Commentary

Thin Blue Line: Bieksa injury effect

Weekly news, notes and rankings on fantasy hockey defensemen

Updated: January 6, 2010, 3:07 PM ET
By Victoria Matiash | Special to ESPN.com

One member of the Vancouver Canucks can't be faulted for cursing the start to our fresh new decade. Kevin Bieksa won't be playing hockey for a while, placed on the shelf with severed tendons in his left ankle following a run-in with a skate blade. The Vancouver Canucks are expected to be without Bieksa's services for two to three months, and for our intents and purposes, that's the rest of the regular season. You may remember Bieksa sustained a similar injury (lacerated calf) two seasons ago and returned ahead of schedule, so there is an outside chance he could be back by the start of March. However, the Canucks will want to have him in good form for the playoffs, so there won't be any rush. Furthermore, as the whole package (points + PIM) the loss of Bieksa to fantasy owners is arguably larger than it is to the hockey team itself. The Canucks are playing well (Henrik Sedin!) and they should trudge on successfully without him.

With Bieksa out, the fantasy spotlight shines brighter on a trio of active Canuck defensemen. Christian Ehrhoff has been consistent most of the season and his status doesn't change much. Healthy for more than two weeks, Alexander Edler will be relied upon more, especially on the power play, and his production should get a boost. However, the real change in fantasy value is in relation to Sami Salo. If, and this is a large if, Salo can stay healthy, he may be a force to be reckoned with for the next couple of months. Coach Alain Vigneault will use the 35-year-old heavily with the man advantage, possibly resulting in some excellent numbers. Unfortunately, the veteran has a colorful history of getting hurt -- often and easily -- and that's where the gamble lies. If you need a fantasy spark on defense, Salo is available in all but two percent of ESPN.com leagues; just keep your fingers crossed he doesn't twist, tweak, pull, break or sprain something.

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. Mike Green, Was (1)
2. Dan Boyle, SJ (2)
3. Zdeno Chara, Bos (3)
4. Duncan Keith, Chi (4)
5. Chris Pronger, Phi (5)
6. Andrei Markov, Mon (7)
7. Sergei Gonchar, Pit (6)
8. Drew Doughty, LA (9)
9. Christian Ehrhoff, Van (10)
10. Dion Phaneuf, Cgy (8)
11. Tobias Enstrom, Atl (13)
12. Scott Niedermayer, Anh (15)
13. Mark Streit, NYI (14)
14. Jay Bouwmeester, Cgy (12)
15. Brian Campbell, Chi (20)
16. Stephane Robidas, Dal (16)
17. Nicklas Lidstrom, Det (17)
18. Ryan Whitney, Anh (19)
19. Lubomir Visnovsky, Edm (18)
20. Shea Weber, Nsh (21)
21. Brian Rafalski, Det (22)
22. Kimmo Timonen, Phi (23)
23. Sheldon Souray, Edm (24)
24. Brent Seabrook, Chi (25)
25. Matt Carle, Phi (26)
26. Erik Johnson, StL (27)
27. Ed Jovanovski, Pho (28)
28. Tomas Kaberle, Tor (29)
29. Marc-Andre Bergeron, Mon (31)
30. Bryan McCabe, Fla (35)
31. Kyle Quincey, Col (33)
32. Michael Del Zotto, NYR (30)
33. Pavel Kubina, Atl (36)
34. Adrian Aucoin, Pho (34)
35. Braydon Coburn, Phi (32)
36. Francois Beauchemin, Tor (39)
37. Tyler Myers, Buf (40)
38. Zach Bogosian, Atl (37)
39. Alex Goligoski, Pit (41)
40. Cam Barker, Chi (38)
41. Marek Zidlicky, Min (47)
42. Andy Greene, NJ (44)
43. Rob Blake, SJ (42)
44. Alexander Edler, Van (52)
45. Craig Rivet, Buf (43)
46. Filip Kuba, Ott (45)
47. Niklas Kronwall, Det (46)
48. Dennis Wideman, Bos (48)
49. Ryan Suter, Nsh (49)
50. Sami Salo, Van (78)
51. Kris Letang, Pit (50)
52. Joni Pitkanen, Car (51)
53. Anton Stralman, Cls (53)
54. Mattias Ohlund, TB (54)
55. Keith Yandle, Pho (55)
56. Roman Hamrlik, Mon (56)
57. Derek Morris, Bos (58)
58. Victor Hedman, TB (57)
59. Dennis Seidenberg, Fla (59)
60. Tom Gilbert, Edm (60)
61. Jaroslav Spacek, Mon (61)
62. Matt Carkner, Ott (62)
63. Ian White, Tor (64)
64. Denis Grebeshkov, Edm (68)
65. Matt Niskanen, Dal (63)
66. Chris Butler, Buf (77)
67. Kurtis Foster, TB (65)
68. James Wisniewski, Anh (66)
69. Jack Johnson, LA (69)
70. Marc-Edouard Vlasic, SJ (70)
71. Brent Burns, Min (71)
72. John-Michael Liles, Col (67)
73. Matt Gilroy, NYR (73)
74. Randy Jones, LA (72)
75. Mark Giordano, Cgy (74)

