Thin Blue Line: Find, ride hot hand

Updated: April 5, 2012, 3:40 PM ET
By Victoria Matiash | Special to ESPN.com

As addressed by colleagues Tim Kavanagh and Sean Allen earlier this week, it's a strange time of year for those still active in their respective fantasy hockey leagues. Like the versions devoted to forwards and goaltenders, the defensemen rankings take on a faint Bizarro World flavor as the regular season nears conclusion (or nemesnefed sgniknar, for those intimately familiar with the DC Comics' fictional planet). Strength of schedule, conference standing and health -- however minor an injury might be -- can weigh as heavy factors. Current production levels -- or "degree of hotness" as the neighborhood female teenager might put it -- can also wield great influence. Forget about last month or last week or even yesterday, you only need concern yourself with players paying fantasy dividends in the very here and now, however utterly useless they may be otherwise.

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

Rising and Falling

Christian Ehrhoff, Buffalo Sabres (off ): A tough break for one of the most exciting teams at present in the NHL. The Sabres may have to make do without their top defenseman for the duration of the regular season. Sabres coach Lindy Ruff hinted Ehrhoff could be out for a while after the blueliner suffered a knee injury in Tuesday's contest with the Washington Capitals. Tyler Myers and Jordan Leopold will be asked to contribute more -- production-wise -- from the blue line in Ehrhoff's absence.

Lubomir Visnovsky, Anaheim Ducks (up five spots): We have no inkling as to why Visnovsky is producing at a higher rate now than all season long. The 35-year-old's disappointing numbers haven't made much sense altogether. But if it suits you, run with him now. The veteran has a goal and three assists in his past three contests.

Anton Babchuk, Calgary Flames (re-emerges at No. 62): The hottest blueliner for the Calgary Flames not named Mark Giordano, Babchuk is relishing a mini-tear with a goal and three helpers in four games. He's also shooting up a storm. This recent showing offers a more accurate sampling of what Babchuk is capable of, compared to contributions (read: almost jack squat) made otherwise this season. Injuries haven't helped, either. Available in 96 percent of ESPN.com leagues, the 27-year-old could serve as an extremely valuable late-season Band-Aid to your fantasy blue line.

Erik Johnson, Colorado Avalanche (down 10 spots): Ongoing back issues are as much of a concern as the limited schedule remaining for the Avalanche. While every other squad has five or six games remaining, the Avalanche has merely four. Even if Johnson plays in all of them, there's only so much he can accomplish.

Jared Spurgeon, Minnesota Wild (off): An unfortunate end to an otherwise successful season for the 22-year-old defenseman. After suffering a concussion, Spurgeon is unlikely to suit up for the Wild again this campaign.

Ryan Whitney, Edmonton Oilers (up 15 spots): Judging from recent numbers, the veteran defenseman doesn't seem too terribly bummed by his team's absence from the playoff picture. With four assists (plus-3) in his past four contests, Whitney appears determined to conclude this injury-riddled campaign on the highest note possible. And the 29-year-old isn't the only one. After notching five assists and racking up some serious minutes -- at even strength and with the man advantage -- in his previous six games, Jeff Petry is making the most of the final stretch with the Oilers. Both Whitney and Petry are available in the majority of ESPN.com leagues.

Filip Kuba, Ottawa Senators (up four spots): In the 10 games since March 6, Kuba has netted a goal and seven assists (plus-10) while averaging nearly 25 minutes per game. This is exactly what the Senators need from the 35-year-old veteran as they continue to fight to secure a playoff spot in the East.

Dion Phaneuf, Toronto Maple Leafs (down seven spots): A fairly formidable fantasy asset since October, Phaneuf is likely to end the season with more of a whimper than a snarl because of his club's remaining schedule. With only five games left, the Leafs are set to host the Flyers, battle a stingy Sabres defense twice and face Carey Price in Montreal. Yikes.

Key injury (and other) notes

Kris Letang of the Pittsburgh Penguins is listed as day-to-day with a lower-body injury, not another concussion. Letang's presence in the lineup for Thursday's tilt with the New York Islanders isn't completely out of the question. … Kimmo Timonen of the Philadelphia Flyers is listed as day-to-day with an upper-body injury. As of Wednesday morning, that's all we know. … James Wisniewski (concussion symptoms) remains iffy for the Columbus Blue Jackets for the duration of the season. … Tomas Kaberle is still considered day-to-day for the Montreal Canadiens. … For those of you who may have been on a media-free holiday for the past week, Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks has been suspended five games for a nasty elbow to Daniel Sedin's head. Keith is eligible to play only in the Blackhawks' final two games, versus the Wild and Red Wings.

Power play performers

Anton Stralman is relevant once again as a potential top power-play unit anchor for the New York Rangers. After sitting out five straight as a healthy scratch, the 25-year-old Swede made a positive impression on coach John Tortorella against the Wild on Tuesday. With Michael Del Zotto struggling, the ever-temperamental Tortorella has hinted he may offer Stralman some valuable minutes with the extra skater. … A regular power-play presence with the Tampa Bay Lightning, defenseman Victor Hedman has enjoyed some success with the man advantage of late. Hedman has a couple of power-play assists in his past two contests.

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