Thin Blue Line: Bergeron joins Lightning

Bienvenue, Marc-Andre. We've been anxiously awaiting your return.

Marc-Andre Bergeron wasted little time in making a pleasant first impression, earning two assists, including a power-play helper, in his inaugural game for the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday. Now, before you start hollering about how poorly he played against the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday, we're intentionally choosing to look the other way in regards to that second performance. The Lightning squad, as a whole, fell apart in spectacular fashion in the third period of that 7-4 loss, and the resulting ugly box score doesn't tell the definitive story. Looking forward, Bergeron's play on the weekend was more of an accurate indication of what the defenseman can bring to the fantasy table. And this is what we've gathered thus far.

After a 13-game warm-up with the AHL Norfolk Admirals, Bergeron looks sharp and quick. If he's sporting any rust stemming from the months of recovery from knee surgery, you wouldn't know it from watching him compete on the ice. Steve Yzerman may be the most patient general manager in the biz; even while his team floundered with the man-advantage, game after game, he refused to call-up Bergeron before the timing felt right. Rest assured, the 30-year-old power-play specialist was not rushed back to the NHL prematurely.

Guy Boucher is a fan. The Lightning head coach is reportedly nearly as high on Bergeron's on-ice vision as he is on his shot, which is one of the hardest around.

Bergeron is already being thrown out on the ice with the No. 1 power-play unit and top line at even-strength. It's just a matter of time before he's used consistently in both roles. Manning the point with that rifle of his, Bergeron could make some beautiful special teams magic together with Steven Stamkos and Co. On the flip side, the likes of Brett Clark, Victor Hedman and Pavel Kubina won't be worth as much, from a fantasy perspective, down the stretch.

At last check, Marc-Andre Bergeron was owned in less than 12 percent of ESPN.com leagues. Unless your roster is stacked, he's worth serious consideration.

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

Rising and Falling

Sami Salo, Vancouver Canucks (debut at No. 50): Jeepers, what a difference a week makes. Just a few days ago, Salo's immediate future in the NHL remained up in the air, and now, he could make his season debut for the Canucks as early as this week, maybe Saturday. With Keith Ballard out three to four weeks with a mild knee sprain, the Canucks could use Salo as soon as possible. And judging from his performance during a recent three-game conditioning stint with the Manitoba Moose, Salo is recovered well enough from a torn Achilles tendon.

Coach Alain Vigneault won't muck around with his top power-play unit, which includes blueliner Christian Ehrhoff, so he'll probably slip Salo in the second unit. This would lessen Kevin Bieksa's fantasy value only slightly, especially if he's to skate alongside Salo. Dan Hamhuis, however, likely will be relegated to more of a defensive role. Hamhuis' presence will be priceless for the Canucks in light of Ballard's projected absence, but fantasy-wise, he won't provide much in the foreseeable future.

Furthermore, for the record, if it wasn't for his vibrant and colorful history of injury, Salo would sit a great deal higher than 50th position. Unfortunately, his ever-delicate physical nature calls for caution, at least initially. If Salo survives his first few games in the NHL, fully-intact, his ranking will jump significantly.

Francois Beauchemin, Anaheim Ducks (up four spots): Dealt to the Ducks from the Toronto Maple Leafs, Beauchemin experiences a tangible bump in fantasy value. Lubomir Visnovsky and Cam Fowler will continue to skate on the Ducks' top power-play unit, but Beauchemin should get regular opportunities to contribute with the second team.

Zach Bogosian, Atlanta Thrashers (re-emerges at No. 73): There have been rumblings Zach Bogosian could be traded to the Edmonton Oilers before the Feb. 28 deadline. If so, the 20-year-old will get ample chances to showcase his offensive talents amidst a corps of under-producing blueliners. If not, Bogosian is already making more hay with fellow defenseman Tobias Enstrom injured. Either way, the youngster makes a return to our Top 75, if only at the fringe.

Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins (down two spots): The Penguins simply aren't as dangerous with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin absent from the lineup. Therefore, Kris Letang, Alex Goligoski and Paul Martin all take a mild kick to the pants, in terms of fantasy value. On the upside, there's still a decent chance Crosby will return within the month, and the Penguins have been fairly outspoken about their desire to snag a top-six forward before the trade deadline (Alexei Kovalev?) It's not all doom and gloom.

Key injury notes

" We get a little nervous when the terms "woozy" and "headaches" are battered about after a player takes a puck to the head, but general manager George McPhee assures ESPN.com that Mike Green will return to Washington Capitals lineup on Saturday. Green missed Tuesday's game versus the San Jose Sharks.

" Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports Tobias Enstrom is "darn close" to returning from a broken finger. This isn't only excellent news for Enstrom's owners, but for those of you who have fellow Atlanta Thrashers' d-man Dustin Byfuglien on your fantasy roster as well. Big Buff hasn't been the same since losing his buddy on the blue line.

" Montreal Canadiens defenseman James Wisniewski missed a couple of games due to the flu. That's it; that's all. Wisniewski should be back for the Habs when they face the Boston Bruins on Wednesday.

Power Play Performers

Sheldon Souray, Edmonton Oilers (technically): In the plainest yet politest of language, Souray blew it. The former star duffed his chance at earning a job with the New York Rangers over the weekend. Given the opportunity to impress Rangers' scouts while playing for the Hershey Bears, Souray's performance fell well short of what was anticipated. Too slow, they said. Even for the AHL, they claimed. Yikes.

No one could be more disappointed with the outcome of this audition than the Steve Tambellini, the Oilers general manager, who came this close to offloading the disgruntled veteran and part of his salary (through re-entry waivers) for good. Now it appears the Oilers and Souray are headed for a summer buyout. A shame.

Nikita Nikitin, St. Louis Blues: Young Nikitin may have caught your attention as a promising member of the Blues' blue line in recent games, but temper your excitement. Sporting a protective facial cage of sorts, Carlo Colaiacovo is expected to return from an eye injury within the week. Used heavily with the man-advantage before he got hurt, Colaiacovo should regain that role once he's good to go.

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