Commentary

The Thin Blue Line: Beyond Phaneuf

Weekly news, notes and rankings on fantasy hockey defensemen

Updated: February 3, 2010, 12:45 PM ET
By Victoria Matiash | Special to ESPN.com

Following his debut in a Toronto Maple Leafs uniform on Tuesday night, no one can accuse Dion Phaneuf of being shy.

On the heels of Sunday's hefty trade between the Leafs and Calgary Flames, Phaneuf was clearly in no mood to take a subtle approach to his first game with his new team. In a single hockey hour, the dynamic defenseman skated more than 24 minutes, registered four shots, dished out six hits and dropped the gloves with New Jersey Devil Colin White, earning a five-minute major. In other words he played like the Dion Phaneuf many of his fans know and love.

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

But what now? Sure, Phaneuf was fired up skating with his new team for the first time, in front of a home crowd, but how long will that energy last and, more importantly, how will his fantasy value be affected?

Well, the prognosis is good. Phaneuf is GM Brian Burke's type of player. He's exceptionally rough and tough and Burke -- along with coach Ron Wilson -- will give him every encouragement to play his style of game. Plus, Phaneuf will get loads of power-play minutes and can only benefit from skating alongside one of the best set-up defensemen in the league in Tomas Kaberle. Once the chemistry solidifies between those two, Phaneuf's lethal shot will find some holes, and those power-play points will add up, just you watch.

The only real concern is: How long will Kaberle remain a Maple Leaf? While Kaberle has a no-trade clause which complicates an in-season deal, as Pierre LeBrun explains there will be a window this summer where the Maple Leafs will be able to shop him, and there's nothing stopping Kaberle from waiving the clause himself if a shot at playing for the Stanley Cup were to materialize. But until that happens, and we can assess the fallout, Kaberle and Phaneuf's respective fantasy values both get a bit of a boost.

As for Francois Beauchemin, not much changes. With a set role on the Leafs' second power-play unit, Beauchemin remains a decent fantasy asset. Remember, his shot ain't too delicate, either.

Moving to the Calgary Flames, the fantasy situation remains nearly status quo with just a touch of upside. Ex-Leaf Ian White takes over Phaneuf's spot at even strength alongside Robyn Regehr and picks up Phaneuf's power-play minutes, as well. Already exceeding fantasy expectations this year, White will have every opportunity to continue producing with some regularity.

While Mark Giordano's role stays essentially the same, Jay Bouwmeester will be expected to raise his production. Unquestionably now the top banana on the Flames' blue line, Bouwmeester is flat out of excuses. On pace for three goals on the year (he presently has two), Bouwmeester will be required to move into a higher gear. His numbers will inflate once the Flames' offense picks things back up, as well. Regardless, you can expect a bit more from Bouwmeester, starting now until early April.

Rising and Falling

Sheldon Souray, Oilers (off): Nothing will knock you off a top-75 fantasy list in February quicker than a broken hand requiring surgery. The Edmonton Journal confirms Souray will go under the knife for the busted paw he sustained while going toe to toe with Jarome Iginla. Whether he's fit enough to return at the end of March, or in early April, it doesn't matter much for our purposes. Such a shame too, since Souray seemed close to being dealt elsewhere. And playing elsewhere would have given his fantasy value a nice boost. Pity.

Kris Letang, Penguins (up five spots): If you're looking for a middling fantasy blueliner to add some spark in the closing months of the season, Kris Letang may be your man. Letang has a history of turning it up in the latter half of the season (as he's pointed out himself) and already seems to be on somewhat of a roll with seven points in his past nine games.

Joe Corvo, Hurricanes (reemerges at No. 67): Out since Nov. 30 with a lacerated calf, the Carolina Hurricanes are hoping Joe Corvo will make his return sometime this week. As the Canes' top scoring defenseman over the past two seasons, Corvo is worth the fantasy gamble if he's available and you could use the help.

Key injury notes: The bruised thigh seems alright and the three-game suspension is coming to a close: Mike Green is eligible to return to play this Friday, when the Washington Capitals face the Atlanta Thrashers.

Still nursing an upper-body injury, Dan Boyle missed his fifth straight game when his San Jose Sharks faced the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday. Pegged as a game-time decision before that tilt, Boyle is expected to make his return to the ice on Thursday for sure this time. The Sharks are obviously playing it super-safe with their star blueliner and can't be faulted for that.

The Boston Bruins' Zdeno Chara now tells us that he's been playing with a dislocated pinky finger that may need surgery in the offseason. One would guess a healthy baby finger would feel more comfortable than a dislocated one, but his role with the team hasn't changed. Digest this information however you like.

After playing the first two periods for the Red Wings on Tuesday, Niklas Kronwall missed the third with an ailing ankle. He's not expected to be in the lineup for the Wings on Wednesday.

The Montreal Canadiens' Jaroslav Spacek is battling the flu and an upper-body injury. He's listed as questionable for Thursday's game against the Bruins.

Following a mild groin injury, Sami Salo made his return to the ice on Tuesday for the Vancouver Canucks. He skated for more than 24 minutes and registered two assists in the 3-2 loss to the Canadiens.

Power Play Performers

Kurtis Foster continues to be effective with the man advantage skating for the Tampa Bay Lightning; three of five points in his past six games have come on the power play. The owner of a vicious shot -- he breaks the glass behind the net at the St. Pete Times Forum frighteningly often -- Foster's confidence grows week by week and he's in position to finish the season off strong.

Victoria Matiash is a fantasy hockey analyst for ESPN.com