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Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Thin Blue Line: Short-term pickups

By Victoria Matiash
Special to ESPN.com

It's an odd time of year for fantasy hockey players. Those still engaged in battle, either head-to-head or rotisserie-wise, are prone to launch conventional thinking and customary practices out the nearest window in favor of short-sighted, cutthroat maneuvers designed to improve a roster in the short term.

Just like there's no crying in baseball, there's no place in the realm of fantasy sports for sentimental loyalty or due respect in regard to historical production. Or patience. If dumping Nicklas Lidstrom in place of an unproven, lesser-known rookie out of Los Angeles helps your squad between now and early April, so be it. In that spirit, the following defensemen could offer that precious extra boost, however slight. And as of last check, all of them were available in more than half of ESPN.com leagues.

Andrei Markov
Andrei Markov is back in action for Les Habs.

As anticipated, Andrei Markov played his first game in 16 months for the Montreal Canadiens this past Saturday against the Vancouver Canucks. And he didn't have a bad debut when you consider the alternative. Obvious rust aside, the 33-year-old wasn't awful, notching an assist in 17 minutes of ice time. More importantly, however, that tenuous knee of his held up (seemingly) without issue. Following up that appearance with a less sexy performance (minus-2) against the Buffalo Sabres on Monday, Markov again emerged no worse for the wear. After two major surgeries and a more recent arthroscopic procedure, the right knee could finally be structurally sound and adequately strong. An elite NHL defenseman and power-play quarterback, Markov collected 98 points in 123 games combined in 2008-09 and 2009-10. If you have a hole on your blue line, the proven veteran could serve as an ultra-awesome plug.

On the opposite end of the experience spectrum, a rookie with the Detroit Red Wings is richly deserving of some fantasy attention. Partially filling in for a future Hall of Fame blueliner, Brendan Smith is making the most of his opportunity with the Red Wings. And there's no set timetable for the aforementioned Lidstrom (ankle) to return. After speaking with Wings GM Ken Holland, ESPN.com's Craig Custance suggested Smith could stick with the NHL club right through to the postseason:

One of the more frustrating fantasy assets of the past two years, Stephane Robidas is another fill-in option in these waning days of the regular season. Power-play partner to defenseman Alex Goligoski, Robidas is creating scoring opportunities for the Dallas Stars' top unit as a skilled puck-mover from the point.

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. Erik Karlsson, Ott (1)
2. Zdeno Chara, Bos (2)
3. Shea Weber, Nsh (3)
4. Dan Boyle, SJ (4)
5. Brian Campbell, Fla (5)
6. Dustin Byfuglien, Win (6)
7. Ryan Suter, Nsh (7)
8. Alex Pietrangelo, StL (9)
9. Alexander Edler, Van (8)
10. Keith Yandle, Pho (10)
11. Dion Phaneuf, Tor (11)
12. P.K. Subban, Mon (12)
13. Kevin Shattenkirk, StL (14)
14. Tobias Enstrom, Win (15)
15. Kris Letang, Pit (33)
16. Drew Doughty, LA (13)
17. Duncan Keith, Chi (16)
18. Kimmo Timonen, Phi (23)
19. Dennis Wideman, Was (22)
20. Ian White, Det (18)
21. Alex Goligoski, Dal (17)
22. Jack Johnson, Cls (24)
23. Mark Giordano, Cgy (27)
24. Niklas Kronwall, Det (31)
25. James Wisniewski, Cls (25)
26. Mark Streit, NYI (26)
27. Michael Del Zotto, NYR (20)
28. Nicklas Lidstrom, Det (19)
29. Kevin Bieksa, Van (32)
30. Matt Carle, Phi (28)
31. Lubomir Visnovsky, Ana (21)
32. Marek Zidlicky, NJ (42)
33. Sergei Gonchar, Ott (29)
34. Christian Ehrhoff, Buf (38)
35. John-Michael Liles, Tor (36)
36. Sheldon Souray , Dal (30)
37. Brent Burns, SJ (34)
38. Jason Garrison, Fla (39)
39. Dennis Seidenberg, Bos (40)
40. Erik Johnson, Col (37)
41. Ryan Whitney, Edm (41)
42. Tomas Kaberle, Mon (46)
43. Jay Bouwmeester, Cgy (44)
44. Brent Seabrook, Chi (45)
45. Andrei Markov, Mon (59)
46. Filip Kuba, Ott (47)
47. Tyler Myers, Buf (35)
48. Nick Leddy, Chi (50)
49. John Carlson, Was (48)
50. Joe Corvo, Bos (52)
51. Dan Hamhuis, Van (49)
52. Cam Fowler, Ana (54)
53. Stephane Robidas, Dal (58)
54. Corey Potter, Edm (53)
55. Dan Girardi, NYR (51)
56. Slava Voynov, LA (60)
57. Justin Faulk, Car (56)
58. Mike Green, Was (43)
59. Matt Niskanen, Pit (57)
60. Travis Hamonic, NYI (65)
61. Paul Martin, Pit (61)
62. Jamie McBain, Car (63)
63. Nikita Nikitin, Cls (64)
64. Sami Salo, Van (67)
65. Ryan McDonagh, NYR (66)
66. Anton Stralman, NYR (off)
67. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Pho (70)
68. Marc-Andre Gragnani, Van (68)
69. Zach Bogosian, Win (74)
70. Kyle Quincey, Det (75)
71. Tom Gilbert, Min (71)
72. Jake Gardiner, Tor (69)
73. Marc-Edouard Vlasic, SJ (72)
74. Jared Spurgeon, Min (73)
75. Kurtis Foster, Min (62)

