Commentary

Thin Blue Line: "Concussion" issues

Updated: December 29, 2011, 6:56 PM ET
By Victoria Matiash | Special to ESPN.com

Players, fans, coaches and members of management have every right to feel troubled and frustrated. It seems we can't even get through a week without losing another competitor -- or more -- to the greatest health concern of the here and now: head injury. In just the past few days, concussions or the increasingly popular and vague combo assortment of "concussion-like symptoms" (ahem, Leafs GM Brian Burke) have sideswiped several more skaters to the injured shelf, including two top-notch defensemen. And now the Nashville Predators and Toronto Maple Leafs are stuck in "wait-and-see" limbo. As are many fantasy owners.

At the time of this writing, there is "cautious optimism" Shea Weber will be able to return for the Predators sometime next week. You can bet anyone involved with the organization has his or her fingers crossed. To suggest the Preds will miss Weber in the meanwhile is like proposing one might miss one's own left leg, should it be forgotten at home. It goes without saying. An early Norris Trophy candidate favorite, Weber may also be the most valuable skater in the entire NHL. Numbers aside (eight goals, 21 assists, 13 power-play points, plus-14, over 26 minutes ATOI), the Predators aren't nearly as good a team without the 26-year-old. He wasn't awarded $7.5-million via arbitration for just being decent.

The point is, if Weber isn't ready to return by the following week, or beyond -- and concussions can be super tricky -- the Preds may have to deal for a blue-liner before the trade deadline. Otherwise, the squad should try to make do in the short term by relying more heavily on Ryan Suter and youngster Ryan Ellis. Ellis has been especially impressive in his first two NHL games. Seemingly fearless, the talented 20-year-old has demonstrated a great shot while keeping a cool head. If Ellis falters, two other youngsters on Nashville's blue line to keep an eye on are Roman Josi and Jonathon Blum. Both lads have offensive upside and could be worth consideration in the short term.

If Weber's prognosis is cloudy, John-Michael Liles' condition is steeped in an opaque fog. Shying away from "over-diagnosis" (goodness knows, you wouldn't want to diagnose the guy too accurately), Maple Leafs coach Roan Wilson has only yet admitted Liles is suffering from "concussion-like symptoms" and the club is "shutting him down for a few days". Fine. So how long are we talking about, a few days? A week? Month? Again, it's impossible to make an accurate prediction. Especially when the Toronto club takes such a less-than-candid approach. At present, Liles' fantasy owners can only remain patient and hope for the best. If interested in adding a temporary dark horse, Cody Franson stands to see a big increase in power-play minutes alongside Dion Phaneuf with Liles on the sidelines.

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

Rising and Falling

Kyle Quincey, Avalanche (down six spots): A healthy scratch for four straight games after missing two with a groin issue, Quincey had clearly somersaulted into coach Joe Sacco's dog house. However, now that the Colorado Avalanche's solid win streak (that accompanied Quincey's presence in the press box) has come to an end with a 4-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets, another shake-up could be in order. And really, Matt Hunwick isn't that great an alternative. Unless there are more complicated issues at play, Quincey should be back in the Avalanche's lineup soon enough with a renewed sense of hunger. Until then, make sure he's on your bench.

Dennis Wideman, Capitals (up two spots): No fantasy slouch otherwise, Wideman has blossomed further since Dale Hunter took over the head coaching reigns for the Washington Capitals (10 points -- including six power-play points -- in 13 games). Shouldn't be much of a surprise, as Sean Allen points out in the Forecaster, since Wideman and Hunter are more than a little familiar with one another. As members of the OHL London Knights, the latter coached the former from 2001-2004. In minor and pro hockey, we find familiarity breeds affection far more often than contempt. It's worth noting John Carlson also played for Hunter's Knights for one season (2008-09). Former fantasy star Mike Green may not be held in the same high esteem as in the past, once he's healthy enough to play (apparently soon).

Nick Leddy, Blackhawks (down three spots): With only two assists, Leddy hasn't had a terribly pleasant December. The young lad's age and NHL experience -- 20 years and not a lot -- is a tepid cause for concern. Until Leddy enjoys a particularly productive outing, we'll remain mildly worried about his level of confidence.

Ryan Whitney, Oilers (off): Dealing with tendinitis in his right ankle, Whitney is listed as day-to-day for the immediate future. Don't be surprised in the Edmonton Oilers use the 28-year-old sparingly for the rest of 2011-12. Locked in for another season at $4-million/year, Whitney could be a key blue-line member as the club hopes to secure a playoff berth in 2013. In the here and now, there's no point in putting any more damaging stress than necessary on his busted body. And a half-broken Ryan Whitney is of no use, fantasy-wise, either. At this point, the only member of the Oilers' defensive corps deserving of a spot in our Top 75 is Corey Potter.

Key injury (and other) notes:

Cleared for contact, Marc Staal could be just days away from making his season debut for the New York Rangers. However, under the circumstances (severe concussion), we're not going to get too enthused until the defenseman successfully enjoys a couple of solid, physical games ... Dustin Byfuglien isn't feeling so hot. Bothered by a sore lower back, the dangerous D-man didn't suit up for the Winnipeg Jets for this past Tuesday's contest. Byfuglien isn't expected to miss much more time than a week, but keep an eye; back issues can have a unpleasantly chronic air to them ... Sheldon Souray will be out at least another week for the Dallas Stars with a sprained ankle ... Fellow Stars defenseman Stephane Robidas (foot) has been placed on IR to make roster room for goaltender Kari Lehtonen. He's expected to be out another two weeks or so ... Tyler Myers should be back for the Buffalo Sabres within a matter of days ... Kris Russell of the St. Louis Blues may have a nasty hip injury. We're still awaiting more details ... The Minnesota Wild's Jared Spurgeon is listed as day-today with a lower-body injury. Doesn't seem too serious ... Kris Letang of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Joni Pitkanen of the Carolina Hurricanes remain inactive with concussions.

Power Play Performers

Due back any moment now, Anton Babchuk is one to watch once he returns from a hand injury. The Calgary Flames should try to best exploit Babchuk's rocket of a shot from the point, especially on the power play. It's worth monitoring the roles of Jay Bouwmeester and Derek Smith with the man advantage once Babchuk is back on the ice.

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

ALSO SEE