Commentary

Thin Blue Line: Free agent risers, fallers

Updated: July 15, 2011, 12:10 PM ET
By Victoria Matiash | Special to ESPN.com

The dust stirred up by free agency hasn't settled completely, but at least it's no longer whipping us in the face. After a couple of furious weeks of signing, dumping and dealing, general managers around the NHL finally have a chance to step back a bit. As do we. Some dominoes have yet to fall, but we now have a much healthier idea of the makeup of most blue line assemblies ahead of training camp.

Rising and Falling

Top 75 Defensemen

Note: Victoria Matiash's top 75 defensemen are ranked for their expected performance in ESPN standard leagues in the 2011-12 season. 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. Kris Letang, Pit (1)
2. Dustin Byfuglien, Wpg (2)
3. Zdeno Chara, Bos (4)
4. Keith Yandle, Pho (5)
5. Lubomir Visnovsky, Ana (3)
6. Dan Boyle, SJ (7)
7. Alex Goligoski, Dal (6)
8. Tobias Enstrom, Wpg (8)
9. Mark Streit, NYI (9)
10. Christian Ehrhoff, Buf (11)
11. Andrei Markov, Mon (12)
12. Nicklas Lidstrom, Det (10)
13. Drew Doughty, LA (13)
14. Shea Weber, Nsh (14)
15. Ryan Whitney, Edm (15)
16. Alexander Edler, Van (16)
17. James Wisniewski, Cls (19)
18. John-Michael Liles, Tor (17)
19. Sergei Gonchar, Ott (20)
20. Chris Pronger, Phi (18)
21. Mike Green, Was (24)
22. Duncan Keith, Chi (21)
23. Jack Johnson, LA (22)
24. Brent Burns, SJ (25)
25. Tomas Kaberle, Car (23)
26. Kimmo Timonen, Phi (26)
27. Brent Seabrook, Chi (27)
28. Mark Giordano, Cgy (29)
29. Marek Zidlicky, Min (31)
30. Brian Campbell, Fla (34)
31. P.K. Subban, Mon (32)
32. Erik Karlsson, Ott (33)
33. Joni Pitkanen, Car (28)
34. Ryan Suter, Nsh (36)
35. Kevin Shattenkirk, StL (37)
36. Erik Johnson, Col (40)
37. Niklas Kronwall, Det (41)
38. Dion Phaneuf, Tor (35)
39. Alex Pietrangelo, StL (38)
40. Kevin Bieksa, Van (39)
41. Marc-Andre Bergeron, TB (42)
42. Roman Hamrlik, Was (50)
43. Bryan McCabe, FA (30)
44. Marc Staal, NYR (52)
45. Cam Fowler, Ana (45)
46. Tyler Myers, Buf (47)
47. Dennis Seidenberg, Bos (51)
48. Dmitry Kulikov, Fla (55)
49. Sheldon Souray , Dal (off)
50. John Carlson, Was (44)
51. Andy Greene, NJ (57)
52. Joe Corvo, Bos (48)
53. Jay Bouwmeester, Cgy (53)
54. Matt Taormina, NJ (49)
55. Ian White, Det (65)
56. Jamie McBain, Car (54)
57. Ed Jovanovski, Fla (60)
58. Kurtis Foster, Ana (68)
59. Michael Del Zotto, NYR (61)
60. Cody Franson, Tor (64)
61. Stephane Robidas, Dal (43)
62. Paul Martin, Pit (62)
63. Carlo Colaiacovo, StL (59)
64. Victor Hedman, TB (63)
65. Zach Bogosian, Wpg (58)
66. Grant Clitsome, Cls (66)
67. Matt Carle, Phi (56)
68. Fedor Tyutin, Cls (69)
69. Anton Babchuk, Cgy (70)
70. Filip Kuba, Ott (71)
71. Sami Salo, Van (off)
72. Jared Spurgeon, Min (off)
73. Andrew MacDonald, NYI (off)
74. Adam Larsson, NJ (67)
75. Dennis Wideman, Was (46)

Roman Hamrlik, Washington Capitals (up eight spots): Projected to be paired with Mike Green at even strength, Hamrlik could also be used to quarterback the Capitals' second power-play unit. And old/shmold; with 34 points last season as a member of the Montreal Canadiens, the 37-year-old shows no sign of slowing down. As for how Hamrlik's signing affects the rest of the Capitals' blue line, Dennis Wideman's fantasy value slides significantly.

