The Statsman: NHL Playoff Pool Strategy

NHL Playoff Pool Strategy
By Paul Bruno

For Hockey fans, we are on the brink of the best two months of the NHL season—the race to the Cup begins on Wednesday night.

In preparing for your upcoming drafts, you have to devise a plan that makes sense and then try to stick to it.

Early on in your draft, all the top players from the best teams will be the obvious choices that go first.

To succeed in a playoff draft, you have to be aware of the fact that half of the participants will be gone in the first round. Your best bet is to focus on those teams that will go far into the post season. So it is imperative to understand the math behind getting a lot farther. First round winners will play at least eight games, assuming they sweep the first round and then get swept in the second round. That means a minimum of eight games played, which is more than any first round losers. By the same token, only four are guaranteed at least 12 games as they need to win two series to qualify for that third round, by virtue of winning those first two rounds and allowing for the fact that they may be swept in that third round. So you can see the importance of surviving those first two rounds will leave you with a chance to maintain a full roster of active players deep into the post season. That has to be your priority and all you need to realize to understand that point is a look at the scoring leaders of any of the last several playoff scoring races.

Each year since this 16-team format has been in place, the four teams that make it to the Conference finals make up 90% of the top 20 scorers in the playoffs.

Your next bit of preparation should be to note who are the top six forwards, the scoring defensemen and the projected starters among the goalies, assuming that shutouts and goalie wins are valued in your pools. Then grab as many of those players to fill out your rosters. Keep in mind that you will need to know which players are apt to log the most ice time on the power plays as well. Successful power play units are a key to a team’s playoff longevity.

Let’s now take a look at some of the key players I might recommend in this post season.

In the East, the Bruins have led wire to wire in the Conference standings and they look to feast in a first round matchup against either Montreal or New York. They have a pack of dynamic forwards, led by Marc Savard, with strength down the middle and lots of skill on the wings, too. Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Blake Wheeler will be top considerations. Don’t forget about a guy like Mark Recchi, either, as he has plenty of playoff experience and has a knack for scoring important goals at this time of year. On defense, Zdeno Chara is an obvious top pick, as he will log close to thirty minutes every night and anchor the power play. Dennis Wideman is another blueliner who will log important minutes and has had a great offensive season. Tim Thomas is the undisputed top goalie here and will earn plenty of wins as the Bruins advance.

After the Bruins, I like the Penguins to advance to the Conference Finals. They, too have the obvious picks in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin up front. Take not that Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin will be alongside one or both of these scoring machines and will pick up points as a result of being on the ice at the same time. Petr Sykora has long been a power play specialist here, too. On defense, Sergei Gonchar is their quarterback and has had a great resurgence since his return to the lineup in mid-season. Brooks Orpik and Kris Letang are lesser-known but will get their share of points and ice time on the blueline. In goal, Marc Andre Fleury looks to build on last year’s outstanding post-season.

In the West, San Jose has had a fabulous regular season and looks to be a team without a weakness as they prepare for the playoffs. Joe Thornton has not yet had a dominant playoff year and seems motivated to change that on his career resume. Linemates Patrick Marleau and Devin Setogucchi have joined him to form a feared forward line combination. Jonathan Cheechoo and Ryan Clowe have enjoyed strong performances in prior playoffs and look ready to repeat. Milan Mihalek and Joe Pavelski should also be on your radar. On defense, Dan Boyle is the obvious first option, but don’t forget about Rob Blake, Christian Ehrhoff and Marc-Edouard Vlasic who will all get “top four” minutes. In goal, Evgeni Nabokov has again enjoyed an outstanding year under a heavy workload and will be their starter every night.

I can’t bet against the Red Wings going deep into the post-season, so they will be led by the usual suspects. Up front, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Marian Hossa should be drafted early. Johan Franzen, Tomas Holstrom should soon follow. Jiri Hudler and Mikael Samuelsson should also be considered. On defense, Niklas Lidstrom, Bryan Rafalski and Niklas Kronwall are the obvious picks. In goal, both Chris Osgood and Ty Conklin will likely see playing time early and as such are both less attractive options than the goalies on the other three teams that I have profiled here. If you guess right, you will be well-rewarded. The wrong pick will be much like a pick of any player who is lost in the first round.

This is my recommended strategy and the four teams that I expect to advance. Only after exhausting considerations of these teams would I look elsewhere.

You should plan to do the same with the four clubs you expect to go deep into this post-season.

GOOD LUCK TO POOLIES EVERYWHERE. AND LET THE GAMES BEGIN!!!


Paul Bruno has been a periodic contributor to www.tmlfans.ca and has his own weekly fantasy sports talk show, The Statsman Show, which can be heard every Wednesday night from 9-11 p.m. EST, on www.thatchannel.com

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