Commentary

The Thin Blue Line: Replacing Souray

Weekly news, notes and rankings on fantasy hockey defensemen

Updated: October 14, 2009, 3:18 PM ET
By Victoria Matiash | Special to ESPN.com

The loss of Sheldon Souray is a real kick in the pants for fans of the Edmonton Oilers and his fantasy owners. Souray was placed on injured reserve with a concussion on Monday, and the team will miss his blistering shot for an undetermined amount of time. Head injuries are difficult to deal with in the sense that there's no clear timeline on when a player will be fit to return. Souray could be out for a couple of weeks or much longer. As Oilers coach Pat Quinn told the Edmonton Sun, "He won't be in for a while, I'm sure."

In Souray's absence, a trio of blueliners are receiving more ice time and chances with the man advantage and, subsequently, mild-to-medium bumps to their respective fantasy values. In recent action, Denis Grebeshkov partnered with Tom Gilbert on the Oilers' top power-play unit, while Lubomir Visnovsky enjoyed a fair bit of time on the second.

Of the three, Grebeshkov seems the most potent offensively, and thus far ranks highest. With five points in five games, the 26-year-old will be relied upon to continue to produce as long as Souray remains out.

Rising and falling

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

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

Victor Hedman, Lightning (up eight spots): If this 18-year-old is even slightly intimidated by playing in the NHL, he's shrouding the feeling well. As Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier recently told The Tampa Tribune, Hedman "just doesn't look like a rookie ... he's more like a 30-year-old." It's true. Averaging more than 26 minutes per night in ice time, the 6-foot-6, fast youngster is quarterbacking the power play and already has four assists so far this season. He doesn't have a goal yet, but as they say, the first is always the hardest. Hedman isn't scared to shoot, and it's only a matter of a game or two before he starts finding the back of the net with some regularity. Don't be put off by his age or lack of experience; the second overall pick in June's draft is the real deal.

Sami Salo, Canucks (down 13 spots): Yessiree, he's hurt again. If it's possible to tweak, twist, tear or pull a specific part of one's body, there's a fair chance Salo has done as much to himself. The ever-fragile Finn is now out with a knee injury, and it's not clear when he will return (four to six weeks is the rumor). Salo has never been a fantasy favorite of mine anyway, so instead of monitoring his recovery, save yourself the time and aggravation and pick up Christian Ehrhoff instead, if he's available. He's a juicier fantasy asset.

Sergei Gonchar, Penguins (up 10 spots): Many, including yours truly, thought Gonchar was ready to start slowing down this fall. C'mon, at 35 years old, the veteran had physical issues last season and was restricted to only 25 regular-season games. Plus, there's a batch of young fellas (Alex Goligoski, Kris Letang, etc.) getting ready to take over on the Penguins' blue line. Time to start winding 'er down, right? Yeah, well, the old fella looks as fresh as a daisy and as dangerous to opposing penalty killers as he did two or three years ago. Anyway, up the rankings he moves, and as long as he stays fit and improves upon his current (and uncharacteristic) plus/minus rating of minus-4, he'll maintain a spot in the top 10.

Potent pairings

Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, Predators: The "Frick and Frack" of the Predators' blue line haven't exactly lit up the fantasy scorecard yet this season, but they will. The off-the-ice troubles in Nashville are starting to dissipate, at least in the players' dressing room, and that will ease some unnecessary pressure. These two remarkably physical and skilled players partner each other well during five-on-five play and with the man advantage. Plus, Weber's point shot is vicious and beautiful. Count on at least 50 points for both of them, maybe a dozen more for Weber by the time April hits. And a nice package of penalty minutes for both, to boot.

Joe Corvo and Tim Gleason, Hurricanes: Although Corvo was highlighted in last week's column as an underrated commodity, his partner Tim Gleason also deserves a little press. Displaying good chemistry while skating with Corvo at even strength and garnering some opportunities with the man advantage, Gleason also has averaged more than 24 minutes of ice time in his past four games. These characteristics are all nice, but we really love the guy for his toughness, and despite an earlier promise he'd take fewer penalties this season, Gleason already has racked up 19 minutes. He's presently on pace to reach the 300-minute mark; so much for showing some restraint. As long as Joni Pitkanen remains out of the lineup (and goodness knows when he'll return effectively), Gleason provides a pleasant little fantasy package as the sixth defenseman on your roster. And he's widely available.

As an aside, former Hurricanes defenseman Anton Babchuk is playing for Avangard Omsk in the KHL this season. His inclusion on last week's list of rankings was a regrettable oversight on my part.

Power play performers

• A staple on the Colorado Avalanche's first power play unit along with John-Michael Liles, Kyle Quincey has been an exceptionally pleasant surprise this short season. But yes, it's only a been a handful of games, and the Avalanche are performing above expectations. The same goes for Quincey. This isn't to condemn the Kitchener, Ontario, native to a gloomy season once Halloween passes, only to quash any unreasonable expectations his current stellar numbers may project. You would be best off to enjoy his production now and sell high before there's much of a fall-off.

• The L.A. Kings are off to a great start this season, and Drew Doughty deserves much of the credit for the 4-1 record. The young blueliner is running the show on the team's first power-play squad and averaging better than a point per game as a result. That torrid pace clearly won't last, but if he starts shooting the puck more -- seven shots in five games won't do -- and manages to keep his plus/minus in the black, Doughty will continue to put up the numbers and climb these rankings.

• By a long shot, the best fantasy defenseman in Detroit not named Niklas Lidstrom or Brian Rafalski is Niklas Kronwall, and the latter half of that tag line may drop off for good, starting as early as next season. Although he doesn't get quite as much time on the power play as the aforementioned elder statesmen, Kronwall still leads them in points with four, all coming with the man advantage. Of course it's early, but the 28-year-old netted 51 points last season, meaning 60 this season wouldn't shock anyone.

Victoria Matiash is a fantasy hockey analyst for ESPN.com

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