-to-the-ear ordeal was no big whoop, so what gives? Well, now we've been told Green is off to see a specialist about "inner ear trauma." It's likely not that big a deal, but still, stay tuned.

Victoria Matiash is a fantasy hockey analyst for ESPN.com.