Rising and Falling

Marek Zidlicky, Wild (up six spots): Averaging more than 23 minutes of ice time and netting seven points in his last seven games, Zidlicky has had a grand time of it lately. Fortunately, that production is not too much of an anomaly for Zidlicky this season, as he ranks tied for third in team scoring with Martin Havlat (25 points), behind only Mikko Koivu and Andrew Brunette. The impending return of Brent Burns from a concussion isn't a concern either, since Zidlicky contributed steadily even when Burns was in the line-up.

John-Michael Liles, Avalanche (down five spots): Avalanche coach Joe Sacco appears none too happy with Liles these days, having benched him for two consecutive games recently. He did play in the team's last matchup, against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Jan. 2, but that was essentially out of necessity. Once Brett Clark's facial injury is all healed up, Liles could see even more time as a healthy scratch. This is nasty situation for such a highly-paid player and his fantasy owners should be wary.

Brian Campbell, Blackhawks (up five spots): In terms of fantasy defensemen, there's no arguing Duncan Keith is one of the best, but teammate Brian Campbell is also right up there. With 12 points in 12 games since mid-December, including five with the man advantage, the 30 year old is putting up numbers you would expect from one of your best forwards while logging the ice-time usually associated with a top blue liner. Averaging nearly 25 minutes in his last four games, he occasionally edges Keith in power-play minutes, and currently, in productivity. Best in the West, the Blackhawks are winning a lot of games and scoring a lot of goals. Campbell is clearly enjoying his slice of the pie.

Key injury notes:

Sergei Gonchar is listed as day-to-day after recently taking a shot off his foot. Although he's missed three straight games, the Pittsburgh Penguins are struggling and hope to have Gonchar back in the line-up on Thursday.

Chicago Blackhawk Cam Barker is nursing an upper-body ailment and is listed as day-to-day. Not much more is known about the injury, but his status should be monitored.

Lubomir Visnovsky missed Tuesday night's tilt against the Phoenix Coyotes with a sore, swollen ankle. Fortunately, it's not a high ankle sprain, so even though he might sit out one more game for the Edmonton Oilers, no real biggie.

Power Play Performers

Have you recently noticed the other young defenseman producing for the Buffalo Sabres? The one not named Tyler Myers? Since returning, fully recuperated, from a sprained ankle suffered in early December, Chris Butler has three points in four games, including a power-play assist. Before getting hurt, Butler ranked second on the Sabres only to Myers in average ice time, with nearly 21 minutes/game. Most importantly, the 23 year old sophomore is getting bucket loads of chances and minutes with the man advantage.

Olympic Note

Don't be confused by Brian Burke's selection of the currently injured Paul Martin to the United States Olympic squad. Although it remains possible, the New Jersey Devils' defenseman doesn't expect to be fit to play by mid-February, and Burke will likely have to select another skater to take his place. Andy Greene remains the anchor of the Devils' top power-play unit and your No. 1 choice in team fantasy defenseman.

Victoria Matiash is a fantasy hockey analyst for ESPN.com.

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