This 35-year-old has a history of putting up points in bunches. And a recent flurry of three points in two games indicates Robidas could be in for another one of his more productive spells. It's also worth noting that fellow defenseman Sheldon Souray could miss at least another game or two with a lower-body injury. Significantly more interested in having Souray healthy for the postseason, the Stars aren't in any rush to throw the valuable veteran back into the fray. Not as long as the club keeps winning, at any rate.

Rising and Falling

Kris Letang, Penguins (up 18 spots): A good inch or two outside the blinding spotlight focused on Sidney Crosby's anticipated comeback is a report that Letang is also eyeing a pending return for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Probably not as early as Thursday, when Crosby is expected back, but not long after. Reportedly symptom-free from what the Penguins claim wasn't ever a full-on second concussion, Letang insists he feels great. That's good news, and it's not all bad news for owners of Matt Niskanen and Paul Martin. An offense that includes Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on separate lines should result in more team scoring all around. Everyone wins.

Marek Zidlicky, Devils (up 13 spots): Finally. After what felt like an interminable warm-up period, Zidlicky has apparently found his groove as a new member of the New Jersey Devils. The five points tallied in four recent consecutive games should suffice as relevant evidence. The 35-year-old offensive defenseman has also averaged well over 22 minutes per game in that span. Zidlicky could be in position to finish off the regular season with a bang.

Tyler Myers, Sabres(down 12 spots): Myers has been suspended three games by the league for a nasty hit from behind on Scott Gomez. Not the best timing for a club fighting desperately for a playoff spot. With only 12 contests remaining on the Sabres' sked, that chunk is a lot to swallow, particularly since Myers has been an effective presence during the club's current 7-2-1 run.

Jordan Leopold will be asked to take on more of an offensive role in Myers' absence, along with Christian Ehrhoff. Fortunately for the Sabres -- and his patient fantasy owners -- Ehrhoff has been good of late. It took a lot longer than expected, but the 29-year-old seems to finally be settling into his role as the franchise's top defenseman.

Key injury (and other) notes

Michael Del Zotto (hip) has missed three games and counting for the New York Rangers. Believe it or not, this means Anton Stralman is fantasy-relevant once again. … Fedor Tyutin (busted hand) could be out the rest of the season for the Columbus Blue Jackets. … According to TSN's Rick Ralph, coach Claude Noel says Zach Bogosian "looks good" and could be back in the lineup for the Winnipeg Jets on Friday (versus the Washington Capitals). … Mike Green is wrapping up his three-game suspension for an illegal hit on Brett Connolly of the Tampa Bay Lightning. An oft-injured fantasy dud all season long, Green can only hope for a better showing in the postseason … if the Capitals even make it that far.

Power-play performers

As I alluded to in opening this column, defenseman Slava Voynov of the Los Angeles Kings could be a dark horse for great fantasy value down the stretch. Since Jack Johnson was dealt to the Blue Jackets, Voynov has blossomed like a well-watered and sun-drenched spring crocus. Since Feb. 28, the 22-year-old has potted five points in seven contests, including a power-play goal and an assist. And yet he's owned in less than 2 percent of all ESPN.com leagues. Voynov is precisely the type of player who can offer that extra edge in deeper leagues.