The Thin Blue Line: Bergeron signs

Welcome to the inaugural edition of a forum dedicated solely to those who provide the solid foundation every successful fantasy roster requires. Sure, it's usually the forwards who provide the flashiest of fantasy fireworks, but most veteran poolies realize that without a strong corps of blueliners, your personal squad is sunk even before the holidays hit.

So, week in and week out, I will break down and rank, with some justification, the top 75 defensemen in the NHL. The list is a reflection of projected performance and is in no way a review of what may have already happened. Writing about what was is easy and useless. We're looking forward here, people.

Before you start violently ripping apart my top 75, keep in mind, it's assembled with ESPN.com standard categories in mind. They include: goals, assists, power-play goals, shots on goal, plus/minus, penalty minutes and average time on ice. Your league's categories may be different, so please make the proper adjustments.

And as a gentle reminder, because there's a handful of misunderstandings to this end each and every season, this is a fantasy hockey column. I, too, love Colorado's Scott Hannan … as a pure hockey player. I just don't love him on this stage.

Rising and falling

Top 75 defensemen

Note: Victoria Matiash's top 75 defensemen are ranked for their expected performance from this point on, not on the statistics that have already been accrued. Last week's ranking is indicated in parentheses.

1. Zdeno Chara, Bos (1)
2. Mike Green, Was (2)
3. Nicklas Lidstrom, Det (4)
4. Dennis Wideman, Bos (3)
5. Jay Bouwmeester, Cgy (6)
6. Dion Phaneuf, Cgy (5)
7. Chris Pronger, Phi (7)
8. Dan Boyle, SJ (10)
9. Cam Barker, Chi (8)
10. Duncan Keith, Chi (9)
11. Mark Streit, NYI (12)
12. Brian Rafalski, Det (11)
13. Scott Niedermayer, Anh (13)
14. Brent Seabrook, Chi (14)
15. Rob Blake, SJ (15)
16. Paul Martin, NJ (17)
17. Sheldon Souray, Edm (16)
18. Stephane Robidas, Dal (18)
19. Sergei Gonchar, Pit (23)
20. Kevin Bieksa, Van (21)
21. Pavel Kubina, Atl (20)
22. Zach Bogosian, Atl (22)
23. Braydon Coburn, Phi (24)
24. Shea Weber, Nsh (30)
25. Kimmo Timonen, Phi (26)
26. Alex Goligoski, Pit (34)
27. Cory Murphy, NJ (37)
28. Alexander Edler, Van (27)
29. Victor Hedman, TB (28)
30. Craig Rivet, Buf (29)
31. Ryan Whitney, Anh (32)
32. Niklas Kronwall, Det (31)
33. Johnny Oduya, NJ (19)
34. Joe Corvo, Car (40)
35. Brian Campbell, Chi (33)
36. Joni Pitkanen, Car (35)
37. Ville Koistinen, Fla (36)
38. Ryan Suter, Nsh (41)
39. Marek Zidlicky, Min (38)
40. Mattias Ohlund, TB (39)
41. Bryan McCabe, Fla (45)
42. Christian Ehrhoff, Van (42)
43. Tobias Enstrom, Atl (51)
44. Kris Letang, Pit (44)
45. Denis Grebeshkov, Edm (46)
46. Marc-Andre Bergeron, Mon (NR)
47. Matt Niskanen, Dal (49)
48. Chris Campoli, Ott (53)
49. Ron Hainsey, Atl (48)
50. Sami Salo, Van (50)
51. Anton Babchuk, Car (43)
52. Michael Del Zotto, NYR (NR)
53. Adrian Aucoin, Pho (59)
54. Marc-Edouard Vlasic, SJ (52)
55. Brent Burns, Min (54)
56. Mathieu Schneider, Van (47)
57. Francois Beauchemin, Tor (63)
58. Tom Gilbert, Edm (56)
59. Filip Kuba, Ott (57)
60. Lubomir Visnovsky, Edm (58)
61. Matt Carle, Phi (NR)
62. Erik Johnson, StL (NR)
63. Kris Russell, Cls (61)
64. Kyle Quincey, Col (62)
65. Alex Pietrangelo, StL (60)
66. Ed Jovanovski, Pho (64)
67. Tomas Kaberle, Tor (65)
68. Jaroslav Spacek, Mon (66)
69. Wade Redden, NYR (55)
70. John-Michael Liles, Col (68)
71. Drew Doughty, LA (69)
72. Shane O'Brien, Van (67)
73. Mark Giordano, Cgy (NR)
74. Matt Gilroy, NYR (NR)
75. Andrei Markov, Mon (25)

Marc-Andre Bergeron, Canadiens (new addition at No. 46): With Andrei Markov out hurt until at least February, the Habs did their best to fill the void by signing Bergeron out of free agency. The ex-member of the Minnesota Wild put up decent numbers last year with 32 points in 72 games, including seven goals on the power play. Bergeron won't completely fill Markov's skates (who could, really?), but he'll do his best, logging loads of ice time in the process. And as a solid fifth or sixth defenseman on your own roster, he may even offer up several pleasant surprises.

