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Thin Blue Line: Habs get Wise-niewski

12/29/2010

So much for a little holiday down time. Just as soon as the christmas turkey seemed to settle a bit, a flurry of activity erupted in the NHL. The Calgary Flames have a new general manager; respected veteran Brian Rolston is in the minors (at the time of this writing); Marek Svatos is away from the KHL and a member of the St. Louis Blues ... no wait – the Nashville Predators; and most importantly, from a fantasy defensemen perspective, the Montreal Canadiens have a new blueliner in James Wisniewski. For our intents and purposes, this is a moderately big deal. And here's how it's gonna fly.

Imagine, if you will, the right-shooting Wisniewski alongside lefty Roman Hamrlik on the Canadiens' top power-play unit. Makes sense, yes? The Habs have experimented with youngsters P.K. Subban and Yannick Weber alongside Hamrlik, but with less-than-stellar results. Unlike Subban and Weber, however – also righties – Wisniewski has a fair amount of experience. And his shot from the point happens to be one of the best around.

So, that leaves either Subban or Weber to skate with four forwards, or alongside fellow defenseman Jaroslav Spacek, on the Canadiens' second power-play unit. What's key about how this unfolds is, the odd youngster out won't even likely make the lineup any longer. And once Josh Gorges recuperates from a leg injury, someone is probably headed back to Hamilton. Will it be Subban or Weber? It's simply too difficult to tell at this point.

In summary, Wisniewski is worth even more now than he was a few days ago. The 26-year-old was already having a good season, leading the Isles with 21 points, and it will be nice to see what he can accomplish with a stronger supporting cast. Hamrlik also enjoys a bump in value, in anticipation of his success playing with an experienced offensive defenseman like Wisniewski on special teams. On the flip side, Subban's and Weber's respective fantasy owners have every right to be nervous until coach Jacques Martin decides in which direction he wants to go.

Meanwhile, over with the Islanders, Andrew MacDonald appears to be the power-play, go-to guy in Wisniewski's absence. Those fantasy players desperate for a blueliner could do worse than give MacDonald a shot.

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

Rising and Falling

Matt Gilroy, Rangers (debut at No. 68): Three points in two games, including two goals, in nothing to sneeze at. Matt Gilroy has unarguably made the most of his recent with the New York Rangers. Utilized sparringly this season, Gilroy should stick with the Rangers for a bit yet; he was even rewarded with a lump of power-play time in his latest contest. He's had his fantasy moments in the past, so you never know.

And with that, the white flag of surrender is raised in regards to Michael Del Zotto, a newly ex-favorite of a "Thin Blue Line." It's not happening for Del Zotto; at least not in the next little while. Great talent and swagger aside, coach John Tortorella is losing patience with his 20-year-old and it appears as though Del Zotto may even be headed for the minors. The sophomore won't last there long, if he goes at all, but it's not logical to remain stubbornly optimistic about how good he could be either. Real numbers and results will be required before we're smitten again.

Andy Greene, Devils (up five spots): Jacques Lemaire as the New Jersey Devils newly-recycled coach is good news for Andy Greene and his fantasy owners. When Paul Martin was hurt last season, Jacques Lemaire skated Green on the squad's top power-play assembly, game in and game out. And that's what Lemaire will do again.

Filip Kuba, Senators (down six spots) Straight up, Erik Karlsson is the only one accomplishing anything with the Ottawa Senators these days. The wait is still on for Sergei Gonchar to turn his season around and Filip Kuba has one assist in his past nine games. Gonchar's owners have little choice but to ride it out. That's not the case with Kuba.

Key injury notes: After sustaining an ankle injury on Tuesday night, there's still no word on how badly Ryan Whitney is hurt. We have no choice but to consider him day-to-day at this time, and his current ranking reflects a missed game or two (maximum). Leading the Edmonton Oilers with 27 points in 35 games (plus-13), Whitney has been one of the best blue line fantasy assets this season. Fingers crossed the injury is no biggie.

Chris Pronger falls hurt, and now the Philadelphia Flyers may have to do without Kimmo Timonen for a period of time. Hopefully not. According to Frank Seravalli of the Philadelphia Daily News, Timonen suffered a lower-body injury when the Flyers faced the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday. And, like with Whitney, we haven't a clue yet as to how severe the injury is. It's another case of "wait-and-see"; Timonen should be appraised as day-to-day in the meanwhile.

After taking a shot under the visor and to the face (compliments of Kris Draper) during Monday's tilt with the Detroit Red Wings, Kevin Shattenkirk is hoping to be in the lineup when the Colorado Avalanche play the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday. Stitched, bruised, swollen and purple, Shattenkirk is otherwise just fine!

Listed as questionable for Wednesday's match against the Dallas Stars, Brian Rafalski may miss a second straight game for the Red Wings as the veteran continues to deal with back issues. Coach Mike Babcock seems really iffy about it, so at least Rafalski's ailment isn't too dire.

Suffering from an undisclosed illness, Tyler Myers missed his second straight game with the Buffalo Sabres. Other than feeling a bit fluey, he should be alright. Expect to see Myers back in the lineup for the Sabres on Saturday.

Power Play Performers

Boston Bruins rookie Steven Kampfer is getting opportunities to skate with Zdeno Chara on the team's top power-play unit. Hey, not too shabby for a guy who has experienced only nine NHL games altogether. And he just scored his first goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday! This isn't to suggest there's a rush to secure Kampfer for your own fantasy roster, but it doesn't hurt to keep an eye on him either. If he sticks.

Playing his first game in the NHL for the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday, Jeff Petry didn't look out of place in the slightest, even when coach Tom Renney threw the lanky lad out with the man-advantage. Logging nearly 23 minutes and earning an assist, you would certainly call the debut a success. If Whitney remains out for any significant length of time, Petry could merit some serious fantasy attention, based on that reach of his alone.

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