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Thursday, March 3, 2011
Thin Blue Line: Power Players

By Victoria Matiash
Special to ESPN.com

After a couple of hectic weeks of heavy player-swapping, many are referring to the final twelve hour period leading up to the NHL trade deadline as relatively quiet and anti-climatic. Perhaps you would agree. Unless, of course, you're a member of the Florida Panthers organization.

After dealing defensemen Bryan McCabe to the New York Rangers on the weekend, the Panthers moved a gaggle of players on Monday, including fellow blueliner Dennis Wideman. And both of those transactions, plus the fallout in Florida, deserve some attention.

As a new member of the Washington Capitals, much will be expected -- offensively -- from Dennis Wideman. Not only, but especially because Mike Green is injured (more on that below). In his debut with the Caps on Tuesday, Wideman logged nearly 27 minutes of ice-time, launched three shots and finished plus-2. Filling out the team's top power-play unit as the only defenseman on the point, the 27-year-old will be in excellent position to do some significant damage. The Capitals haven't been nearly as potent recently with the man advantage as in the past, but Wideman is still going to get many opportunities to score. And his plus/minus should be healthier than it was with the Panthers.

Now that the dust has settled on the highly-anticipated Bryan McCabe trade, we can review what was discussed previously and often in this space. Like Wideman with the Capitals, McCabe will be relied upon to play the point almost exclusively with the Rangers' top power-play squad and he's going to shoot the puck ... a lot. Although (a healthy) Marc Staal still has a bit of value, that's no longer the case for the likes of Daniel Girardi or Matt Gilroy. But those of you who read this column regularly already know all of this.

As an aside, if you still have Michael Del Zotto on your roster, remove him. Not only has the 20-year-old been banished to the AHL, but he's now nursing a hand injury.

Poised to undergo a severe rebuilding effort, the Panthers' decimated roster isn't completely void of fantasy value on the blue line. In the absence of Wideman and McCabe, young Dmitry Kulikov is in position to get the lion's share of minutes with the man-advantage. Healthy, after missing a couple of weeks with a bad ankle, the promising 20-year-old will have full freedom to strut his offensive stuff between now and mid-April. Best of all, he's extremely available. Kulikov is owned in about one percent of all ESPN.com leagues.

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. Lubomir Visnovsky, Ana (5)
5. Keith Yandle, Pho (8)
6. Kris Letang, Pit (6)
7. Christian Ehrhoff, Van (7)
8. Dan Boyle, SJ (4)
9. Drew Doughty, LA (9)
10. James Wisniewski, Mon (11)
11. Chris Pronger, Phi (10)
12. John-Michael Liles, Col (12)
13. Shea Weber, Nsh (13)
14. Alex Goligoski, Dal (14)
15. Jack Johnson, LA (17)
16. Tobias Enstrom, Atl (18)
17. Tomas Kaberle, Bos (19)
18. Bryan McCabe, NYR (24)
19. Brian Rafalski, Det (16)
20. Duncan Keith, Chi (21)
21. Marek Zidlicky, Min (22)
22. Niklas Kronwall, Det (23)
23. Kimmo Timonen, Phi (20)
24. Mark Giordano, Cgy (25)
25. Joni Pitkanen, Car (26)
26. Brent Seabrook, Chi (28)
27. Brent Burns, Min (29)
28. Ryan Suter, Nsh (32)
29. Brian Campbell, Chi (30)
30. Stephane Robidas, Dal (27)
31. Dennis Wideman, Was (37)
32. Roman Hamrlik, Mon (33)
33. Sergei Gonchar, Ott (31)
34. Alex Pietrangelo, StL (39)
35. Jay Bouwmeester, Cgy (34)
36. Dion Phaneuf, Tor (36)
37. Marc-Andre Bergeron, TB (35)
38. P.K. Subban, Mon (38)
39. Joe Corvo, Car (42)
40. Erik Karlsson, Ott (40)
41. Cam Fowler, Ana (41)
42. Anton Babchuk, Cgy (45)
43. Matt Carle, Phi (44)
44. Erik Johnson, Col (51)
45. Sami Salo, Van (48)
46. Kevin Shattenkirk, StL (46)
47. Tyler Myers, Buf (50)
48. John Carlson, Was (43)
49. Dmitry Kulikov, Fla (62)
50. Andy Greene, NJ (49)
51. Mike Green, Was (15)
52. Marc Staal, NYR (47)
53. Dennis Seidenberg, Bos (53)
54. Jamie McBain, Car (56)
55. Grant Clitsome, Cls (58)
56. Fedor Tyutin, Cls (55)
57. Paul Martin, Pit (60)
58. Filip Kuba, Ott (63)
59. Cody Franson, Nsh (59)
60. Kurtis Foster, Edm (64)
61. Andrew MacDonald, NYI (61)
62. Andrej Meszaros, Phi (57)
63. Jordan Leopold, Buf (52)
64. Matt Niskanen, Pit (71)
65. Francois Beauchemin, Ana (65)
66. Brett Clark, TB (66)
67. Zach Bogosian, Atl (68)
68. Kris Russell, Cls (off)
69. Carlo Colaiacovo, StL (70)
70. Jason Demers, SJ (74)
71. Kevin Bieksa, Van (54)
72. Mark Streit, NYI (73)
73. Pavel Kubina, TB (75)
74. Ian White, SJ (76)
75. Adrian Aucoin, Pho (69)

