Thin Blue Line: Injury replacements

This past week hasn't been a good stretch for the cream of the defenseman crop. Losing the No. 1 fantasy blueliner to injury is jarring enough; the additional loss of the second-best option nearly throws the top 10 completely out of whack.

I'm not sure about you, but the photo capturing Erik Karlsson's facial expression at the moment that his Achilles tendon was sliced inspires us to wonder why pro players don't wrap their entire bodies in Kevlar, plus layers of bubble wrap topped with an extra coating of Teflon. Mind you, this view flows from the seated position behind a computer keyboard, far from the frozen surface on which the game is played at its highest level. The intensity (ahem) of competing in the local weekly beer league clearly doesn't compare.

Those who play the game at the elite stage are going to get hurt -- and sometimes very seriously. That's why the Ottawa Senators are forced to compensate as best they can for the loss of (easily argued) the top defenseman in the NHL. In comparison, Karlsson's fantasy owners -- or former owners, as is already the case for many -- face an easier task in making the appropriate alterations to their rosters.

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

Within the Senators organization, veteran Sergei Gonchar experiences an instant fantasy boost as Karlsson's obvious replacement on the squad's top power-play unit, while young Patrick Wiercioch sees a rise in value, as well. Andre Benoit may also merit a look if he continues to garner regular minutes. However, general manager Bryan Murray is working the phones, determined to forge a deal that could bring in an experienced puck-moving blueliner and/or partial replacement for injured forward Jason Spezza. So the Sens' lineup, including the blue line, appears to be in limbo at present.

Fortunately for the Winnipeg Jets, the injury shelving Tobias Enstrom isn't nearly as serious. Considered week-to-week with a damaged shoulder, Enstrom could be back in action by mid-March. If placing the top-notch offensive defenseman on injured reserve makes sense in your league, go for it. Otherwise, Enstrom's outright release may be the more logical course of action this season, particularly in non-keeper groups.

Truth is, the Jets won't rush the return of one of their top assets (who has a five-year, $28.75 million extension until 2018) for a battle among basement dwellers in the East. Building for the future, the club is under less pressure to make immediate changes for a playoff push now. We're more likely to see Paul Postma get extra opportunities to strut his offensive stuff, while an increased role for Dustin Byfuglien may also be in play. Additionally, the return of Zach Bogosian (wrist injury) is a big plus. Still shaking off the rust and dust, Bogosian is sure to benefit soon from lots of minutes in all situations. Only three games in, the 22-year-old is already averaging more than 24 minutes per contest.

This isn't to suggest that Wiercioch or Postma -- or even Bogosian -- might serve as a decent substitute for an elite performer like Karlsson or Enstrom. That would be ridiculous. Only that such a player -- overwhelmingly available in ESPN.com leagues in the case of Wiercioch and Postma -- could perform as a partial plug with the potential to pleasantly surprise. There are also other sleepers (see below) still widely available outside of Ottawa's and Winnipeg's respective organizations. Otherwise, you may find that the loss of such a high-caliber D-man calls for a trade (perhaps the timely opportunity to move a sell-high center, winger or goaltender).

Rising and falling

Tyson Barrie, Colorado Avalanche (re-emerges at No. 39): With Erik Johnson out indefinitely (head injury), Barrie has emerged as the top offensive defenseman in Colorado. If the rookie feels overwhelmed by such responsibility, he's not making a show of it. Notching a goal and three assists -- including two power-play points -- in his past three games, Barrie is finally offering the Avs a reason to smile. And the 21-year-old is becoming more confident. As an asset, Barrie has a similar fantasy scent to that of Kevin Shattenkirk circa early 2010-11, before the then-Avalanche defenseman erupted for 26 points in 46 contests. Barrie is a no-brainer addition if you're desperate for blue-line help.

John-Michael Liles, Toronto Maple Leafs (down 14 spots): A healthy scratch for two straight games, Liles is the odd man out "du jour" for Leafs coach Randy Carlyle. Even though Liles hasn't played that poorly, the Leafs are spoiled for choice in the blue-line department. Until GM Dave Nonis ships out a defenseman via trade -- an outwardly inevitable move with Jake Gardiner all warmed up in the AHL -- the only two surefire, active fantasy D-men are Dion Phaneuf and Cody Franson (this week, at any rate). And Liles is considered one of the club's top trade candidates, to boot.

Roman Josi, Nashville Predators (re-emerges at No. 72): Three goals and three assists in his past four contests has Shea Weber right back where he belongs in the Thin Blue Line's top 15. Look for Josi to benefit from association on a more regular basis. Plus, a recent goal and assist offers additional encouragement.

Jordan Leopold, Buffalo Sabres (off): However you slice it, the Sabres, who fired coach Lindy Ruff on Wednesday, are a mess at the moment. In short, this is a disorderly and uninspired team that we want little to do with from a fantasy perspective. For what it's worth, T.J. Brennan replaced Leopold in the lineup and supplanted Tyler Myers and Christian Ehrhoff on the squad's top power-play unit in Tuesday's 2-1 loss to the Jets. Anticipate further changes since that formula clearly didn't work out as hoped. Outside of Ehrhoff, the Sabres' blue line doesn't boast much. And we're giving Myers one last week to smarten up before dropping him out of the Top 75 altogether. Talent and tools aside, the towering 23-year-old is floundering more often than not.

Key injury (and other) notes

Mike Green of the Washington Capitals is listed as day-to-day with a lower-body injury. Green is considered questionable for Thursday's contest against the New Jersey Devils. … Also nursing a minor lower-body injury, Brent Seabrook of the Chicago Blackhawks is considered a "maybe" for Friday's tilt with the San Jose Sharks. … The Carolina Hurricanes suggest that Joni Pitkanen is poised to return to action after missing two games with a lower-body injury. … Recovering from an upper-body injury (read: concussion), Cam Fowler could still be a couple of weeks away from returning to action for the Anaheim Ducks. In Fowler's absence, Francois Beauchemin has done a superb job from a production standpoint. Consider dealing the 32-year-old veteran as a sell-high candidate before his numbers dry up.

Power-play performers

In light of their banged-up blue line, the Detroit Red Wings appear willing to experiment with Jakub Kindl in a more prominent power-play role, as a second-unit partner to Ian White. The towering 26-year-old has yet to register a point with the man advantage, but has three even-strength assists (plus-3) in his past three contests.

The honor of "Top Fantasy Defenseman of the Week" goes to Duncan Keith of the Blackhawks. With seven assists -- including four power-play helpers -- in his past six games (plus-6), Keith is more than making up for his slightly sluggish start. Playing for the hottest team in the NHL, the 29-year-old is in little danger of letting up soon.