Commentary

Thin Blue Line: Flyers' fill-ins

Updated: March 7, 2012, 5:44 PM ET
By Victoria Matiash | Special to ESPN.com

Just imagine if the Philadelphia Flyers hadn't dealt for Nicklas Grossmann and Pavel Kubina ahead of the trade deadline. As it is, GM Paul Holmgren is looking like a clairvoyant genius right about now.

With the postseason set to launch in approximately five weeks, the Flyers are on slightly spongier ground after losing not one, but two of their top defensemen. Kimmo Timonen is unofficially listed as day to day, while Andrej Meszaros is out indefinitely. While Brayden Coburn, Grossmann and Kubina are doing their respective bit to chip in production-wise, Matt Carle is the one stuck shouldering the lion's share of the offensive load. Manning the point on the Flyers' top power-play unit, Carle has an excellent opportunity to amplify his present total of 32 points in 65 games, particularly in the assists' department. An increase in shots and ice time should also be in the cards.

As for the injured Flyers, one seems to be in much better shape than the other. Tim Panaccio of CSNPhilly.com reports Timonen's lower-back injury isn't all that serious, as the issue isn't "disc-related." To suggest the 36-year-old veteran may be back by the weekend doesn't feel overly foolish. We'll get a much better sense in the next day or two.

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

Unfortunately, the prognosis on Meszaros is far less agreeable. Nursing a lower-body injury, the 26-year-old really and truly appears to be out indefinitely. As in, no one seems to have much of solid idea of when he might be better. In that case, fantasy owners would probably be best off dumping Meszaros and picking up a wild-card asset elsewhere (see several suggestions below). A moderate fantasy asset by most standards, the Flyers' D-man is of much greater value to his NHL squad than ESPN owners, anyway. Losing his services -- and the potential for another seven, maybe eight points before the season concludes -- can't be characterized as anything near a crushing blow.

Rising and Falling

Cody Franson, Toronto Maple Leafs (NR): Talent and skill aside, this season indicates Franson is lousy at making good first impressions with new coaches. After requiring several weeks to successfully convince Ron Wilson he merited a spot in the lineup, Franson finds himself back in the press box under the Leafs' latest bench boss. Judging from his first two games at the helm, it's clear Randy Carlyle wants to utilize the more aggressive (and indisputably overpaid) Mike Komisarek instead. Not a surprise, considering Carlyle's penchant for a more defensive style of play, but an unpleasant circumstance for Franson, nonetheless. In fact, GM Brian Burke's latest hire even opted to dress a feverish and fluey John-Michael Liles (who, for the record, ended up playing well) over Franson in Tuesday's tilt with the Boston Bruins. That can't feel promising where the young, puck-moving D-man is concerned.

In reality, Carlyle will probably substitute Franson in for another Leafs defenseman in the not-too-distant future, but we're no longer willing to pledge patience at this stage of the season. It's too late in the game for that. There are other options and it's time to move on.

Matt Niskanen, Pittsburgh Penguins (up 13 spots): The Penguins may not care to use the "c" word in reference to what's ailing Kris Letang, but we will. Reportedly suffering concussion-like symptoms, it requires no great stretch to suggest Letang may be suffering from a concussion. Preferred vocabulary aside, the Penguins' star defensemen is clearly dealing with some type of head injury and has yet to skate -- extensively -- in practice. His coach isn't exactly brimming with optimism regarding a near return, either. "While he is feeling better, he still has some symptoms," Dan Bylsma recently said.

Hey, maybe he's back next week or so. It's possible. Or maybe the Penguins will have to make do without their All-Star defenseman for much longer than that. The scenario is far too fuzzy to set even an approximate a timetable.

So let's latch onto what is known: In the meantime, Niskanen is serving as Letang's replacement on the point opposite Steve Sullivan on the Penguins' top power-play unit. Paul Martin is taking advantage of increased opportunities to contribute, collecting four assists in his past three games. And if, as rumored, Sidney Crosby returns in the next couple weeks (Sunday seems a bit too hopeful), Niskanen and Martin will become even more valuable.

Nick Leddy, Chicago Blackhawks (up eight spots): Demonstrating his faith in the young lad, coach Joel Quenneville has been recently giving the young Leddy the chance to make some noise on the Blackhawks' top power-play unit. When push comes to shove, Quenneville is more likely to turn to Duncan Keith instead, but the confidence shown in Leddy is a decent reflection of the 20-year-old's talent. Plus, outside of Tuesday's inelegant performance against the St. Louis Blues, Leddy has risen to the occasion, posting four points (include two with the man advantage) in four consecutive contests.

Andrei Markov, Montreal Canadiens (re-emerges at No. 59): Let's just deal with the facts in this case, shall we? After participating in full-contact drills in practice, Markov -- available in approximately 80 percent of ESPN.com leagues -- claims he's ready to go. The Montreal Canadiens don't dispute the 33-year-old could be back in the lineup within the week. After two major knee surgeries within one calendar year, there's no conceivable reason why Markov or the Canadiens would allow for a premature return. If they say he's healthy, there must be genuine belief all around. Maybe Markov returns, dominates on the power play and racks up 10 to 12 points in the Habs' final 14 games. Or maybe that right joint of his collapses like a wet popsicle stick within a game or two. The current quality of your roster should determine whether the risk is worth the gamble.

Key injury (and other) notes

The bone bruise on Nicklas Lidstrom's ankle is more of a serious bother than initially thought. Don't be surprised if the Detroit Red Wings captain misses at least another game or two. Kyle Quincey inherits a bit of fantasy value as a result. … After suffering another unspecified setback, Zach Bogosian (mystery ailment) is scheduled to sit out another week or so. … Joni Pitkanen (concussion/knee) isn't expected to return for the Carolina Hurricanes until the end of March. … Nikita Nikitin of the Columbus Blue Jackets is considered day to day with a lower-body injury. … Marc-Andre Bergeron is out for the rest of the season following scheduled back surgery. With the exception of Victor Hedman in the deepest of fantasy leagues, all defenseman sporting the Tampa Bay Lightning bolt should be roundly avoided wherever possible.

Power-play performers

Show us a current top-six defenseman with the Vancouver Canucks not named Aaron Rome and we'll show you a blueliner with at least a smidgen of fantasy value. Recently imported from the Buffalo Sabres, blueliner Marc-Andre Gragnani is the latest to skate on the top power-play unit for Alain Vigneault's squad. As long as the Canucks' coach chooses to dress Gragnani instead of Chris Tanev or Andrew Alberts, the 24-year-old offensive defenseman could bring something to your fantasy table.

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

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