Commentary

Thin Blue Line: Filip Kuba set to return

Weekly news and notes on fantasy hockey defensemen

Updated: November 3, 2010, 5:29 PM ET
By Victoria Matiash | Special to ESPN.com

The repercussions can differ greatly, depending on the circumstances, when a fantasy asset returns from an absence of any length. In some cases, like with the Washington Capitals, John Carlson's fantasy value increased when Mike Green was out injured and then decreased when he returned. This isn't rocket science; as Green's temporary replacement on the Caps' top power-play unit, the math behind Carlson's boost in worth makes simple sense. But in other instances, a valuable fantasy player can benefit from the return of another. This is the case with the Ottawa Senators.

Filip Kuba
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesFilip Kuba has not played yet this season because of a broken ankle.

After missing several weeks a broken leg, Filip Kuba is scheduled to return this week. Although injuries have been an issue in the past two seasons, Kuba has been a steady producer when healthy. With 68 points in 124 games with the Senators, the team is just better with him in the lineup. What's more, Sergei Gonchar will benefit from the veteran's presence. No question, Gonchar is the Sens' No. 1 defenseman, and he will continue to get the bulk of minutes on the top-power play unit; Kuba's return only offers the coaching staff more options. Perhaps Gonchar will flourish with a new partner on the point, but if not, there's still the prerogative to utilize him with four forwards or with Erik Karlsson. Regardless, the more choices the Sens have, the more potent, offensively, they will be altogether.

As for young Karlsson, his fantasy value doesn't take much of a fantasy hit either, if at all. Tuesday's two-power-play-point night aside, the youngster has struggled this season. Not only will the return of another offensive-defenseman take some of the pressure off, but there's the chance Karlsson could flourish as Kuba's partner at even-strength.

Lastly, for fear of not stating the obvious, if you need a defenseman, Kuba is available in more than 92 percent of ESPN.com leagues.

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

1. Duncan Keith, Chi (1)
2. Mike Green, Was (2)
3. Zdeno Chara, Bos (3)
4. Dan Boyle, SJ (4)
5. Chris Pronger, Phi (7)
6. Christian Ehrhoff, Van (6)
7. Drew Doughty, LA (5)
8. Andrei Markov, Mon (8)
9. Sergei Gonchar, Ott (10)
10. Nicklas Lidstrom, Det (12)
11. Tomas Kaberle, Tor (11)
12. James Wisniewski, NYI (13)
13. Lubomir Visnovsky, Ana (14)
14. Tobias Enstrom, Atl (15)
15. Alex Goligoski, Pit (16)
16. Bryan McCabe, Fla (17)
17. Kimmo Timonen, Phi (20)
18. Shea Weber, Nsh (18)
19. Ryan Whitney, Edm (22)
20. Stephane Robidas, Dal (21)
21. Dustin Byfuglien, Atl (32)
22. Erik Johnson, StL (23)
23. Dion Phaneuf, Tor (9)
24. Joni Pitkanen, Car (24)
25. Jay Bouwmeester, Cgy (27)
26. Anton Stralman, Cls (19)
27. Alexander Edler, Van (28)
28. Niklas Kronwall, Det (26)
29. Michael Del Zotto, NYR (25)
30. John-Michael Liles, Col (30)
31. Marek Zidlicky, Min (31)
32. Jack Johnson, LA (35)
33. P.K. Subban, Mon (42)
34. Brent Burns, Min (34)
35. Kris Letang, Pit (40)
36. Pavel Kubina, TB (38)
37. Ed Jovanovski, Pho (33)
38. Victor Hedman, TB (36)
39. Dennis Wideman, Fla (39)
40. Tyler Myers, Buf (29)
41. Joe Corvo, Car (37)
42. Paul Martin, Pit (41)
43. Brian Campbell, Chi (45)
44. Mark Giordano, Cgy (44)
45. John Carlson, Was (43)
46. Brent Seabrook, Chi (47)
47. Zach Bogosian, Atl (46)
48. Matt Carle, Phi (48)
49. Kurtis Foster, Edm (53)
50. Brian Rafalski, Det (NR)
51. Kevin Bieksa, Van (51)
52. Dennis Seidenberg, Bos (56)
53. Ryan Suter, Nsh (52)
54. Keith Yandle, Pho (50)
55. Alex Pietrangelo, StL (59)
56. Francois Beauchemin, Tor (58)
57. Cody Franson, Nsh (60)
58. Ian White, Cgy (57)
59. Michal Rozsival, NYR (54)
60. Matt Taormina, NJ (55)
61. Carlo Colaiacovo, StL (49)
62. Roman Hamrlik, Mon (63)
63. Jason Demers, SJ (61)
64. Adrian Aucoin, Pho (62)
65. Jordan Leopold, Buf (64)
66. Cam Fowler, Ana (67)
67. Andy Greene, NJ (65)
68. Filip Kuba, Ott (NR)
69. Cam Barker, Min (69)
70. Brett Clark, TB (66)
71. Erik Karlsson, Ott (70)
72. Jamie McBain, Car (72)
73. Anton Babchuk, Car (73)
74. Matt Niskanen, Dal (68)
75. Dan Girardi, NYR (NR)