Wade Redden, Rangers (down 14 spots): Fall is often considered a time of revitalization and rejuvenation. Just as the trendiest fashionistas in the Big Apple are pitching their old cardigans in exchange for some fancy new duds, the New York Rangers are marginalizing the nearly expired for the latest and greatest in youthful defensemen. Out with the old and tired Wade Redden! In with the young and fresh Michael Del Zotto! Redden's days as anything other than just another blueliner in New York are done. Although just 19 years old, Del Zotto has already made a positive impression while manning the point alongside Ales Kotalik on the Rangers' top power-play unit. And to squeeze a little bit of extra lemon juice in Redden's gaping gash, fellow rookie Matt Gilroy is taking advantage of chances on the team's second power-play squad.

Joe Corvo, Hurricanes (up 6 spaces): Don't be influenced by murmurings to the contrary: Corvo runs the show when the Hurricanes have the man advantage. No one else in Carolina -- including a healthy Joni Pitkanen -- is poised to challenge for the responsibility. Last season was a bit off for Corvo, and he still managed 38 points (30 on the power play). The 32-year-old had nearly 50 the year before, and he's in no worse shape now.

Johnny Oduya, Devils (down 14 spots): Oh, Johnny. Oh, do ya wish you hadn't dropped so far in the rankings? Awful and uninspired play on the man's identity aside, Mr. Oduya isn't worth as much as he was before Cory Murphy established himself as a real scoring threat with the New Jersey Devils. Nor is Oduya as tough as he once was. Paul Martin is your No. 1 fantasy pick in Jersey; Murphy is your second.

Potent pairings

This section makes note of key defensive partnerships and how those pairings may positively or adversely affect the fantasy values of the players involved. There's some old-fashioned saying about how a good wife makes her husband a better man, but a nasty one just makes him tired. Same story here (sort of).

Jay Bouwmeester and Mark Giordano, Flames: Although most if not all Calgary players are pretty chuffed, no one is arguably more thrilled about the addition of Jay Bouwmeester than Giordano. As partners at even strength, Bouwmeester makes Giordano that much better. And the versatile blueliner is carrying his burgeoning confidence over to the power play as well, where he's paired with Robyn Regehr. This isn't to say you should drop everything and pick up Giordano immediately. Just keep an eye on him.

Chris Pronger and Matt Carle, Flyers: Who wouldn't want to skate alongside one of the most intimidating defensemen ever to play the game? Carle hasn't had this much fun since his rookie season in San Jose. While Pronger creates the space, the 25-year-old gets his scoring chances. So far so good, since the Carle already has six points in three games.

Power-play performers

Here is where the fantasy wheat is truly separated from the chaff. If your blueliners are getting regular opportunities with the extra skater, you'll reap the rewards in almost every offensive category.

• Even bad teams score goals with the extra man. Following the departure of Bouwmeester for Calgary, the Florida Panthers will look to Bryan McCabe to quarterback the first power-play unit. This position is undeniably McCabe's to lose, and therein lies his value. Just don't expect much in the plus/minus department.

• Please remove your sweaty palm from the panic button; Francois Beauchemin will do just fine with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Disregard the first three games of the season and allow the ex-Duck some time to adjust to his new team. Beauchemin is manning the point on the first unit and that wicked shot of his hasn't lost any oomph in the offseason. Give the guy a minute, will ya?

• Having avoided any debilitating run-ins with golf carts over the summer, Erik Johnson is finally healthy and poised to explode this season. Johnson anchors the St. Louis Blues' potent first group of power-play forwards and he's not scared to shoot the puck. Over and over and over again. This 21-year-old is ready to come into his own and a 60-point season is not completely out of the question.

As fellow ESPN fantasy hockey columnist Sean Allen pointed out in this week's edition of
Front Line
, Tobias Enstrom is the only defenseman on the Atlanta Thrashers' top unit that includes Ilya Kovalchuk, Bryan Little and Slava Kozlov. Enough said.

Victoria Matiash is a fantasy hockey analyst for ESPN.com