Thin Blue Line: Early rankings

Keep the good oven mitts handy; this 2009-10 NHL regular season is nearly done.
Although many of us are gearing up for playoff hockey, it's the ideal time to take notes and reflect upon what we've learned during the past few months. Even the freshest of memories can go stale very, very quickly.

Here's a preliminary top-75 ranking of the best fantasy defensemen for 2010-11. Bear in mind that this list reflects the state of affairs up until April 6 -- well ahead of a summer's worth of signings, trades, retirements, injuries, golf cart mishaps and defections to Europe. Treat it in the appropriate spirit, please.

Now go grab yourself a cold sarsaparilla and settle in for two months of NHL postseason excitement. See you in late summer.

Top of the list

1. Mike Green, Washington Capitals: For the second straight spring, Green is atop the table in several scoring categories (goals, assists, points and power-play points). There's no reason to anticipate anything different next season.

2. Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks: Staring down a possible 70-point finish, the ever-durable Keith gets exponentially better each season. With five NHL seasons under his belt, the perennially healthy 26-year-old is just now entering his prime.

Top 75 defensemen

Note: Victoria Matiash's top 75 defensemen are ranked for the 2010-11 season as of April 6. ESPN.com standard stats include goals, assists, power-play goals, shots on goal, plus/minus, penalty minutes and average time on ice. Preseason ranking from 2009-10 is indicated in parentheses.

1. Mike Green, Was (2)
2. Duncan Keith, Chi (9)
3. Drew Doughty, LA (71)
4. Dan Boyle, SJ (10)
5. Chris Pronger, Phi (7)
6. Zdeno Chara, Bos (1)
7. Sergei Gonchar, Pit (23)
8. Andrei Markov, Mon (25)
9. Dion Phaneuf, Tor (5)
10. Christian Ehrhoff, Van (42)
11. Lubomir Visnovsky, Ana (58)
12. Mark Streit, NYI (12)
13. Bryan McCabe, Fla (45)
14. Kimmo Timonen, Phi (26)
15. Tobias Enstrom, Atl (51)
16. Tomas Kaberle, Tor (67)
17. Tyler Myers, Buf (NR)
18. Shea Weber, Nsh (30)
19. Paul Martin, NJ (17)
20. Nicklas Lidstrom, Det (4)
21. Stephane Robidas, Dal (18)
22. Jay Bouwmeester, Cgy (6)
23. Brian Rafalski, Det (11)
24. Ryan Whitney, Edm (32)
25. Erik Johnson, StL (72)
26. Michael Del Zotto, NYR (NR)
27. Matt Carle, Phi (NR)
28. Kevin Bieksa, Van (21)
29. Brian Campbell, Chi (33)
30. Marc-Andre Bergeron, Mon (NR)
31. Joe Corvo, Was (40)
32. Scott Niedermayer, Ana (13)
33. Joni Pitkanen, Car (35)
34. Alex Goligoski, Pit (34)
35. Ed Jovanovski, Pho (66)
36. Kurtis Foster, TB (NR)
37. Marek Zidlicky, Min (38)
38. Pavel Kubina, Atl (20)
39. Anton Stralman, Cls (NR)
40. Francois Beauchemin, Tor (65)
41. Sheldon Souray, Edm (16)
42. Adrian Aucoin, Pho (59)
43. Dennis Wideman, Bos (3)
44. Ryan Suter, Nsh (41)
45. Brent Seabrook, Chi (14)
46. Brent Burns, Min (54)
47. Niklas Kronwall, Det (31)
48. Kris Letang, Pit (44)
49. Mark Giordano, Cgy (NR)
50. Filip Kuba, Ott (57)
51. Alexander Edler, Van (27)
52. Keith Yandle, Pho (NR)
53. John-Michael Liles, Col (70)
54. Jack Johnson, LA (NR)
55. Jamie McBain, Car (NR)
56. Cam Barker, Min (8)
57. Roman Hamrlik, Mon (NR)
58. Marc-Edouard Vlasic, SJ (52)
59. Dennis Seidenberg, Bos (NR)
60. Kyle Quincey, Col (64)
61. Jaroslav Spacek, Mon (68)
62. Andy Greene, NJ (NR)
63. James Wisniewski, Ana (NR)
64. Ian White, Cgy (NR)
65. Victor Hedman, TB (28)
66. Craig Rivet, Buf (29)
67. Tom Gilbert, Edm (56)
68. Sami Salo, Van (50)
69. Braydon Coburn, Phi (24)
70. Jason Demers, SJ (NR)
71. Zach Bogosian, Atl (22)
72. Erik Karlsson, Ott (NR)
73. Carl Gunnarsson, Tor (NR)
74. Derek Morris, Pho (NR)
75. Chris Butler, Buf (NR)

3. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings: Doughty made some serious fantasy noise from the start of his sophomore season, and to pummel the metaphor further, he never stopped shouting (except during one two-week dry spell before Christmas). Then the entire hockey world realized he could compete among the very best, impressively representing Canada at the 2010 Winter Olympics. Nothing intimidates this 20-year-old, and he's mature and level-headed enough to realize that continued hard work will take him to an even higher level.

4. Dan Boyle, San Jose Sharks: Consistency, thy name be Boyle. Regardless of whom he's skated with, or for, the power-play staple and leader has averaged better than two points for every three games in his past five seasons.

5. Chris Pronger, Philadelphia Flyers: Still nasty at age 35 (1,500-plus penalty minutes in 1,100-plus games), Pronger put up better scoring numbers in this first season with the Flyers than he did in his past two as a Duck. Plus, he skated nearly 26 minutes per game. To those on and off the ice, Pronger gives zero indication of slowing down (or mellowing).

6. Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins: Although the big Bruin put up his worst fantasy numbers since 2002, he still had a pretty solid season. Chara remains hungry and poised to rebound.

Two steps forward

16. Tomas Kaberle, Toronto Maple Leafs: After feverishly cleaning house during the past year or so, it's no secret GM Brian Burke is just waiting for the right deal to offload Kaberle, the last man standing from the old regime. One of the best puck-moving defensemen in the league, Kaberle will be relied upon heavily wherever he ends up and could easily surpass 40 assists again while likely leaving his unsavory plus/minus behind him in Toronto.

31. Joe Corvo, Washington Capitals: An unrestricted free agent-to-be this summer, Corvo has showed he can play and contribute anywhere, and he's at his best right after joining a new team. He's coming off an injury-riddled season, but if he lands in the right spot in 2010-11, he easily could put up 40 points or perhaps even better.

39. Anton Stralman, Columbus Blue Jackets: Although his production faded in the latter months, Stralman demonstrated he was more than capable of producing in his first full season in the NHL. Now that his feet are wet, expect more from the 23-year-old next season.

46. Brent Burns, Minnesota Wild: Honest to goodness, if Burns could stay fit, physically and emotionally, next season, he would provide some real fantasy fireworks again. As a 23-year-old in 2007-08, he netted 43 points in 82 games, so there's a great deal of potential in play.

55. Jamie McBain, Carolina Hurricanes: Although many of his fellow rookies will have to contend with the big league jitters next season, McBain will have all summer to reflect on his first taste of the NHL. Pretty yummy, one would assume, because the 22-year-old Minnesota native potted eight points through his first 12 games while logging a hefty amount of ice time. As exciting young rookies go, McBain is at the top of the heap.

Three steps back

20. Nicklas Lidstrom, Red Wings: Will he or won't he? Retire, that is. An unrestricted free agent-to-be this summer, Lidstrom has said he won't reveal any decisions about calling it a day until after the playoffs are over. If Detroit's current captain skates again next season, you can bet it will be with the Wings and his fantasy worth will remain significant. If not, Niklas Kronwall's value will spike upward.

32. Scott Niedermayer, Anaheim Ducks: Much like Lidstrom, Niedermayer may or may not choose to retire in the summer. Again, he's still worth owning if he plays, so it's wait-and-see as well.

62. Andy Greene, New Jersey Devils: Although Greene did a bang-up job while replacing an injured Paul Martin for several months, once Martin's arm finally healed, his special-teams role was appropriately reduced. Unless Martin, an unrestricted free agent, signs elsewhere in the offseason, Greene is a mediocre fantasy asset at best.

66. Craig Rivet, Buffalo Sabres: Although Rivet reached the 100 penalty-minute mark, there was a big drop-off in his fantasy numbers elsewhere. A changing of the guard is under way in Buffalo with the emergence of Tyler Myers and Chris Butler. The 35-year-old is becoming less and less relevant.

