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Byfuglien dethrones Green as top fantasy blueliner

by Matt Cubeta /
In this edition of the Fantasy Five, we'll take a glance at the NHL's top-50 fantasy defensemen. We finally have a new No. 1, showing our commitment and faith in the young gun Dustin Byfuglien. We were hesitant to give him the top spot after only a month of action, but 30-plus games into the season is a different story, and we're fully confident Byfuglien deserves the honor.

1. Byfuglien takes top rank

As a defenseman, Byfuglien is tied for 15th among all NHL players in points with 33 and is the only blueliner with double-digit goals, with 11. He has a plus-8 rating on the season while leading the Thrashers with 14 power-play points and 132 shots on goal -- he is one of only two NHL defensemen with triple-digit shots (Shea Weber has 102). He has been an absolute fantasy stud this season and is one of the biggest reasons why the Thrashers find themselves battling for the lead in the Southeast Division.

The most important question regarding Byfuglien's fantasy value is whether he'll be able to keep this unbelievable pace up for the remainder of the season -- we say why not? We all know about his huge slap shot from the point, and as long as Byfuglien continues to receive nearly four minutes of power-play time per night, he'll continue to get the chance to let that rocket go. He might not finish the season with this point-per-game pace, but 65-plus points certainly seems realistic for the former Blackhawk.

Is it possible Mike Green gets things going and eventually retakes the top spot among our defensemen? Sure, but for now Big Buff is our guy, and we believe he can continue to put up these hefty statistics from the back end.

2. Updated defensemen rankings

These modified re-rankings are based on expectations of the season going forward (including injuries). The plus or minus for each player is based on our most recent rankings from Nov. 8, NOT our preseason ranks. (NR means not ranked in previous rankings.)

Dan Boyle (same)

Defensemen that dropped out of last segment's top-50: Andrei Markov (injured), Zach Bogosian, Jordan Leopold, Cody Franson, Alex Pietrangelo

3. Trending upward

John-Michael Liles -- Despite a bit of a cold streak recently (just 2 assists in his last six games), Liles still ranks second among all d-men with 28 points. Like Byfuglien and Letang, the Avalanche blueliner has proven to us that his early-season success was no fluke. If you were lucky enough to grab him early on this season, you should have yourself a solid No. 1 defenseman for the remainder of the campaign.

Keith Yandle -- Yandle has come on extremely strong of late, with 1 goal and 8 assists in his last seven games for the Coyotes. He is also one of only three NHL defensemen to lead their team in points (Atlanta's Byfuglien and Edmonton's Ryan Whitney are the other two). While his minus-7 rating on the season is a bit of a hit, he makes up for it in shots with 84 -- ranking him sixth among all defensemen. Yandle has taken the reins as Phoenix's No. 1 defenseman and is seeing 24:14 of ice time per game, with nearly four minutes of that coming on the power play. The 24-year-old had a career high 41 points last season and should easily top that, considering he's on pace for 55 right now. Start him regularly.

Marc Staal -- Known as a defensive defenseman, Staal has really stepped up his game offensively recently in New York. With 2 goals and 3 assists in his previous five games, Marc now has 6 goals and 9 assists on the season. What's even more encouraging is that Staal is starting to receive more power play ice time with Michael Del Zotto struggling of late. The Rangers' blueliner leads the team with a plus-10 rating and can also help those of you in leagues tracking hits, as he has 71 on the season.

4. Trending downward

Sergei Gonchar -- What we thought was just a slow start because of adjustments needed with a new team has now turned into a 35-game stretch of sluggish play from Gonchar. The veteran d-man has 16 points, which isn't terrible, but his minus-19 rating is third-worst at his position behind only Andy Greene and James Wisniewski. Gonchar is also having a tough time getting shots on goal in Ottawa, with just 59. He obviously has the ability to turn the season around, but for now, keep your expectations in check.

Ed Jovanovski -- Jovanovski's numbers don't look too bad on paper, but when you remove his hat trick on Nov. 3 and his three-assist performance on Oct. 21, his stat line looks pretty grim -- 1 goal and 4 assists in his other 26 contests. The veteran Phoenix defenseman will still help you a little bit in the plus/minus (plus-5) and PIMs (27) categories, but it's not a crime if you drop him at this point.

Zach Bogosian -- The No. 3 pick in the 2008 Entry Draft looked like a sure bet to build off his impressive 10-goal performance from last season, but unfortunately a shoulder injury and the emergence of other d-men (Byfuglien and Enstrom) have really hampered the talented Bogosian. Through 28 contests, Bogosian has just 2 goals and 3 assists to go along with a minus-7 rating -- he also has just two points in his last 15 contests. Bogosian is still owned in 51 percent of Yahoo! Leagues, but it's probably safe to cut the youngster and hope he bounces back next season.

5. Player to keep an eye on

With Chris Pronger sidelined 4-to-6 weeks because of foot surgery, Matt Carle is expected to get an increase in fantasy value for the time being. Despite not having a power-play point in 34 games while averaging 2:26 of ice time on the man advantage, the Flyers rear guard should be able to snap that skid soon. Although the Flyers used Claude Giroux on the point against the Rangers on Sunday, Carle, who usually finds himself on the second power-play unit, could get a shot on the top unit in the near future.

Regardless of his power-play status, Carle still makes a solid play as a No. 4 defenseman on any fantasy roster. On the season he has 1 goal and 15 points to go with an outstanding plus-14 rating while seeing nearly 21 minutes of ice time for the powerhouse Flyers. Owned in just 24 percent of Yahoo! Leagues, Carle could turn out to be a steal for the next month or two.

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