When it comes to constructing a fantasy hockey roster, I like to take a garage-sale approach with the last few defense slots. There are always values to be had in this area: last year we got Matt Carle(notes) on the cheap; the year before it was Cam Barker(notes); the year before it was Dennis Wideman(notes), etc. Let's take a look around at some of the early and intriguing blue-line options (players are listed by their Yahoo! ownership, in descending order):
• John-Michael Liles(notes), Avalanche (52 percent): He was in and out of the Joe Sacco doghouse for much of the 2009-10 season, but he's answered the bell at the front of the new year, picking up four assists in Colorado's opening two games. If Liles can stay in the good graces of the Avalanche braintrust, he's got 40-50 point upside.
• James Wisniewski(notes), Islanders (47 percent): He's stepped into the Mark Streit(notes) role on the Island and so far, so good (1-2-3, with all scoring done on the man-advantage). Wisniewski owners have to wait out a two-game suspension (careful with those fingers), but he's worth stashing on your bench for now.
• Anton Stralman(notes), Bluejackets (42 percent): He gave us a strong five months last year before hitting the wall of sorts, but the Jackets still believe in this handy puck mover. Stralman picked up two power-play assists in his first two starts, and he's locked into the top PP group.
• Dennis Wideman, Panthers (40 percent): He hasn't picked up any points yet but he's secure on the top power-play line in Florida. Keep in mind Wideman gave us 30 points in a down year and he's just two seasons removed from a 13-37-50 campaign. His ownership level should be at least 20 percent higher.
• Paul Martin(notes), Penguins (40 percent): He's on the second power-play group for now but just being around all these talented Pens should serve well for the bottom line. Martin broke from the gate quickly with four points and eight shots in his first three games. He has a shot to sneak into the 35-40 point range, and his plus-minus should be solid as well.
• Brent Burns(notes), Wild (34 percent): No one has ever questioned the talent here, it's just a case of staying healthy. Burns has a power-play goal and nine shots to show for his first two games; if he can merely stay on the ice for 75 starts, 10-24-35 would be his floor.
• Jason Demers(notes), Sharks (27 percent): I'm stunned his ownership level isn't two or three times higher that the current number. Demers managed to post a 4-17-21 line last year despite being a raw rookie, and he's going to be on San Jose's top power-play group more often than not. His over-under for points this year is probably around 40, and eventually he's going to sail well past that number.
• Jordan Leopold(notes), Sabres (20 percent): I chased this breakout candidate for most of his 20s, seduced by the talent we saw in college. Is it too late to dream of a post-hype hit even at the age of 30? Leopold has two goals and two assists through four games (along with 10 shots), and he's getting tons of time on the power play (in part because Jason Pominville(notes) is now hurt).
• Carlo Colaiacovo(notes), Blues (6 percent): He's running with the first power play in St. Louis, logging 17 minutes with the man-advantage over the first two games. Colaiacovo has justified the spot with a goal, an assist and five shots. Sometimes it's hard to trust a veteran player with a long history of ordinary returns, but I'm willing to jump on board here and see if it leads anywhere.
• Johnny Boychuk(notes), Bruins (4 percent): He hasn't hit the scoreboard yet this year but I like how he finished the end of last season, putting up six points over 13 playoff games. Boychuk is battling Dennis Seidenberg(notes) for power-play time with the big kids in Boston, but even if Boychuk winds up on the second unit, I'm still interested.
The intriguing options don't stop here, of course. What partially-owned defensemen (52 percent and lower) have caught your eye in the opening week?