Commentary

Thin Blue Line: D-men to drop

Updated: March 21, 2012, 7:37 PM ET
By Victoria Matiash | Special to ESPN.com

For many North American residents, this week marks the calendar end of a winter that simply wasn't. As far as the usual chill-inducing stew of heavy snowfall, whipping winds and frigid temperatures of which we're accustomed, Mother Nature could be justly accused of mailing it in this year. But don't expect much from me in terms of complaints.

For many of us living north of a certain parallel, this is also a time of year when a recycling of wardrobe takes place. Particularly in regards to outerwear. Woolen hats and scarves are ceremoniously jammed into boxes and basement closets in exchange for ball caps and lighter jackets. It feels only suitable then to address certain fantasy defensemen in a similar fashion. Just like your favorite reindeer-themed earmuffs, Joe Corvo -- for instance -- can be gently packed away for another year. And he isn't the only one.

Alain Vigneault treasures Sami Salo's offensive skill, experience and leadership, but he doesn't want him to break into pieces before the postseason, which is why he plans to play Salo only part-time between now and April 7. A healthy Salo, earning regular minutes, is already a mediocre fantasy asset at best. As only an occasional competitor, the 37-year-old Finn could be near worthless.

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

Don't be too taken aback if James Wisniewski doesn't play another game for the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2011-12. Reportedly dealing with concussion-like symptoms, the 28-year-old didn't take part in Tuesday's 5-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. Stumbling toward a 2012 top draft pick via the lottery, the last-place Blue Jackets aren't going to gamble on Wisniewski's health when wins mean so little. Especially since they're stuck with him, contract-wise, for another five seasons.

Dealing with back spasms, Erik Johnson of the Colorado Avalanche sat out Tuesday's 2-1 victory over the Calgary Flames. That fact, coupled with a personal 12-game pointless streak, offers sufficient incentive to cut ties with the 24-year-old altogether. In terms of production from the blue line, Avalanche defensemen (Ryan Wilson, Matt Hunwick, Shane O'Brien etc.) have put forth a real collective effort in recent games. Which does fantasy owners no good whatsoever.

As for Corvo, coach Claude Julien won't come right out and use the term "healthy scratch," but the label adheres well enough in our eyes. Banged up or not, the 34-year-old spent the last two contests in the press box, during which the Boston Bruins snapped a four-game losing streak with consecutive victories over the Philadelphia Flyers and Toronto Maple Leafs. Struggling through most of March, Corvo could sit out a few more before the regular season concludes.

Other defensemen deserving of banishment to the irrelevant shelf include Anton Stralman of the New York Rangers, the Canucks' Marc-Andre Gragnani, and Kurtis Foster of the Minnesota Wild.

Rising and falling

Dmitry Kulikov, Florida Panthers (re-emerges at No. 32): A perennial "Thin Blue Line" favorite, Kulikov is showing little signs of rust and dust in his comeback. Following a nearly two-month stint on the shelf with a knee injury, Kulikov has made a considerable impact in his two games back, scoring the shootout winner against the Buffalo Sabres over the weekend, and assisting on Stephen Weiss' first period goal during Tuesday's 2-1 squeaker over the Flyers. Presumably well-rested, the 21-year-old could be good for five or six points in the Panthers' final 10 games.

Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins (up nine spots): Consider it a fluke. Even though the Penguins lit up the Winnipeg Jets for eight goals Tuesday, Letang emerged empty-handed, despite over 24 minutes of ice time. Just bizarre. Regardless, Letang will enjoy his fair share, statistically, as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and company put up a kajillion points between now and Easter weekend. The Pens have averaged five goals per game since Crosby's return last week.

Joni Pitkanen, Carolina Hurricanes(re-emerges at No. 41): After sitting out 44 straight games with concussion/knee concerns, Pitkanen is poised to make his return for the Hurricanes on Wednesday. According to the Raleigh News & Observer, the club's No. 1 D-man is expected to be paired with Jamie McBain. The opportunity to skate on the squad's top power-play unit should be in the cards for the 28-year-old as well. Although he may need a game or two to warm up, Pitkanen could end up a free agency gem down the stretch. And, as of Wednesday morning, he's available in nearly 80 percent of ESPN.com leagues.

Key injury (and other) notes

Nicklas Lidstrom is finally making some progress in recovering from the deep bone bruise. The Detroit Red Wings are hopeful he can return by the weekend … Tomas Kaberle of the Montreal Canadiens is considered day-to-day with some mysterious ailment. His owners should keep a keen eye to how he emerges. … It's old news now, but Andrej Meszaros is out six to eight weeks after undergoing successful back surgery.

Power play performers

Matching the shift in weather, Oliver Ekman-Larsson has heated up significantly for the Phoenix Coyotes. In fact, that feels like too great an understatement in light of what the young lad has accomplished in recent games. Notching four goals and two assists in his past five contests, Ekman-Larsson is currently one of the hottest defenseman in all the NHL. Coach Dave Tippett is rewarding the 20-year-old sophomore with more power-play and regular-strength minutes than any other blueliner, including Keith Yandle. Best of all, the he's still available in many ESPN.com leagues.

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