Rising and Falling

Tyler Myers, Sabres (up two spots): Whether it's the change in Buffalo Sabres' ownership, or more relief in pressure from lowered expectations, Tyler Myers is, once again, performing better. After enduring a four-game scoring slump, the 21-year-old has three points in his last four contests. Myers seems to be sensing what the rest of his teammates are feeling; a bit of optimism. With a recent 3-0-1 record, the Sabres are heading in the right direction up the Eastern Conference table. And, since success is addictive (just ask the New Jersey Devils), Myers should stay consistent for at least the next couple of weeks.

Kimmo Timonen, Flyers (down three spots): With only one assist in his last 10 games, Kimmo Timonen of the Philadelphia Flyers is having a rough go of it. As a fantasy owner, there's nothing you can do but ride out the scoring slump and maintain crossed fingers it ends shortly. It very well could; a restful four-day break between games and Chris Pronger's return should provide a boost.

Ryan Suter, Predators (up four spots): After missing one game with a mild upper-body injury, Ryan Suter has a goal and two assists in his past four contests. More importantly, to those of us watching, the Nashville Predators blueliner looks hungry and energized on the ice. We anticipate a prolonged hot streak from Suter over the next while.

Key injury notes:

Depending on who you ask, defenseman Mike Green (head) could be out anywhere from a week to a month for the Washington Capitals. Let's weigh on the negative side and project a return in three weeks. With Wideman on board there won't be any sense of urgency. The Capitals don't care a lick about Green's fantasy value; they want him fit and healthy for the postseason.

There is a chance he'll play, but back spasms may keep Brian Rafalski out for a fourth straight game on Thursday. If so, the 37-year-old should return for the Detroit Red Wings shortly.

As mentioned above, Chris Pronger is due back for Thursday's contest against the Toronto Maple Leafs . The Flyers veteran missed one game for the Philadelphia Flyers with a hand injury.

Considered day-to-day, Marc-Andre Bergeron (back) is a "maybe" for the Tampa Bay Lightning's Thursday game against the Boston Bruins.

After missing three games with a mild knee sprain, Marc Staal intends to return to the lineup when the New York Rangers face the Minnesota Wild on Thursday. However, the addition of McCabe to the Rangers' blue line hurts Staal's fantasy value, regardless.

Nursing a fracture foot, Kevin Bieksa is due back for the Vancouver Canucks in two weeks. A bummer, considering the all-around fantasy package Bieksa was providing.

Jordan Leopold remains "doubtful" for the Buffalo Sabres with an upper-body injury. Before getting hurt, Leopold had earned only one assist in his previous six contests.

Anton Stralman of the Columbus Blue Jackets is out for most of March with a knee injury. If this is received as devastating news, you have much bigger problems to attend to in regards to your fantasy roster.

Power Play Performers

As long as Dan Boyle is out with an undisclosed upper-body injury, both Jason Demers and Ian White will see big minutes with the man-advantage. Listed as questionable, Boyle will not be rushed back to action before he's thoroughly ready and able. The San Jose Sharks need their elite defenseman in top shape for a push to, and through, the postseason; they aren't going to gamble with the veteran's health unnecessarily. But once the time is right for Boyle to return, White's fantasy worth will be negligible once again.

Victoria Matiash is a fantasy hockey analyst and contributor to Rumor Central for ESPN.com,