It’s playoff time baby, the best time of the year! It’s okay for all of us to grow big beards, over-consume alcohol and chirp our friends who cheer for rival teams. Fantasy playoff pools are being chosen as we speak and hopefully the following analysis helps you with some of those tough decisions you need to make.
To be successful in playoff pools, you need to be a little lucky and have great foresight.
People who win these pools choose players that are on teams that make it deep into May and early June. Those of us whose teams are still playing normally tend to be a bit biased and that will work for some, however most of us will not be seeing our teams in the finals. So, it is important to consider the league as a whole, consider some historical facts and lastly, utilize this past season’s stats as indicators. The element of luck comes into play in two spheres; hopefully avoiding players who get injured and picking those players whose regular season success can translate into the playoffs.
Vancouver Canucks vs. Chicago Blackhawks
These two teams met in the last two playoffs conference semi-finals, resulting in the departure of the Canucks both times. Not only is victory in the playoffs over the Blackhawks a season goal, it is one of the questionable obstacles for their ultimate goal, that being winning Lord Stanley.
Things to think about: the Blackhawks were depending on a loss by the Dallas Stars this year in the final game to even gain entry into the 2nd season. They struggled all year with the loss of some key players and became dependent on their young talent. This year’s Blackhawks might just not be deep enough to beat the Canucks and will have their work cut out for them.
As cliche as it is now, the President’s Trophy curse is an interesting superstition to consider. Since 2003, only one team that has won this trophy has made it, being the Detroit Red Wings in ’08. The Red Wings have also won the trophy and lost the cup in this time span too. The total record of all teams that have won the President’s in this time span is a meager 33-32.
That all being said, as we consider our picks for pools, we need to consider these factors going forward. Players to consider in this round are the obvious ones.
The Sedins; Daniel finished with 104 points scoring 41 times on 266 shots. He likes to shoot, no surprise. Good things happen when you put the puck on net. Henrik finished this year with 94 points, racking up 75 assists and with his brother being around we obviously know they will have opportunities. I would warrant hesitation on taking both of them simply because if the Nucks are not able to overcome their Chicago dilemma you will be stuck without two huge pieces for the rest of the playoffs.
Jonathan Toews: Toews finished with 76 points this year and truly earned his C. If the hawks are going to even make it out of the first round they need a beast of a performance out of Jonathan.
Duncan Keith: Another obvious choice, Keith finished last years playoffs with 17 points. 15 of those were assists, however he did shoot 61 times which shows he was getting time on the power play. Again, if you have Chicago winning this series, then you have Keith, like Toews shouldering the load.
No offense Blackhawks fans, but lean towards taking Canucks players here.
San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings
The Kings and Sharks have never met in the playoffs before. In the regular season the Sharks came out on top with a 3-1-2 record.
Common criticism of the Sharks is that they are choke artists, and yes they have never won Lord Stanley, but there is a first for everything and this team is looking much deeper than those past seasons with the revamped and more than capable 4th line of Ben Eager, Jamal Mayers and Scott Nichol. This line isn’t going to blow anybody away, however they can compete and provide some rest minutes for San Jose’s top lines.
As of late the Kings went 6-4 in their last 10 leading up to the playoffs and the Sharks were 7-2-1. This series has the make up to be a long series adding value to picks from these teams.
Justin Williams: Justin is practicing non contact right now and is being evaluated to come back, if he does it will be a big boost of experience for this team. Williams did score the final goal of the 2006 Stanley Cup playoffs helping the Carolina Hurricanes win the cup. Williams finished the year with 57 points and with Kopitar out, the Kings need him to carry the load.
Dustin Brown: Brown also finished with 57 points this year and took 228 shots. He finished with 7 Power play goals, so he will be seeing a lot of time on the power play.
Joe Thornton: Jumbo Joe has carried a lot of the skeptics criticism over the past couple of years and no doubt, if they fail again this year he will be at the center of the blame. Thornton finished this year with 70 points while accumulating 49 more assists.
Dany Heatley: Heater had a down year this year and he hurt me in my own fantasy pool. I am not hating on the Heater, however you may want to avoid him this playoff. He only scored 2 times last year in the playoffs and seems like a risky choice with so many other options including one of his teammates, rookie Logan Couture and his 32 goal season.