Dustin Byfuglien, Atlanta Thrashers (up 11 spots): An early-season fantasy mulligan, if you will. To say Byfuglien had been undervalued in this space would be a considerable understatement. As weak justification, coach Craig Ramsay indicated in the preseason that he wanted to exploit Byfuglien's big frame on the blue line, and he would be used more as a defensive asset. It wasn't difficult to buy into that line of thinking, considering the Thrashers already had a couple of gifted offensive defensemen as assets (Tobias Enstrom, Zach Bogosian). Yeah, well, so much for that. With 10 points in 11 games, Big Buff is as much of a fantasy beast as he is a presence on the ice. Rest assured, the slice of crow and side of humble pie tastes lovely, thank you.

Cody Franson, Nashville Predators (up three spots): While Shea Weber isn't quite himself without Ryan Suter in the lineup, Franson is taking advantage of opportunities he wouldn't have had otherwise. Garnering juicier chances with the man-advantage, Franson has three points in the five games Suter has missed with a lower-body injury. This has done wonders for the 23-year-old's confidence. And even though Suter could return in the next few days, Franson will continue to get opportunities to contribute on offense.

Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues (up four spots): Considering Alex Pietrangelo had to battle to even make the squad out of camp, the Blues are putting a surprising amount of faith in their young blueliner. Already enlisted heavily with the power play, Pietrangelo is the Blues' go-to guy with the extra skater as long as Carlo Colaiacovo is dealing with neck spasms. Furthermore, with Jaroslav Halak between the pipes, there's less chance of an ugly plus/minus rating to accompany those appreciated goals and assists.

Key injury notes

• We're still awaiting official word, other than "lower-body-injury," but to observers, Dion Phaneuf's injury Tuesday looks rather nasty. The Toronto Maple Leafs' captain fell awkwardly on his leg into the boards and had to be helped off the ice. If Phaneuf is out for any length of time, Francois Beauchemin's fantasy value increases.

• The Detroit Red Wings expect Brian Rafalski back in the lineup Monday, at the earliest. The veteran defenseman missed the last three weeks after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery.

• If he gets final clearance from medical staff this week, Drew Doughty will reportedly be back in the lineup for the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday. Feels promising, but concussions can be tricky. Keep a close eye on the situation.

Cam Fowler was expected to skate for the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday after missing six games with a neck injury.

Joni Pitkanen of the Carolina Hurricanes may sit out Wednesday's game against the New York Islanders after sustaining an upper-body injury Monday. By all accounts, it's nothing too serious. Even if he misses the one game, Pitkanen should be back shortly.

Potent Pairings

Christian Ehrhoff and Alexander Edler: Paired at even strength and on the Vancouver Canucks' No. 1 power-play unit, Ehrhoff and Edler have a combined 13 points through 11 games. What's more, nine of those 13 points have come with an extra skater. It's no happy accident; the chemistry between Ehrhoff and Edler is one of the reasons the Canucks have the fifth-best power play in the league.

Power Play Performers

• An offensive force on the Chicago Blackhawks' blue line, Brian Campbell made his much-anticipated return from a sprained knee Monday. As expected, he appeared a little rusty, but more importantly, he was healthy. Once he gets his game legs and timing back, expect Campbell to contribute regularly to the Hawks' score sheet, often with the man-advantage. Still available in a handful of ESPN.com leagues, Campbell had 38 points in 68 games in '09-'10.

• P.K. Subban's owners have no reason to be concerned in light of Andrei Markov's return; in fact, just the opposite. A casual observer may notice that neither Subban nor Markov has earned a point since the latter returned from injury on the weekend, but there's no reason to panic: It's only been two games! Coach Jacques Martin will continue to throw out Subban and Markov together on the Montreal Canadiens' top power-play unit, more often than not, and they will eventually find their rhythm. And when they do develop some chemistry, these two have the potential of being exceptionally dangerous. Be patient.

Victoria Matiash is a fantasy hockey analyst for ESPN.com

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