Thin Blue Line: Potential trade targets

With less than two weeks to go before the April 3 trade deadline, we're moving into the heart of what many call the NHL's "silly season."

Talk of potential deals -- some more ludicrous than others -- is starting to reach a fever pitch. While parity in the league has ended the big sell-off, buy-up days of yore, some significant transactions are expected in the days and hours leading up to the deadline, including deals involving high-profile defensemen with substantial fantasy value.

Blueliner Sergei Gonchar was pegged to be a top-tier trade candidate ahead of the deadline -- particularly when injuries to the likes of Erik Karlsson, Jason Spezza and Craig Anderson started to add up. However, the overachieving Ottawa Senators remain well-entrenched in the playoff hunt, rendering a deal moving Gonchar unlikely. Unless the Senators take a tumble down the Eastern standings in the next two weeks -- say, five losses in six games -- GM Bryan Murray is more likely to keep a firm grip on his veteran offensive defenseman . But stranger things have happened. And if Gonchar is moved, look for Patrick Wiercioch to fill an even bigger offensive role for the Senators. The 22-year-old has two goals and four assists in his past four games.

Odds are better that the Calgary Flames move their priciest defenseman, Jay Bouwmeester, ahead of the trade deadline. The Detroit Red Wings, Philadelphia Flyers, St. Louis Blues and Senators are all "sniffing around," looking into whether there's a deal to be made for Bouwmeester, according to the Calgary Sun. Already enjoying his most productive season as a member of the Flames, the 29-year-old may further benefit from joining another organization. Bouwmeester was at his productive best in his last four seasons with the Florida Panthers (2005-2009). He simply hasn't been the same player in Calgary.

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. Kris Letang, Pit (1)
2. Ryan Suter, Min (2)
3. Dustin Byfuglien, Win (5)
4. P.K. Subban, Mon (3)
5. Zdeno Chara, Bos (6)
6. Kevin Shattenkirk, StL (4)
7. Alex Pietrangelo, StL (7)
8. Brian Campbell, Fla (8)
9. Andrei Markov, Mon (9)
10. Shea Weber, Nsh (10)
11. Niklas Kronwall, Det (11)
12. Sergei Gonchar, Ott (19)
13. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Pho (13)
14. Kimmo Timonen, Phi (12)
15. Dion Phaneuf, Tor (14)
16. Alexander Edler, Van (15)
17. Drew Doughty, LA (17)
18. Mark Streit, NYI (16)
19. Dan Boyle, SJ (18)
20. Keith Yandle, Pho (20)
21. Slava Voynov, LA (21)
22. Duncan Keith, Chi (25)
23. Lubomir Visnovsky, NYI (22)
24. Jack Johnson, Cls (24)
25. Justin Schultz, Edm (23)
26. Paul Martin, Pit (29)
27. Dennis Wideman, Cgy (26)
28. Ryan Whitney, Edm (33)
29. Cody Franson, Tor (27)
30. Francois Beauchemin, Ana (30)
31. Fedor Tyutin, Cls (28)
32. Brent Burns, SJ (55)
33. Alex Goligoski, Dal (31)
34. Michael Del Zotto, NYR (32)
35. Victor Hedman, TB (34)
36. Nick Leddy, Chi (39)
37. Jake Muzzin, LA (42)
38. Marek Zidlicky, NJ (35)
39. Christian Ehrhoff, Buf (38)
40. Joni Pitkanen, Car (74)
41. Brent Seabrook, Chi (44)
42. Sami Salo, TB (41)
43. Jay Bouwmeester, Cgy (47)
44. Matt Carle, TB (37)
45. John Carlson, Was (40)
46. Sheldon Souray, Ana (45)
47. Tobias Enstrom, Win (49)
48. Roman Josi, Nsh (56)
49. Jared Spurgeon, Min (48)
50. Dougie Hamilton, Bos (43)
51. Patrick Wiercioch, Ott (61)
52. Kevin Bieksa, Van (50)
53. Dan Hamhuis, Van (46)
54. Dan Girardi, NYR (51)
55. Jakub Kindl, Det (54)
56. Zach Bogosian, Win (58)
57. Mark Giordano, Cgy (59)
58. Jake Gardiner, Tor (67)
59. Jamie McBain, Car (off)
60. Travis Hamonic, NYI (53)
61. Andrej Meszaros, Phi (62)
62. Dmitry Orlov, Was (76)
63. Erik Johnson, Col (57)
64. Dennis Seidenberg, Bos (65)
65. Cam Fowler, Ana (68)
66. Matt Irwin, SJ (off)
67. Luca Sbisa, Ana (69)
68. Mike Green, Was (off)
69. Brendan Smith, Det (70)
70. Matt Niskanen, Pit (off)
71. Ryan McDonagh, NYR (72)
72. Jason Garrison, Van (off)
73. Tom Gilbert, Min (66)
74. Andy Greene, NJ (71)
75. Trevor Daley, Dal (off)

If Bouwmeester or Mark Giordano -- also rumored to be available for the right "price" -- is shipped elsewhere in the coming days, look for T.J. Brodie to play a more prominent role for the Flames. The 22-year-old is already earning some precious minutes with the man-advantage.