Detroit Red Wings vs. Phoenix Coyotes
This could be an interesting series as Phoenix quietly won only 4 less then the Red Wings this year. Last year these two met in the opening round and produced one of the most exciting series in the playoffs by going to game 7. Detroit quieted the Coyotes in the last game with a 6-1 win.
This series (like most) will come down to goaltending and the variables surrounding them. Number one is about Detroit’s number one. If the Phoenix gets to Jimmy Howard, Detroit could very well be in trouble. Phoenix has a stud in net, but they gave up 32.6 shots per game this season.
Johan Franzen: In 12 games last playoffs, Johan finished with 18 points, 12 of those being assists. Franzen finished the regular season off this year with 10 power play goals. This offense is still riddled with production players and you can expect Franzen to be one of them.
Pavel Datsyuk: Pavel also finished last years playoffs considerably well. He had 13 points in 12 games. Interestingly enough, Datsyuk only played 56 games this year, but he finished with 59 points.
Shane Doan: Doan finished this season with 20 goals. That isn’t exactly the point production you want from your goal leader, but Doan is poised with vengeance as he missed most of last years series due to injury.
Ilya Bryzgalov: This is a no brainer for goaltending here and a must-perform if Phoenix is going to make it anywhere. He went 36-20 this year with 7 shutouts, .921 SV% and 2.48 GAA. He may need to get another 7 shutouts in the playoffs to get this team deep.
Anaheim Ducks vs. Nashville Predators
Corey Perry!! The Ducks need to ride his 50 goal campaign as far as they can. Issues that arise in this series and for Anaheim is the uncertainty with their goaltending situation. Vertigo, hips and x-Predators man the nets for the Ducks and they have gone 7-3 over their last 10, giving them home advantage.
To counter, the Predators have to ride the hot tending by Pekka Rinne. He finished 2nd in the league with a 2.12 GAA, but he is unproven so far in playoffs. Nashville finished 44-27-11. 6 more overtime/shootout losses then the ducks. If they can carry games long and wear out the goaltending on the other end, they could be looking at a first round upset.
Predators took the regular season match up by winning 3 of the 4 matchups.
Corey Perry: As noted, Perry finished the year with 50 goals and carried the Ducks into 4th place. Perry will be a hot commodity in all formats.
Teemu Selanne: The fountain of youth finished with 80 points this year, tallying up 49 assists. He contributed 16 power play goals, however Nashville finished the year with the 4th least amount of penalties with 322 in the league.
Shea Weber: Shea finished the year off with 48 points, 16 of those being goals. That is 2 points less then the leading scorers (Erat, Kostitsyn) on the team. Weber will be used to quarterback the power play and deploying a blast that tears through twine as often as he can. This bodes well for the predators as Anaheim is slightly more aggressive and takes more penalties.
Rinne: One of this years Vezina candidates finished with .930 SV% and 6 shutouts. Rinne will have to be solid though to hold back Anahiem’s offense and keep Nashville in games.
Washington Capitals vs. New York Rangers
Washington has some playoff skeletons in their closet that they will be looking to shake this year, but they will have to face off against a gritty 8th seeded New York Rangers.
Some key injuries are in play here, New York Rangers Ryan Callahan and Washington will be getting back Mike Green, but be without Dennis Wideman.
Marian Gaborik: Gaborik only played in 62 games this year and mustered up 48 points, but there is no denying that he is an opportunist with the ability to score. If you think New York will go deep, then you are probably depending on some big production here.
Henrik Lundqvist: Could possibly be this years best goalie with 11 Shutouts and a 2.28 GAA. He needs to be big to be tame this juggernaut of an offense.
Alexander Ovechkin: Even though he had a bit of a down year, he still scored 32 goals. Ovechkin, as everybody knows, is always a serious scoring threat. Over the last three years in the playoffs and a total of 28 games, Ovie has produced 40 playoff points.
Brooks Laich: Ya, I decided to throw in a potential sleeper, if you can even call them that in playoff pools. I mean teams that make the playoffs, most people know about their rosters. The main reason I include him is because he was second on the team for shots, he won 61.9% of his faceoffs last playoffs and will get time on the power play. He will get opportunities.
