We lost two clear-cut D1s last week to injuries that are likely to keep them sidelined until the head-to-head fantasy playoffs are about to begin. That's a tough hit to any fantasy franchise.
Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly is out for eight weeks or so with a fractured foot, while Carolina Hurricanes blue liner Dougie Hamilton has a broken fibula and is out "indefinitely" (but that's an injury that should also keep him out until late March, just like Rielly).
While Tyson Barrie was almost assuredly on a roster in your league, leaving you with limited chances to directly replace Rielly, Jake Gardiner should be available in the bulk of fantasy leagues as Hamilton's likely replacement on the blue line.
To be clear, both will get a massive uptick in production for the next two months and should be locked into lineups. Barrie could very well perform better than Rielly has been to date, as part of what's held back Rielly this season is the presence of both defensemen - too many cooks in the kitchen, as it were. Gardiner has been squarely second-fiddle to Hamilton this season, but is the most natural choice to slide into his role on the power play and as the driving force from the point when the Hurricanes are trying to score.
But if it was already too late to grab Barrie and Gardiner was scooped up already in your league, you need to look somewhere else for some defensive stats in the coming weeks. Here are some suggestions.
Samuel Girard, D, Colorado Avalanche: While Cale Makar hasn't ceded his role as an offensive defenseman for the Avs, Girard has elbowed his way into the mix. He's getting plenty of power-play time with the bug guns, too. The result has been 2:41 of power-play time per game in the past month, which is 21st in the NHL in the past month. He has five points on the man advantage in that time. He should be available in two-thirds of leagues.
Sami Vatanen, D, New Jersey Devils: Hamilton has the most shots on the power play among defensemen in the past month, but sitting alone in second place in that category is Vatanen. Even with P.K. Subban getting some expanded run on the power play, Vatanen has maintained his presence there (Subban is actually tied for third for power-play shots in the past month). You'll take a hit to plus/minus with Vatanen, but the other counting stats will be acceptable.
Filip Hronek, D, Detroit Red Wings: If Vatanen is a hit to plus/minus, Hronek is destruction in skates to it. But again, you aren't going to find defensemen without blemishes to replace your stars. Hronek is top 10 in power-play time per game during the past month. He only has two power-play points show for it, and, again, the plus/minus is damaging. But the opportunity is here and, in a few weeks, the Red Wings power play could improve with the return of Anthony Mantha.
Esa Lindell, D, Dallas Stars: He's not getting a ton of power-play time, and what he does get is contingent on Miro Heiskanen or John Klingberg being injured, but he's doing the absolute most with the minutes he gets. Among defensemen with at least a minute of power-play time per game in the past month, Lindell is first in points per power-play minute. Heiskanen and Klingberg have struggled to be healthy at the same time so far this season, which leaves Lindell with all the secondary minutes on the man advantage.
Forwards on the move
Cam Atkinson, W, Columbus Blue Jackets (up 26 spots to No. 123): Back from almost a month absence to injury, Atkinson returned to a Blue Jackets team on a much different trajectory. While he was struggling on a 15-14-6 team when he was hurt on Dec. 19, he returns to a 25-16-8 club back in the playoff chase. He's skating with Emil Bemstrom and Alexander Wennberg at even strength and on the top power-play unit. He has five points in his first two games back to health and the outlook for the remainder of the season already looks much brighter.
Defensemen on the move
Quinn Hughes, D, Vancouver Canucks (up 12 spots to No. 105): December wasn't horrible for Hughes, but it wasn't quite up to the expectations he set in October and November. But he seems back on track in recent games. Among defensemen, only John Carlson has played more power-play minutes per game since Dec. 19, while only Torey Krug, Alex Pietrangelo and Tony DeAngelo have more power-play points in that time.
Goaltenders on the move
Elvis Merzlikins, G, Columbus Blue Jackets (up 36 spots to No. 98): So, while I guessed that Merzlikins would have success as the starting goaltender for the Blue Jackets, I had no expectations that he would be this good. There is no question now that these results - three shutouts in his past four games - mean Joonas Korpisalo is going to return to a timeshare. It also means Merzlikins has some value that is going to last the remainder of the season.
Carter Hart, G, Philadelphia Flyers (down 40 spots to No. 136): I don't know if anyone has gone up and down the rankings as much as Hart this season. This time it's an injury, but there were some concerns before he suffered an abdominal strain. After a stretch of three and one-third games with only one goal allowed in each, Hart followed up with at least five goals allowed in three of seven games (plus one in which he was pulled after allowing three goals in the first). We'll see what Brian Elliott does with the lion's share of the crease for the next two weeks, but Hart's outlook is down for at least the short-term.