Commentary

Thin Blue Line: How to replace Edler

Christian Ehrhoff, Kevin Bieksa should gain value in still-loaded Canucks blueline

Updated: February 2, 2011, 2:47 PM ET
By Victoria Matiash | Special to ESPN.com

If it were any other team, the loss of a defenseman of Alexander Edler's caliber would be devastating, especially since the blueliner is expected to be out for the rest of the regular season after undergoing back surgery. But the Vancouver Canucks aren't another team. And, although Edler's fantasy owners can be forgiven for taking little comfort in such, the loss of the 24-year-old won't hit the Canucks too harshly. With such an abundance of talent on their blue line, they should survive well enough. Providing the proof within the proverbial pudding, here's how the Edler-less Canucks shake out from a fantasy perspective:

[+] EnlargeChristian Ehrhoff
Glenn James/Getty ImagesChristian Ehrhoff is third on the Canucks in power-play points behind only the Sedin twins.

Although Keith Ballard is expected to shoulder more minutes in Edler's absence, the ex-Panther's fantasy value is negligible. Just look at the Canucks' power play. Instead of substituting in another defenseman for Edler, coach Alain Vigneault is opting to slap Mikael Samuelsson on the point as part of a four-forward/one-defenseman formation. So far, it's been effective. The Canucks' top unit, which also includes the Sedin twins, Ryan Kesler and (most importantly) defenseman Christian Ehrhoff, scored two goals in Tuesday's 4-1 victory over the Dallas Stars. Ehrhoff was responsible for one of the power-play goals while earning an assist on the other. If anything, his fantasy worth increases with Edler on the shelf.

As it stands, Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis are members of the squad's secondary unit with the man-advantage. As an all-around player, Bieksa has surpassed expectations this season. With Edler out, the Canucks will want more, offensively, from the 29-year-old. Playing with a ton of confidence, Bieksa should be able to rise to the occasion.

This discussion wouldn't be complete without touching upon the subject of Sami Salo. With Edler on injured reserve, the Canucks can now activate Salo without concerning themselves with salary-cap space. Therefore, the only issue lies with Salo's health (Achilles tendon), but he has been practicing regularly with the team. If and/or when general manager Mike Gillis announces that Salo will see game action with the Canucks, his fantasy value will be re-evaluated. Salo has a lot to offer on the fantasy front, but his health and readiness is still too up in the air to assess properly at present.

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

Dmitry Kulikov, Florida Panthers (up seven spots): Young Kulikov has been outstanding in the absence of Bryan McCabe, who has a broken jaw. Five points in five games, including a power-play goal and assist, have earned the 20-year-old more minutes with the man-advantage than any other defenseman, including Dennis Wideman. If Kulikov is available in your league, consider picking him up.

Michael Del Zotto, New York Rangers (up one spot): Coach John Tortorella surprised more than just a few when he chose to play Del Zotto instead of Steve Eminger in the Rangers' first post-All-Star break contest versus the Pittsburgh Penguins. Once it was known that Daniel Girardi was well enough, the general assumption was that Del Zotto would be a healthy scratch before being sent back down to the AHL. Nope. That could still happen, but Del Zotto performed well enough and notched a power-play assist in Tuesday's 4-3 shootout loss. Until injury strikes again, we can expect Tortorella to shuffle his blueliners in and out of the lineup, depending on who's playing well at the moment. That means Del Zotto will still get his opportunities, however sporadic.

Dion Phaneuf, Toronto Maple Leafs: (up two spots) Marking his one year anniversary with the Leafs, Phaneuf made a pledge, via reporters, to play better and contribute more on offense. Call us gullible, but we buy Phaneuf's vow, at least in terms of genuine intent. He can be a fairly determined fellow. Plus, with 12 months' experience of sporting the blue and white, the "burden" of dealing with Leafs Nation should be old hat by now. Toronto can be a real pressure-cooker of a city to represent, and having survived an entire year, we like Phaneuf's chances of improvement. Especially since he's unsatisfied with his accomplishments thus far.

Key injury notes

The Minnesota Wild have their fingers crossed that Marek Zidlicky will be able to return to practice in a couple weeks' time. The words "hopeful," "maybe" and "could" are used a little too often for our liking in regards to Zidlicky's recovery from a severe shoulder injury. Let's give it another week or two before we start getting all worked up about a possible comeback.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Tobias Enstrom skated as a conditioning exercise on Monday. Nursing a broken finger, Enstrom could return to the Atlanta Thrashers as early as next week. A more realistic estimate involves a wait of about 10 days.

Performing, unintentionally, an accurate imitation of St. Louis Blues alumnus Keith Tkachuk, blueliner Erik Johnson took a puck to the mouth in practice Monday, losing three teeth. Johnson is still considered a "maybe" for Friday's contest versus the Edmonton Oilers, but four days should be enough to recover from such an injury, however uncomfortable and painful.

Power Play Performers

Mark Streit, New York Islanders and Marc-Andre Bergeron, Tampa Bay Lightning: A gentle reminder that two power-play specialists remain poised to make their respective seasonal debuts in the next month, if not earlier. Streit (upper-body) isn't expected to return for the New York Islanders until March, but it's worth keeping an eye on his progress, in case he's able to return ahead of schedule. Historically a top-10 fantasy asset when healthy, Streit is skating regularly at present. Once active, you want this guy on your roster, especially if he's available for nothing.

Bergeron's position is cloudier. General manager Steve Yzerman went on record to say he wanted Bergeron to play a "substantial" amount of games in the AHL before joining the Lightning. We're not entirely sure how many games add up to a "substantial" amount, but Bergeron has participated in 11 contests for the Norfolk Admirals thus far. Here's what we also know: The Lightning's power play stinks, but Yzerman won't rush the 30-year-old Bergeron to the NHL before he's fully ready. As with Streit, Bergeron would make a lovely addition to your fantasy roster, especially if you have weaknesses on the blue line. Stay tuned.

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

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