Mark Streit of the New York Islanders and Ian White of the Detroit Red Wings are two other names mentioned in ongoing trade chatter. While the Islanders are hoping to sign Streit to an extension soon, the Red Wings and White could be heading in very different directions. A healthy scratch more often than not, White would undoubtedly prosper from a fresh start with another NHL squad. Until then -- and there's no guarantee he will be moved, of course -- the 28-year-old isn't worth much, fantasy-wise. Erik Johnson of the Colorado Avalanche is another blue-line talent that would inevitably benefit from a change of scenery. With four points in 18 games, Johnson could hardly be less productive than he is now.

Rising and falling

Jake Gardiner, Toronto Maple Leafs (up nine spots): Back up with the big boys in the blue and white, Gardiner has apparently earned his permanent ticket in the NHL. A talented, puck-moving defenseman, Gardiner will see his fair share of power-play minutes behind Dion Phaneuf and Cody Franson. Virtually unowned in ESPN.com leagues, the 22-year-old has the potential to contribute each and every game. Plus, after he spent an unexpectedly long time with the Marlies, the fire in his belly should burn hot a while yet.

As far as other Leafs blueliners are concerned, John-Michael Liles has finally emerged from press box purgatory. Don't be surprised if Liles is moved before the trade deadline as Toronto might want to capitalize on a thin trade market. Top-four puck-moving D-men with experience aren't exactly a dime a dozen in the NHL. And Liles would regain a fair amount of fantasy value just about anywhere else.

Joni Pitkanen, Carolina Hurricanes (up 34 spots): Notching two points -- including a power-play assist -- in his three games back from a lower-body injury, Pitkanen appears no worse for wear. Owned in 55 percent of ESPN.com leagues, the 29-year-old could serve well as a cheap pickup capable of playing heavy minutes. Jamie McBain also gains significant value as a power-play performer while Joe Corvo (lower-body injury) and Justin Faulk (sprained knee) remain out of the lineup. Corvo isn't expected back for at least another week, and Faulk could be out for up to a month.

Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks (up 23 spots): Lighting it up as a forward, Burns has registered six points in his past five games. As long as he remains eligible as a defenseman, Burns should be owned across the board in ESPN.com leagues. Don't expect the production to dry up once he returns to the blue line, either. In terms of confidence, the 28-year-old is flying high. Sharks rookie Matt Irwin is also worth a look in deeper leagues.

Matt Carle, Tampa Bay Lightning (down seven spots): For whatever reason, Carle isn't really feeling it this season. After four straight productive campaigns with the Philadelphia Flyers, the new (again) member of the Lightning has only 10 points (minus-five). Maybe he needs more time to warm up to his new teammates, coaches and surroundings. In any case, you're better off with Victor Hedman or well-weathered power-play specialist Sami Salo.

Stephane Robidas, Dallas Stars (off): After a decent February, Robidas has gone cold for the Stars -- to the point that Trevor Daley is earning more opportunities with the extra skater. Beyond Alex Goligoski, the Stars' roster doesn't feature many intriguing fantasy options this season.

Key injury (and other) notes

Dealing with a lower-body injury, Kris Letang of the Pittsburgh Penguins is considered day-to-day and could miss Friday's tilt with the New York Islanders. We're more likely to see the Penguins' top defenseman back Sunday versus the Philadelphia Flyers. …Battling a nagging groin injury for most of this season, Mike Green insists he's fit and ready to go. Washington Capitals head coach Adam Oates, however, doesn't seem so confident, according to the Washington Post. Even if Green returns Thursday, there's a good chance, as suggested by recent history, that the 27-year-old aggravates the injury. We're more excited about Dmitry Orlov's return. …While his healthy comeback has been delayed a bit, Tobias Enstrom should be back in the Winnipeg Jets' lineup soon. A return for Sunday's contest against the Lightning can't be ruled out.

Power-play performers

Full props (as the kids would say) to Ryan Whitney for brewing buckets of lemonade this season. A frustrated healthy scratch for most of February, the 30-year-old has rebounded with three goals and four assists (including three power-play points) through 10 games in March. Whether he remains with the Edmonton Oilers or is moved before the trade deadline, Whitney should remain relevant for the duration of the regular season. And he's available in more than 68 percent of ESPN.com leagues.

Those most desperate for a short-term boost might opt to roll the dice with Kris Russell of the St. Louis Blues. Earning power-play minutes, Russell has managed to cobble together four points in his past six games. A perennial disappointment from a consistency standpoint, Russell has had his moments in what could (generously) be dubbed an up-and-down six-season career. And he seems to be having a good moment right now.