Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
When Pittsburgh Penguins forward Matt Cooke's skate tore apart Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson's Achilles' tendon on Wednesday night, fantasy owners lost one of the most vital players in the game.
Karlsson won the Norris Trophy last season recognizing him as the NHL's best defenseman, and he has owned that distinction in fantasy hockey early this season as well.
The 22-year-old has six goals, four assists, a plus-six differential and an NHL-leading 63 SOG. Simply put, he is incomparable at the position.
Owning him gives fantasy owners the same advantage as owing tight end Rob Gronkowski in fantasy football or catcher Buster Posey in fantasy baseball. All three are superstars at an extremely scarce position. And now that advantage is gone.
Replacing Karlsson is impossible, but there are some low-cost options that might be available to help you at least get back some of the numbers you are losing with the defenseman out.
Shea Weber, Nashville Predators - Weber has been awful after signing a 14-year, $100-plus million contract in the offseason. He has a measly one point with zero goals in 13 games, and his struggles are closely related to long-time blue-line partner Ryan Suter signing with the Minnesota Wild. But if there is anyone who might be able to duplicate Karlsson's numbers, Weber is the guy. He's accumulated 74 goals and 193 points with 957 SOG over the last four seasons and can probably be had for a low-ball offer right now. He's worth a shot if the price tag is low enough.
Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings - Doughty has played even worse than Weber; at least Weber has fulfilled some of his defensive duties. Doughty has a minus-10 differential through 11 games. He has just four points (all assists) after putting up 37 goals and 135 points with 449 SOG over the previous three seasons. Like Weber, Doughty probably won't cost as much as he did last season but the potential is there.
Kevin Bieksa, Vancouver Canucks - Bieksa had eight goals, 44 points and 166 SOG in 78 games last season but he notched zero in his first eight games. However, he has started to turn things around with a goal in three of his last four games and eight SOG in that span. As always, Bieksa can be counted on for plenty of PIM and a differential on the plus side.
Lubomir Visnovsky, New York Islanders - Visnovsky finally arrived in the United States after missing the first few weeks while tending to his son's health in Slovakia. The defenseman hoped to stay in the KHL this season but the league rejected his contract to honor an agreement with the NHL. Visnovsky is just two years removed from an 18-goal, 68-point season. While his goal potential isn't that high, he can still rack up the assists, as he has proven so far. In two games with New York, Visnovsky has two helpers, four PIM and four SOG. The veteran already has been playing on the top power-play line with Mark Streit.
Andy Greene, New Jersey Devils - One of the hottest players in hockey over the past two weeks, Greene is likely flying off the free agent wire quickly, but he can still be had if you act fast. Green has two goals, eight points, 14 PIM and 18 SOG in 13 games, with five of his points coming with the man advantage. He could soon replace Marek Zidlicky on the team's lead power-play line.
Francois Beauchemin, Anaheim Ducks - Beauchemin has enjoyed February as much as Greene. Since this month began, the Ducks blueliner has a goal, five points, 13 SOG, six PIM and a plus-8. Beauchemin has been around for a decade and has never had more than 34 points in a season so he's a long shot, but a guy who is getting minutes with the top defensive pairing both at even strength and on the power play is a must-add.
Dougie Hamilton, Boston Bruins - Hamilton, Boston's first-round pick in 2011, is still just 19 years old so fantasy owners should expect some major growing pains. Still, the youngster's ice time is only increasing, and he has been the second blueliner off the bench this season after Zdeno Chara when the team is on the power play. Hamilton doesn't have a point in February after picking up four assists last month, but he does have seven SOG this month, giving him 28 for the season in 11 games.