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Friday, July 1, 2011
Thin Blue Line: Post-draft changes

By Victoria Matiash
Special to ESPN.com

My oh my, this certainly is a frenzied time in the NHL as teams scramble to improve their 2011-12 prospects by adding players through the NHL Entry Draft, trade or free agency. Plenty more changes are sure to come, but here's a quick glimpse at the current fantasy environment of the league's defensemen. A brief glimpse, if you will, before the free-agent market opens later today.

Rising and Falling

Brent Burns, Sharks (up three spots): The duo of Burns and Dan Boyle will be a formidable pairing on the San Jose Sharks' top power-play unit. These two are going to rack up a lot of points, especially with the man-advantage. Dealt to the Sharks from the Minnesota Wild, a healthy Burns is poised to improve upon last season's 46-point total, as the 26-year-old is just entering his prime.

Top 75 Defensemen

Note: Victoria Matiash's top 75 defensemen are ranked for their expected performance in ESPN standard leagues. ESPN standard stats include goals, assists, power-play points, shots on goal, plus/minus, penalty minutes and average time on ice. April's ranking is indicated in parentheses.

1. Kris Letang, Pit (1)
2. Dustin Byfuglien, Win (2)
3. Lubomir Visnovsky, Ana (3)
4. Zdeno Chara, Bos (4)
5. Keith Yandle, Pho (5)
6. Alex Goligoski, Dal (7)
7. Dan Boyle, SJ (8)
8. Tobias Enstrom, Win (9)
9. Mark Streit, NYI (12)
10. Nicklas Lidstrom, Det (10)
11. Christian Ehrhoff, Buf (6)
12. Andrei Markov, Mon (25)
13. Drew Doughty, LA (13)
14. Shea Weber, Nsh (14)
15. Ryan Whitney, Edm (15)
16. Alexander Edler, Van (11)
17. John-Michael Liles, Tor (16)
18. Chris Pronger, Phi (20)
19. James Wisniewski, FA (23)
20. Sergei Gonchar, Ott (19)
21. Duncan Keith, Chi (21)
22. Jack Johnson, LA (22)
23. Tomas Kaberle, FA (18)
24. Mike Green, Was (24)
25. Brent Burns, SJ (28)
26. Kimmo Timonen, Phi (26)
27. Brent Seabrook, Chi (27)
28. Joni Pitkanen, Car (29)
29. Mark Giordano, Cgy (30)
30. Bryan McCabe, FA (17)
31. Marek Zidlicky, Min (49)
32. P.K. Subban, Mon (31)
33. Erik Karlsson, Ott (32)
34. Brian Campbell, Fla (39)
35. Dion Phaneuf, Tor (33)
36. Ryan Suter, Nsh (35)
37. Kevin Shattenkirk, StL (37)
38. Alex Pietrangelo, StL (34)
39. Kevin Bieksa, Van (55)
40. Erik Johnson, Col (48)
41. Niklas Kronwall, Det (38)
42. Marc-Andre Bergeron, TB (47)
43. Stephane Robidas, Dal (41)
44. John Carlson, Was (42)
45. Cam Fowler, Ana (44)
46. Dennis Wideman, Was (51)
47. Tyler Myers, Buf (40)
48. Joe Corvo, Car (46)
49. Matt Taormina, NJ (54)
50. Roman Hamrlik, FA (56)
51. Dennis Seidenberg, Bos (63)
52. Marc Staal, NYR (76)
53. Jay Bouwmeester, Cgy (53)
54. Jamie McBain, Car (52)
55. Dmitry Kulikov, Fla (43)
56. Matt Carle, Phi (50)
57. Andy Greene, FA (60)
58. Zach Bogosian, Win (57)
59. Carlo Colaiacovo, StL (59)
60. Ed Jovanovski, FA (73)
61. Michael Del Zotto, NYR (58)
62. Paul Martin, Pit (61)
63. Victor Hedman, TB (74)
64. Cody Franson, Nsh (64)
65. Ian White, FA (off)
66. Grant Clitsome, Cls (68)
67. Adam Larsson, NJ (off)
68. Kurtis Foster, Edm (67)
69. Fedor Tyutin, Cls (off)
70. Anton Babchuk, FA (62)
71. Filip Kuba, Ott (70)
72. Jason Demers, SJ (65)
73. Andrej Meszaros, Phi (69)
74. Carl Gunnarsson, Tor (66)
75. Dan Hamhuis, Van (off)

Tyler Myers, Sabres (down seven spots): The signing of Christian Ehrhoff (a 10-year deal!) hurts Myers' fantasy value just a smidge. The 21-year-old Myers is still in position to rebound after a disappointing sophomore campaign (although he did finish with a bang), but he figures to post less sexy numbers, especially if coach Lindy Ruff opts to use Ehrhoff (and not Myers) as the lone blueliner in a 4-1 setup on the Sabres' top power-play unit.

Dennis Seidenberg, Bruins (up 12 spots): With Tomas Kaberle out of the picture, Seidenberg can settle in as one of the Boston Bruins' top producers on the blue line. After enjoying a fine regular season and excellent playoff run with the Bruins, Seidenberg will look to build on that performance in 2011-12. And being paired with Zdeno Chara certainly doesn't hurt.

