Commentary

Thin Blue Line: Trade deadline chatter

Updated: February 23, 2012, 4:54 PM ET
By Victoria Matiash | Special to ESPN.com

Now this is more like it. As the 2011-12 season's trade deadline draws nearer, deals are starting to take place with greater regularity (special shoutout to Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman for getting the ball rolling on that front). But we likely haven't even had a proper taste yet. Before the clock strikes 3 p.m. ET Monday, expect to see plenty more players move through a variety of transactions, including a handful of fantasy-relevant defensemen.

Never mind Roman Hamrlik; All-Star Dennis Wideman may be the Washington Capitals' best blue-line trade asset. GM George McPhee is under immense pressure to shake up his so-called "broken" team as the prospect for postseason success appears ever bleaker, game by game. McPhee would rather not trade Wideman, but with a healthy Mike Green back in the lineup, the often underrated 28-year-old could land the help the Capitals require up front.

Productive with the Florida Panthers and Boston Bruins before joining the Caps, Wideman shouldn't lose a lick of fantasy value if dealt to another contender. An unrestricted free agent on July 1, the talented puck-moving D-man would conceivably take on a significant power-play role with any team interested enough to make such a deal. In other words, no organization is going to cough up the required trade "cost" to attain Wideman and then stick him on the third, shutdown pairing. The guy has 10 goals and 28 assists in 60 games.

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

If Wideman does end up joining another squad, those offensive-defensemen remaining in Washington -- Green, John Carlson and even Dmitry Orlov -- could experience a boost in fantasy worth.

Lubomir Visnovsky is another oft-mentioned character in popular trade speculation du jour. Like Wideman, Visnovsky would retain his value as a proven producer with just about any squad. If such a trade takes place, Cam Fowler -- and, to some degree, Francois Beauchemin -- would be relied upon to contribute more in Visnovsky's absence.

However, we can't foresee this potential deal going down. Still fancying themselves with a fighting chance, the Anaheim Ducks are perceived as reluctant to make any significant move between now and the deadline. Hey, if Teemu Selanne is willing to stick it out, Visnovsky shouldn't be expected to be dealt either. Not unless the Ducks receive a comparable package in return, including another offensive-defenseman.

The Dallas Stars could be one of the busier organizations in the days and hours leading up to Monday afternoon. In which case, veteran defenseman Sheldon Souray might serve as a perfect playoff rental. Expected to return Thursday from a foot injury, the 35-year-old still has a plenty to offer by way of his nasty slap shot and should draw additional inspiration from playing with an expiring contract. As proven by his explosive start to the season (13 points in his first 14 games), Souray is a genuine scoring threat each and every time he makes contact with puck on the point. The veteran could serve nicely in such a position with almost any secondary power-play unit in the NHL.

Should GM Joe Nieuwendyk broker a trade involving Souray in the coming days, Stephane Robidas would vault from the Stars' third- to second-ranked fantasy D-man behind Alex Goligoski. Although, only those in deeper leagues should give Robidas any consideration.

Rising and Falling

Kyle Quincey, Detroit Red Wings (off): Quincey's fantasy value takes a serious tumble as he rejoins the Red Wings. Pegged to partner Jonathan Ericsson on the third pairing, the 26-year-old is expected to embrace more of a shutdown role with his new (old) squad. The days of playing the point on the top power-play unit, as he did with the Colorado Avalanche, have most certainly come to an end (for this season, anyway). Frankly, the Red Wings don't need Quincey to help put pucks in the net; they have Nicklas Lidstrom, Niklas Kronwall and Ian White to represent in that department.

As for those left behind with the Avalanche, Erik Johnson (presuming a recent bout of back spasms isn't too big an issue) sees a small bump in value as undisputed top dog on the blue line from the perspective of potential production. It's also worth noting Stefan Elliott was recalled from Lake Erie following the deal. We like this young lad a lot. The rookie is expected to take full advantage of his second NHL opportunity this season and build on the 11 points he accumulated in 30 games before returning to the Avs' lineup Wednesday against the Los Angeles Kings.

Tyler Myers, Buffalo Sabres (up four spots): Seemingly cloaked in a shawl of fresh confidence, Myers has been on fire this month. Collecting seven points in his past nine contests, the 22-year-old is one of several reasons for the Sabres' recent success. Don't be surprised if Lindy Ruff's troops wrap up the 2011-12 campaign with a bang, with Myers and fellow blueliner Christian Ehrhoff leading the charge from the back end.

Ryan Ellis, Nashville Predators (off): Who might have guessed, even a week ago, that Hal Gill would render Ellis nearly worthless as a fantasy commodity? Yet that's exactly what has transpired. Since Gill joined the Predators via trade with the Montreal Canadiens, Ellis has seen his role reduced to that of a healthy scratch. Can't contribute if you don't play.

Key injury (and other) notes

James Wisniewski's groin is apparently good to go. The top D-man for the Columbus Blue Jackets is expected back in the lineup Friday. ... Jason Garrison (ankle) could return for the Florida Panthers as early as this weekend. ... Insisting his back is just fine, Kurtis Foster hopes to return in action for the New Jersey Devils before the week is through. ... The New York Islanders should have Travis Hamonic back in the lineup for Friday's game against the New York Rangers. ... Zach Bogosian (foot) remains listed as day-to-day for the Winnipeg Jets.

Power Play Performers

The anticipated return of Joni Pitkanen is significant news for the Carolina Hurricanes and fantasy owners alike. Shelved with a concussion in early December and enduring knee surgery at the start of the new year, Pitkanen has been on track in terms of his recovery timetable. On schedule to return in early March, the 28-year-old is due back in the next seven to 10 days.

In position to reclaim his role on the top power-play assembly, Pitkanen may not actually bump anyone from the Hurricanes' lineup. This could be excellent news for those who own rookie Justin Faulk. Canes GM Jim Rutherford is expected to trade a defenseman with an expiring contract -- i.e., Bryan Allen and/or Jaroslav Spacek -- before Monday's deadline. A healthy Pitkanen would simply fill that projected void. So while Jamie McBain could see a small drop in value, Faulk should remain a solid fantasy asset for those in deeper leagues. And if coach Kirk Muller decides to go with a force of six defensemen instead of seven, Derek Joslin would most likely be the odd man out.

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

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