Sheldon Souray, Dallas Stars (re-emerges at No. 49): Has he lost a step? Is he all washed up? Too far removed, for too long, from the game played at its highest level? Maybe. But if not, Souray could be an early (admittedly slightly premature) candidate for comeback fantasy performer of the year. Signed by the Stars to one-year deal worth $1.65 million, the 35-year-old is well aware this may be his last kick at the NHL can.

He's currently getting back into shape with the workout machine/ageless wonder named Chris Chelios as he tries to return to game form. He has the natural skills (read: thundering shot) to make a serious impact either alongside Alex Goligoski on the Stars' top power-play unit, or on the second. We have high hopes. And if Souray doesn't disappoint, Stephane Robidas will become only a whisper of his former fantasy self.

Tomas Kaberle, Carolina Hurricanes (down two spots): Kaberle's fantasy value remains nearly the same in Carolina. Reunited with former coach Paul Maurice, Kaberle should have a much easier time easing into the system as compared to the way he abruptly joined the Boston Bruins last February. Kaberle played well under Maurice with the Toronto Maple Leafs from 2006 to 2008. Although his plus/minus might not be too foxy, a return to a 50-point tally isn't out of the question for the 33-year-old.

Joe Corvo, Boston Bruins (down four spots): Corvo loses a smidgen of fantasy value, moving from the Hurricanes to the Bruins, in effect switching spots with Kaberle, especially given how well Dennis Seidenberg has played alongside Zdeno Chara. Corvo won't accumulate 40 points this coming season, but his plus/minus rating will improve a bit.

Carl Gunnarsson, Toronto Maple Leafs (off)/Cody Franson, Toronto Maple Leafs (up four spots): The Maple Leafs' trade for young Cody Franson from the Nashville Predators knocks Carl Gunnarsson out of the Top 75. During his sophomore season, Franson managed 29 points in 80 games on a blue line dominated offensively by Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. A little more experienced, the 23-year-old should be able to better that number, sharing power-play time with John-Michael Liles and Dion Phaneuf. The Maple Leafs have relatively high expectations.

Jonathon Blum, Nashville Predators (unranked): Following Franson's departure, young Blum is now worth some fantasy consideration. Blum managed eight points in 23 games in 2010-11. Keep an eye on the young man during his first full season.

Sami Salo, Vancouver Canucks (re-emerged at No. 71): He's not retiring. Accordingly, Salo's potential power-play production, subtract his penchant for getting hurt, equals a fantasy ranking in the Top 75. If barely.

Dmitry Kulikov, Florida Panthers (up seven spots): The addition of Ed Jovanovski to the Panthers' blue line doesn't hurt Kulikov's fantasy value as much as another potential free agent acquisition could have. Kulikov and Jovanovski are two very different players. The 20-year-old is the Panthers' defenseman of the future and he'll get ample opportunity to contribute.

Kurtis Foster, Anaheim Ducks (up 10 spots): The stint with the Edmonton Oilers was a letdown, to be sure. After notching 42 points in 71 games with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2009-10, last season's output of 22 points was indisputably anticlimactic. Fortunately, that chapter is over for Foster. Sent to the Ducks in a trade for defenseman Andy Sutton, Foster finds himself in a fresh and improved position. Sitting third on the fantasy defensemen depth chart behind Lubomir Visnovsky and Cam Fowler, the power-play specialist will be used often with the man-advantage.

Ian White, Detroit Red Wings (up 10 spots): By no means a true replacement for Brian Rafalski, White will still benefit from playing minutes on the Red Wings' second power-play unit. It's no more complicated than that.

Like a rolling stone

• As it stands, Bryan McCabe remains the only significant fantasy asset on defense without an NHL home. We'll get a better sense of his worth once he's out of free agent limbo.

Anton Stralman, however, isn't worth a fantasy lick until he lands somewhere and we can re-assess. Even then, we don't expect his negligible value to grow by much.

Team to watch

The New York Rangers are expected to add another body to their blue line before the season starts -- either through free agency or trade. If that individual has a lot of offensive upside, Marc Staal and Michael Del Zotto won't be the same fantasy assets they are at present. Stay tuned.

Victoria Matiash is a fantasy hockey analyst and contributor to Rumor Central for ESPN.com.

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