Andrei Markov, Canadiens (up 13 spots): Worries about Markov's health (knee) went right out the window when the Montreal Canadiens re-signed the gifted defenseman to not two, but three more years ($17.5 million). Pierre Gauthier is a shrewd general manager, and Markov claims he has never felt better. We have faith in the former and believe the latter. Expect an explosive start from the guy who logged 64 points in 78 games in 2008-09.

Dmitry Kulikov, Panthers (down 12 spots): The acquisition of Brian Campbell doesn't hurt Kulikov's fantasy value, but the reality that general manager Dale Tallon likely will try to add another top defenseman through free agency does. Kulikov still will get plenty of opportunities to contribute as a top-four blueliner with the Florida Panthers, just not as many as he would have had otherwise.

Marc-Andre Bergeron, Lightning (up five spots): Lightning GM Steve Yzerman professed his confidence in Bergeron -- loud and clear, we might add -- by signing the defenseman to a new two-year deal. Bergeron is a power-play specialist, plain and simple. His lack of minutes won't matter much if he's in position to contribute on special teams each and every game. Disregard Bergeron's abbreviated 2010-11 season with the Lightning; the 30-year-old should be fully back into the swing of things this fall.

John-Michael Liles, Maple Leafs (down one spot): History tells us that Liles is at his productive best when he's under pressure, and there might be no greater pressure in the NHL than playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs. The media scrutiny is brutal. We'll see how Liles responds to the blazing spotlight. He could be great.

Anton Stralman, Blue Jackets (now unranked): Stralman might not be a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets for much longer. The Blue Jackets didn't give Stralman a qualifying offer, which means the 24-year-old likely will become an unrestricted free agent on Friday. It's still possible the Blue Jackets could re-sign him, but it wouldn't matter much even if they did. If general manager Scott Howson is unable to sign James Wisniewski -- though at the time of this writing, a deal seemed imminent -- the club will pursue another top defenseman through free agency.

With a top-caliber player leading youngsters such as Grant Clitsome, the Jackets' blue line will be in decent shape. But don't expect much from Stralman, who was a big letdown last season (1 goal, 17 assists) after tallying 34 points in his previous campaign. Wherever the young Swede plays in 2011-12, expectations should be relatively low.

Adam Larsson, Devils (debuts at No. 67): The New Jersey Devils seem thrilled to have Larsson in the fold. Selected fourth overall in June's NHL Entry Draft, Larsson reportedly was the Devils' No. 1 choice from the get-go. Considered NHL-ready, the 18-year-old Swede is expected to make an impact immediately.

Like a rolling stone

The players below are expected to head for, if not necessarily greener, at least different NHL pastures. In order of fantasy worth, the following unrestricted free agents-to-be are not expected to re-sign with their current clubs. Where each individual lands will not only affect his own value, but that of his fellow blueliners. For example, Michael Del Zotto's fantasy stock (already erratic as it is) will drop if the Rangers sign a player such as Roman Hamrlik. That might not be the best example, but you get the idea. Andy Greene isn't included here, as there still seems to be a reasonable chance the Devils will sign the pending UFA.

James Wisniewski
Tomas Kaberle
Bryan McCabe
Roman Hamrlik
Ed Jovanovski
Ian White
Anton Babchuk

Bidding Adieu

Nicklas Lidstrom
Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom will be back with the Red Wings for at least another season.

While Brian Rafalski surprised a few by deciding to call it an NHL career, his blue-line buddy, Nicklas Lidstrom, did not. The Detroit Red Wings captain is going to play another season, and our expectations are still high for the 2011 Norris Trophy winner.

Meanwhile, Sami Salo remains a "maybe" as far as retirement is concerned. If he decides to play another season (or two), presumably with the Vancouver Canucks, Salo will get regular opportunities to produce as a power-play staple, especially with Ehrhoff out of the picture. If he stays healthy, that is. But to be fair, the oft-injured Finn survived the final quarter of the regular season and a lengthy playoff run relatively unscathed.

Key injury notes

Chris Pronger is expected to make a full recovery following back surgery in May, but he might not be ready for training camp. If the 36-year-old veteran -- and maybe the next Philadelphia Flyers' captain? -- misses any action during the regular season, it won't be much.

Mark Streit, who missed all of last season because of a torn labrum and rotator cuff, is expected to be at full strength by the end of the summer, if he isn't already. A fantasy beast in past years, we expect much from the 33-year-old when he rejoins the New York Islanders.

• His ankle now fine, Ryan Whitney is ready to pick up where he left off with the Edmonton Oilers. Potting 27 points in 35 games in 2010-11, the 28-year-old is poised to tear it up again, especially since he's in position to become an unrestricted free agent next summer.

• The Washington Capitals are hoping to get Dennis Wideman back healthy after the defenseman suffered a leg haematoma in March. There's no reason to believe Wideman won't be fit as a fiddle soon enough.

• It remains to be seen if Dan Hamhuis, who is recovering from sports hernia surgery, is ready for the start of the 2011-12 season. However, the initial prognosis for the Canucks blueliner is a positive one.