Commentary

Thin Blue Line: Early disappointments

Updated: November 2, 2011, 5:48 PM ET
By Victoria Matiash | Special to ESPN.com

With nearly a month of NHL action in the books, it's occasion to take that first, hard look at those who aren't performing as advertised. Specifically, the fantasy heavyweights of lore who are falling well short of expectations. In some cases, a temporary slump may be to blame; in others, a change in role could be at fault. While the former scenario should only deserve a patient shrug, the latter could require a more proactive approach. In that spirit, here are a few early-season duds who merit a peek under the microscope:

[+] EnlargeDustin Byfuglien
Bruce Fedyck/US PresswireDustin Byfuglien's bigger size is having an effect on his production in his first season in Winnipeg.

It appears the scuttlebutt is true: Dustin Byfuglien really is fat. And this is a problem. Winnipeg Jets assistant coach Charlie Huddy has hinted to the Winnipeg Free Press that the extra weight may be affecting the big blueliner's production. A perennially dangerous offensive force, Byfuglien still makes a habit of joining the rush; he's just running out of gas too soon. Long-term solution: Improved fitness (read: weight loss). Temporary Band-Aid: Shorter shifts. We still believe Byfuglien is going to be a fantasy beast this season -- and it's not like he has been terrible thus far -- the hulking d-man simply needs to shed a few pounds. Which he's done before. In the meanwhile, compressed spells on ice should help his numbers.

Another great story of 2010-11, Kevin Bieksa is falling well short of fantasy expectations this campaign. But unlike with Byfuglien, there's no shining beacon at tunnel's end. Bieksa's role on defense has evolved just enough with the Vancouver Canucks to explain the three points (minus-5) through 11 games. Plus, forward Alex Burrows is expected to replace the 30-year-old on the Canucks' second power-play unit going forward. If you were thinking about trading Bieksa based on reputation and penchant for penalty minutes, now would be the time.

Alex Goligoski may not flirt again with a 50-point season, and the acquisition of Sheldon Souray has something to do with that. However the Dallas Stars are still anticipating a fair amount of production from the 26-year-old, and a 40-point total by April is hardly out of the question. A power-play staple, Goligoski is in position to contribute each and every contest. If anything, Souray's presence puts a much bigger dent in Stephane Robidas' fantasy value.

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. Kris Letang, Pit (2)
2. Zdeno Chara, Bos (4)
3. Dustin Byfuglien, Win (1)
4. Dan Boyle, SJ (5)
5. Keith Yandle, Pho (3)
6. Christian Ehrhoff, Buf (6)
7. Alexander Edler, Van (10)
8. Shea Weber, Nsh (9)
9. Lubomir Visnovsky, Ana (7)
10. Nicklas Lidstrom, Det (8)
11. Mark Streit, NYI (11)
12. Tobias Enstrom, Win (12)
13. Brian Campbell, Fla (16)
14. Duncan Keith, Chi (15)
15. Dion Phaneuf, Tor (21)
16. John-Michael Liles, Tor (14)
17. Drew Doughty, LA (17)
18. Brent Burns, SJ (18)
19. James Wisniewski, Cls (19)
20. Jack Johnson, LA (22)
21. Alex Goligoski, Dal (13)
22. P.K. Subban, Mon (24)
23. Mike Green, Was (23)
24. Sheldon Souray , Dal (26)
25. Erik Karlsson, Ott (34)
26. Chris Pronger, Phi (25)
27. Mark Giordano, Cgy (27)
28. Erik Johnson, Col (28)
29. Andrei Markov, Mon (30)
30. Ryan Suter, Nsh (31)
31. Ryan Whitney, Edm (20)
32. Alex Pietrangelo, StL (32)
33. Marc-Andre Bergeron, TB (35)
34. Kimmo Timonen, Phi (39)
35. Sergei Gonchar, Ott (38)
36. Marek Zidlicky, Min (29)
37. Joni Pitkanen, Car (37)
38. Brent Seabrook, Chi (33)
39. Niklas Kronwall, Det (36)
40. Dennis Wideman, Was (44)
41. Kevin Shattenkirk, StL (41)
42. Dmitry Kulikov, Fla (42)
43. Joe Corvo, Bos (43)
44. Ian White, Det (48)
45. Tomas Kaberle, Car (40)
46. Jay Bouwmeester, Cgy (46)
47. Matt Carle, Phi (50)
48. Cam Fowler, Ana (45)
49. Dennis Seidenberg, Bos (47)
50. Tyler Myers, Buf (49)
51. Kyle Quincey, Col (53)
52. Michael Del Zotto, NYR (54)
53. Roman Hamrlik, Was (51)
54. Matt Niskanen, Pit (56)
55. Grant Clitsome, Cls (55)
56. Travis Hamonic, NYI (52)
57. Sami Salo, Van (57)
58. Fedor Tyutin, Cls (60)
59. Zach Bogosian, Win (61)
60. Yannick Weber, Mon (62)
61. Paul Martin, Pit (63)
62. John Carlson, Was (64)
63. Corey Potter, Edm (65)
64. Kevin Bieksa, Van (58)
65. Nick Leddy, Chi (72)
66. Dan Girardi, NYR (75)
67. Kurtis Foster, Ana (59)
68. Jamie McBain, Car (67)
69. Jason Garrison, Fla (off)
70. Marc-Andre Gragnani, Buf (66)
71. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Pho (68)
72. Stephane Robidas, Dal (69)
73. Tom Gilbert, Edm (70)
74. Jonathon Blum, Nsh (73)
75. Victor Hedman, TB (74)