NR. Rob Blake, San Jose Sharks: By midsummer, Blake will be 41 years old and a UFA. One would think it's time to pack it in. If he does sign somewhere, his value will be re-examined.

NR. Mathieu Schneider, Phoenix Coyotes: He really should retire. Seriously. But it doesn't matter either way. Schneider won't make this list next season, regardless.

Bouncing back

19. Paul Martin, New Jersey Devils: As referenced above, Martin missed a good chunk of the season with a severe arm injury. Once fully healed, he returned to manning the point on the Devils' first power-play unit. That's where he'll likely be again next season.

22. Jay Bouwmeester, Calgary Flames: The general (accurate) consensus is that Bouwmeester was a big disappointment this season. Once expectations are lower in the fall, and goodness knows they will be, he'll be in perfect position to make an unpressurized comeback. There's no reason Bouwmeester can't put up the numbers that he did in his prime with the Florida Panthers, but regardless, he'll easily exceed what he did in the past few months, i.e., he'll score more than three goals.

30. Marc-Andre Bergeron, Montreal Canadiens: Bergeron might have neared the 50-point mark if he hadn't missed about a month. When he was on the ice, the Trois-Rivieres, Quebec, native made a positive impression in his first season with the Habs.

41. Sheldon Souray, Edmonton Oilers: After missing more than a month at the start of the season, then busting his hand while pummeling Jarome Iginla, arguably no one has had a more frustratingly injury-shortened season than Souray. But the veteran still has some gas left in the tank, and that wicked shot of his has plenty of life left in it as well.

43. Dennis Wideman, Boston Bruins: Chalk this season up as his mulligan, if you will; Wideman never seemed to find his groove with his partner on the blue line, Zdeno Chara. This may be based more on a hunch than anything, but don't be surprised if he turns things around, starting in the fall.

Future sophomores

17. Tyler Myers, Buffalo Sabres: What else can be said about young Mr. Myers? He's towering, skilled and not visibly overwhelmed by much. He fought for a job with the big boys from the start and only got better. Myers' performance this season doesn't smell fluky in the slightest; there's no reason to believe he just won't get better and surpass the 50-point plateau next season.

26. Michael Del Zotto, New York Rangers: Del Zotto started out exceptionally well, fizzled midseason and finished strong. Fortunately, Rangers coach John Tortorella allowed the teenager to experiment, take risks offensively and make loads and loads of mistakes. This was an important learning season for Del Zotto. He has a bright future ahead.

65. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning: Everyone expected more from Hedman in his first season; of all rookies, he was supposed to be the most NHL-ready. But that's no reason to give up on him completely. Some, like Tyler Myers, are clearly able to adapt to the pressure of playing with the elite immediately. And others, Hedman, for instance, may need more time to adjust. The jury is still out in this case.

70. Jason Demers, San Jose Sharks: Although he played just more than half a season (sporadically), Demers clearly tried to take advantage of every opportunity. As an everyday skater next season, there's a solid chance he'll move up the top 75 even before the start of regular play.

71. Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators: He really stepped it up nicely in the last few weeks of the season, didn't he? It will be interesting to see how the Sens use Karlsson once Filip Kuba is healthy again. The young Swede may be a real dark horse for 2010-11.

NR. Dmitry Kulikov, Florida Panthers: Despite showing some promising flashes in the first half of the season, Kulikov needs to produce on a more consistent basis. But he's worth monitoring.

2010 unrestricted free agents

We can prognosticate all we like, and we certainly will, but it's also important to keep track of who signs with whom during the offseason months. A change in uniform affects not only the individual player but also those he's joining and leaving behind. Here's a list of key defensemen who may be on the move this summer:

Nicklas Lidstrom* (Red Wings)
Scott Niedermayer* (Ducks)
Sergei Gonchar (Penguins)
Pavel Kubina (Thrashers)
Paul Martin (Devils)
Marek Zidlicky (Wild)
Rob Blake* (Sharks)
Derek Morris (Coyotes)
Joe Corvo (Capitals)
Dennis Seidenberg (Bruins)
Adrian Aucoin (Coyotes)
Mathieu Schneider* (Coyotes)
Kurtis Foster (Lightning)

*candidate for retirement

Victoria Matiash is a fantasy hockey analyst for ESPN.com