Commentary

Thin Blue Line: Midseason duds

Updated: January 18, 2012, 8:03 PM ET
By Victoria Matiash | Special to ESPN.com

If useless provides severe and appropriate contrast to valuable in fantasy terms, and worthless serves as a suitable antonym of precious, Milan Jurcina could be considered the natural opposite of Erik Karlsson (no offense to Jurcina in general, but as a fantasy asset, he stinks). As a follow-up to last week's look at gems, here's a collection of blueliners who have provided some degree of disappointment to date. And whether we can expect better in the final three months of 2011-12.

[+] EnlargeMark Streit
Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty ImagesAfter missing all of last season with a shoulder injury, Mark Streit has struggled a bit with the Islanders.

• Veteran Mark Streit isn't nearly as bad as his minus-17 would indicate; it's simply an occupational hazard of playing for the New York Islanders. In all honesty, we expected slightly better numbers from Streit following an entire season lost to shoulder surgery. A total of two goals and 22 assists certainly isn't shabby, but the initial hope for a 65-point campaign is starting to feel out of reach. However, maybe not. Still the prime choice as anchor on the Islanders' top power-play unit, the 34-year-old remains on pace for a 30-power-play-point season. Given that role, the proven veteran is always a threat to go on a vicious scoring tear. If you can stomach his plus-minus -- which might improve if goalie Evgeni Nabokov continues to play well -- Streit could finish the season a real high note.

• There's a very different story to tell about one of Streit's blue-line teammates. After a season of filling Streit's offensive role, Andrew MacDonald's fantasy usefulness has reached its conclusion. The tally of six points through 37 games appears to be more the rule than unpleasant accident. Other than Streit and sophomore Travis Hamonic, members of the Isles' blue line should be avoided in fantasy leagues.

• If Streit's numbers aren't pretty, those boasted by the Anaheim Ducks' Lubomir Visnovsky should be regarded as simply hideous. Four goals, nine assists and a minus-3 through 31 games are a far cry from the 68-point output (and plus-18 rating) Visnovsky enjoyed just last season. Now fully recovered from a busted finger, the 35-year-old finally seems to be getting back to his old rhythm. In the 15 games since his mid-December return, Visnovsky has nine points, including five with the man advantage, and is a plus-4. That's much more like it. Plus, the Ducks currently are playing better hockey all around.

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

• If you still own the Washington Capitals' Roman Hamrlik, please look into other options. The 37-year-old's finer fantasy days are well behind him. Valued as a veteran depth defenseman, Hamrlik isn't needed to contribute in the way a Dennis Wideman or John Carlson or Mike Green (once healthy again) does. He is owned in nearly 28 percent of ESPN.com leagues, which is far too many.

Rising and falling

Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins (re-emerges at No. 15): In light of recent struggles and lack of timetable regarding Sidney Crosby's return, this is precisely the type of good news the Penguins could use. Out with a concussion since late November, Letang is expected back this week, well ahead of schedule. A former No.1 fantasy asset this season, Letang could have an instant positive impact for a Penguins squad struggling to hold on to a playoff spot. Good for a nearly a point per game before getting hurt, he also could put up some silly numbers right away.

The after-effects of concussions are difficult (impossible?) to predict, but Letang's prognosis appears extra positive. If there was lingering concern, GM Ray Shero obviously would wait until after the All-Star break to activate his top D-man. The fact that he's willing -- at the time of this writing -- to forgo the bonus potential rest speaks volumes. If all goes well, Letang could be back in the top 10 next week. On the flip side, Matt Niskanen and Paul Martin take a solid hit to their respective fantasy values.

Jordan Leopold, Buffalo Sabres (down 12 spots): The anticipated return of Christian Ehrhoff (upper-body injury) shoves Leopold further down the Sabres' fantasy depth chart. They hoped Leopold would step it up in Ehrhoff's absence and contribute more offensively. He hasn't. In fact, the 31-year-old hasn't contributed a single point in six games. The Sabres hope to have Ehrhoff back within a week or so.

Ryan Ellis, Nashville Predators (re-emerges at No. 68): A future fantasy dreamboat, Ellis is already getting a head start on charming his owners. With five points in six straight contests, Ellis is settling in nicely since making his NHL debut on Boxing Day. And the 21-year-old is being rewarded with a hefty chunk of power-play time for his efforts. With or without Ryan Suter in the lineup (listed day-to-day with a minor upper-body issue), Ellis could provide your roster with a nice boost.

Key injury (and other) notes

James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail suggests John-Michael Liles (concussion symptoms/bronchitis) could be back for the Toronto Maple Leafs as early as next week. ... The Carolina Panthers' Joni Pitkanen (concussion/knee surgery) is expected to be out for at least the next couple of weeks. But word has it the 28-year-old is improving and is on a decent track to recovery. ... Marc-Andre Bergeron has missed three straight games with an undisclosed upper-body injury. Like it or not, the Tampa Bay Lightning will have to offer us more details soon. ... Somewhat mercifully, the Capitals placed Mike Green (abdominal surgery) on injured reserve. The former fantasy heavyweight is due back by the end of February at the very earliest. Don't hold your breath.

Power-play performers

Hold on to your hats -- Jay Harrison is busy rustling up a mini scoring storm with the Carolina Hurricanes. Harrison -- offensive flavor of the fortnight on the Hurricanes' blue line -- has collected seven points in his past nine games. Not surprisingly, since the 29-year-old has earned himself the monster share of power-play minutes in recent contests. Amid trade rumors and ongoing juggling by coach Kirk Muller, the 15th-place (East) Hurricanes have the "luxury" of experimenting with on-ice personnel, game by game. If you need a temporary boost, Harrison could be a decent fantasy option. Beyond that, we prefer rookie Justin Faulk for reasons of pure offensive talent and long-term upside.

Alex Goligoski of the Dallas Stars appears to be warming up rather nicely this second half of the season. A staple on the Stars' top power-play unit, Goligoski has two goals and five assists in his past 11 matches, including three power-play points. Shelved for nearly a month after busting his thumb Nov. 11, the 26-year-old seems to be gaining confidence game by game. Watching him compete, you also get the sense he's more comfortable than before the injury. With top forwards Jamie Benn and Mike Ribeiro hurt, the Stars will need Goligoski and fellow offensive defenseman Sheldon Souray to contribute as much as possible.

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

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