A few fantasy managers are up in arms about Marek Zidlicky's recent demotion to the Minnesota Wild's second power-play unit with the Minnesota Wild, but really, there's no need to fret. Yes, Zidlicky is enduring an awful start, and sure, coach Mike Yeo isn't thrilled with his top offensive defenseman, but it's not as bad as all that (all that being two points in 11 games). According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Yeo feels Zidlicky is shouldering too much of the load and is tightening up as a result. And that's the justification for the temporary demotion. Plus, the head coach wants the 34-year-old to shoot more. One goal from Zidlicky could be all that's needed to put an end to this slump. And seriously, do you think the Wild are ready to rely on 21-year-old Jared Spurgeon to quarterback a top power-play unit that includes Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley et al? The answer is no. If Zidlicky is available in your league, consider investing in the veteran who totaled 286 points in 518 NHL career games.

Rising and Falling

Dion Phaneuf, Toronto Maple Leafs (up six spots): To acknowledge his one-year anniversary with the club last February, the Maple Leafs' captain promised to do better. He has certainly kept his word. Phaneuf has been playing out of his mind since pledging publicly to improve his game, and with 11 points in 11 games to start 2011-12, he's showing no sign of slowing down. But he will. Especially once John-Michael Liles really settles in and finds his rhythm with the Leafs' power play. With his imposing physical stature and aggressive approach to the game, Phaneuf can play a variety of roles for the Leafs. And that actually hurts his fantasy value. That is why -- current shiny stats aside -- he's not in the top-10.

Brent Seabrook, Chicago Blackhawks (down five spots): Truth be told, we unrealistically hoped for too much from Seabrook this season. Not fair. After winning the Norris Trophy the previous spring, Duncan Keith experienced a mild season-long hangover in 2010-11 and Seabrook did his best to compensate, doing a bang-up job. A staple on the Blackhawks' top power-play unit, the British Columbia native went above and beyond, tallying 48 points including 20 with the man advantage. But he isn't that guy, not really. Case in point: When Keith had to bow out of a contest with the Nashville Predators earlier this week, coach Joel Quenneville opted to utilize Nick Leddy on the Blackhawks' top unit, not Seabrook. One of the better all-around defensemen in the league? Absolutely. Prized fantasy gem? Not really. Not this year.

Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators (up nine points): He won't stop. He just won't stop. Whether the Senators are racking up eyebrow-raising victories or crumbling in the fashion expected of such an inexperienced squad, Karlsson finds a way to contribute. Honest to goodness, this young lad could actually average a point per game this season. And coach Paul MacLean doesn't seem too turned off by the boneheaded giveaways and irresponsible play in his end. All the better. That plus/minus of his could get really hideous by season's end, but as long as Karlsson stays the course otherwise, who cares?

Key injury (and other) notes:

Keith (hand) is listed as day-to-day with the Blackhawks and will likely sit out Thursday's game against the Florida Panthers. ... Nursing a mysterious upper-body injury, Tobias Enstrom didn't travel with the rest of the Jets to New York. Stay tuned. ... Ryan Whitney of the Edmonton Oilers is projected to miss three weeks with a knee injury. ... Andrei Markov is back skating on his own, according to the Montreal Gazette. It's hoped the defenseman will join the rest of the Montreal Canadiens at team practice soon. ... Clearly in no rush to make a decision, Anton Stralman is apparently still contemplating a one-year offer from the New York Rangers.

Power Play Performers

The power play for the Buffalo Sabres has been solid, but coach Lindy Ruff continues to tinker anyway. A very irritating practice, as far as fantasy managers are concerned. In the here and now, Tyler Myers is the sole defenseman on a top unit that includes Derek Roy, Tomas Vanek, Jason Pominville and Brad Boyes. Christian Ehrhoff and Jordan Leopold currently support forwards Ville Leino, Luke Adam and Drew Stafford on the second unit. This leaves Marc-Andre Gragnani well out in the cold, which could also result in the young lad sitting in the press box for the next little bit. Blink and the situation could change; it deserves monitoring.

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

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