Thin Blue Line: Zidlicky's future


With the trade deadline just over a week away, the scuttlebutt and speculation regarding which player lands where is frothing up rather furiously. And no blue-liner has garnered more trade-related attention of late than Marek Zidlicky of the Minnesota Wild. Like an already dysfunctional marriage falling apart in the nastiest manner possible, the relationship between Zidlicky and the Wild appears well beyond repair. Never mind ideal; a trade may be the only option at this stage.

Which brings us to the New Jersey Devils. There was plenty of chatter Wednesday with reports of a pending deal sending Zidlicky to Lou Lamoriello's club. Using his agent's mouth as announcement vehicle, the veteran defenseman himself pledged to waive his no-trade clause for a deal to the Devils. The fact Wild GM Chuck Fletcher hadn't yet "formally" asked Zidlicky to do so seemed to be of negligible consequence to the disgruntled veteran.

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

Regardless, for our purposes, it's worth acknowledging that such a trade could very well still be in the works. And if that's how this particular cookie crumbles, Zidlicky's fantasy value would jump considerably. Morphing from a regular healthy scratch to valued power-play commodity on a team willing to pay big for such a specific skill set could only result in a more productive situation. It's not like the accomplished and talented offensive-defenseman simply became crummy overnight. Only last season, under then-coach Todd Richards, Zidlicky amassed 24 points in only 46 games. In 2009-10, he lead all Wild d-men with 43 points in 78 contests. The fact that he doesn't fit in (at all) with present coach Mike Yeo's system isn't an accurate barometer of overall talent and usefulness.

As far as Zidlicky's potential role with the Devils, we presume the 35-year-old would initially slide in on the second power-play unit, replacing Mark Fayne. Whether the proven power-play performer would eventually replace Kurtis Foster on the first unit is too difficult to predict. Foster has been pretty effective for the Devils of late, and could merit holding on to that particular role. But even on the secondary unit point alongside Ilya Kovalchuk -- who seemingly never, ever leaves the ice with the man advantage -- Zidlicky could be a very productive presence.

But we're probably getting ahead of ourselves. Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports Fletcher intends to speak to several other organizations about a possible deal for Zidlicky. So he should. However, it would probably be in everyone's best interest if a deal is made before the Feb. 27 trade deadline, whether it involves the Devils, Chicago Blackhawks, Philadelphia Flyers, Florida Panthers or some other club. And you can bank on a significant boost in Zidlicky's fantasy value wherever he ends up.

Change for the sake of change alone isn't usually the best course of action. But as applies to the case of Zidlicky and the Wild, it's the only reasonable option at this stage.

Rising and Falling

Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks (down four spots): Word out of Chicago implies Keith may be simply exhausted. So much so, the 28-year-old skipped out on team practice Wednesday. This could indicate he's a little banged up as well. The Blackhawks' current struggles (winless since mid-January) won't last forever, but the sooner GM Stan Bowman deals for an additional top-four defenseman, the better. Keith's numbers have been OK of late, but that won't last if he continues to shoulder too hefty a share of the load. For crying out loud, playing in all situations, the guy has averaged nearly 29 minute per game in his last three contests.

Fedor Tyutin, Columbus Blue Jackets (up eight spots): Extra productive for the Blue Jackets in recent days, Tyutin finds himself manning the point with forward Derick Brassard on the squad's top power-play unit. The 28-year-old Russian should remain there a while, presuming fellow blueliner Nikita Nikitin (due back any moment now) boots rookie David Savard from his spot alongside James Wisniewski on the second unit.

Kevin Shattenkirk, St. Louis Blues (down nine spots): Recognized as a fate that has befallen many a talented young player before him, Shattenkirk finds himself in the midst of the much-dreaded rite of passage known as the "sophomore slump." Point-less in 12 straight for the Blues, Shattenkirk should snap out of it before too long. But before then, the 23-year-old's fantasy owners may be best off relegating him to the bench. If possible.

Key injury (and other) notes

Jason Garrison is the latest member of the Florida Panthers' blue line to get hurt, as he's expected to miss up to 10 days with a lower-body injury. ... Sheldon Souray of the Dallas Stars is listed day-to-day with a foot injury. ... Corey Potter (groin) could miss another game, two or longer for the Edmonton Oilers. Stay tuned. ... After making a return for the Tampa Bay Lightning Feb. 7, Marc-Andre Bergeron (back) was scratched the following four contests. Listed day-to-day or not, the 31-year-old simply isn't healthy and surgery is possible. Victor Hedman may be the only Lightning D-man worth fantasy consideration at this point. ...

Power Play Performers

The projected return of Mike Green could have significant fantasy ramifications for the Washington Capitals' defenseman, and the blue line as a whole. Banking on Green's full return to health following successful sports hernia surgery, the Capitals are rumored to be interested in moving a young defenseman ahead of the Feb. 27 trade deadline, perhaps John Carlson or Dmitry Orlov. This chatter speaks volumes to the Capitals' perceived confidence in Green's recovery. Challenging for a run in the postseason, the Caps wouldn't likely consider moving an asset like Carlson or Orlov if the prognosis -- long- and short-term -- for Green wasn't positive. That's our take, anyway. Owned in fewer than 60 percent of ESPN.com leagues, Green -- as a secondary fantasy option to Dennis Wideman -- could be a pleasant surprise for the duration of the campaign. After a nightmarish series of injuries and setbacks, expect to see the 26-year-old back in Washington's lineup next week.

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