Philadelphia Flyers vs. Buffalo Sabres
This should be a fun series, Philly has struggled this second half mainly in their own end. The defense has been a different story since the injury to Chris Pronger and their goaltending, surprise surprise, has been questionable. They proved last year they can turn it on when needed.
The Sabres did a complete 180 the second half of the season and finished the last 10 by going 8-1-1.
Daniel Briere: This guy is a playoff player. He finished last years playoffs with 12 goals and 18 assists and will be lined up with Scott Hartnell and Ville Leino, both players with the ability to produce.
Claude Giroux: Giroux mustered up 50 helpers this season and 25 goals. Last year in the playoffs he also had 21 points. The kid has hands and Philly needs them to do magic to make it to the next round.
Thomas Vanek: Buffalo’s offensive leader finished the campaign off with 32 goals and had a strong second half despite the team missing Derek Roy to an early departure. Vanek only appeared in 3 playoff games last year, but was a point per game guy with 2 goals and 1 assist.
Ryan Miller: Last years Vezina winner has been hindered with an upper-body injury as of late, but is still as good as any. He finished the year with 5 shutouts and a 2.59 GAA. If he is healthy he can be the difference maker in this series.
Boston Bruins vs. Montreal Canadiens
This series is going to live up to the hype. Hits will come in bunches and goaltending will be outstanding with an extra douse of emotion only to leave us all entertained.
Montreal finished the season with the 4 – 2 edge over Boston, however their last meeting on March 24th, Boston won 7-0. History will continue to be made in this series.
Zdeno Chara: This guy is a minute muncher with 25:26 minutes per game and he led the league at +33 this year. Boston will depend on him in all situations and his 8 power play goals are an indicator of that dependence.
Milan Lucic: Lucic lead the team this year with 30 goals and will be required to continue his scoring touch to get past Montreal. Price is going to be stingy in net, and Boston will need bodies crashing the net and creating traffic, a role perfect for the big guy.
Carey Price: Like last year, Montreal will need to have arguably the best goalie in the playoffs. Just this year it is going to have to be Price instead of Halak. Price proved this year that Montreal made the right choice (maybe not the right trade) by getting 8 shut outs and holding down a .923 SV%.
Michael Cammalleri: Cammalleri is embracing the similar feeling of being an underdog as they did last year. If he can get his playoff groove back, he will prove to be a valuable fantasy pick up. Cammalleri scored 13 goals in 19 playoff games last year and that kind of performance will be a must for Montreal.
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
Yes, TSN, we all know that Crosby has been skating and yes, Sportsnet, we all know there is no time frame for his return. Obviously a Crosby return would be a boost to the Penguins chances. But all this hoopla is only making us overlook what coach Dan Bylsma has done with this injured riddled squad. Pittsburgh has finished over the last 10 with an 8-2 record and tied the Flyers with 106 points.
Tampa is riding the ‘all in‘ slogan all the way into Pittsburgh, and their offense is something to pay attention to. They scored 241 goals this year as a team and they are led by the dynamic duo of St. Louis and Stamkos.
Martin St. Louis: Since being paired up with Stamkos, Martin St. Louis has accrued 133 assists over the last two seasons. These two are going to continue connecting through the playoffs.
Marc-Andre Fleury: Fleury has 38 playoff wins for the Penguins since he came into the league in 2006 and he is only 26. He played well this year and had a .918 SV% and a 2.32 GAA. This is a young, experienced goalie ready for another round of playoffs.
Kris Letang: shut down defense is going to be important for the penguins as they have not won a game this season in which they have trailed going into the third period. Some offense has been produced by Letang as well though. He finished the year with 50 helpers, but he also took 236 shots on net. These are of course indicators of plenty power play time and production opportunities.
What I am looking for as I make my picks for players in playoff pools are teams that A.) will go deep into the playoffs obviously. Match ups are a variable and secondary concern as by the second round all the factors will change. If you get to pick each round then, B.) I would be looking at trying to predict which series are going to go long. If 7 games are played in a series, those key players will have more opportunities that say of those that are on the winning teams of a sweep series.
Anyways, good luck to all of you in your pools and with the chirping from your friends, enjoy the playoffs and as the NHL says, ‘history will be made’.