You want to know the secret formula for winning your hockey playoff pool? It’s simple. First decide who you think will reach the Stanley Cup Final. Then, at your draft, pick as many players from those two teams as you possibly can get your gloves on. Follow this strategy right through, and you’ll very well be the last man standing come June.
Picking the two finalists is obviously easier said than done. With yearly upsets and injuries taking their toll on top seeds, deciding exactly which teams will meet for the Cup is far from an exact science these days. Only one #1 seed (Detroit in 2008) has even reached the Final since the lockout. All this really means is that your playoff pool is a complete crapshoot when drafting begins – no matter if you’re selecting first or last. The entire key is in picking the correct teams (and their players) who will advance, not necessarily in making Alex Ovechkin or Daniel Sedin your first pick overall.
If we take a closer look at last season’s totals, the top 7 scoring leaders in the playoffs were all members of Philadelphia and Chicago. In fact, 14 of the top 21 scorers from last year’s playoffs – including unlikely names like Byfuglien, Bolland, Hartnell and Leino – all came from one of those two teams. Taking it back even further, in both the 2008 & 2009 postseasons, 13 of the top 21 scorers came from either Detroit or Pittsburgh (who met in the Final in back-to-back years).
The bottom line is an obvious one – more games played equals more total points. So while it’s easy to pick any team’s top guns and ride them as far as their team will go, the truth is a 3rd line player, like Kris Versteeg, can finish with just as many playoff points as a Sedin brother (in fact, that’s exactly what happened last spring, when all three finished tied with 14 points), simply because Chicago made a deep run. Proof that picking the right role players from successful teams, as opposed to having an array of first or second round superstar casualties, can ultimately be the difference between winning and losing your pool.
With input from our entire staff, Daily Faceoff now takes a closer look at some of the teams that should make some noise in this year’s playoffs, and which of their players are worthy sleeper picks in your draft.
(Please note the lists do not include any players who finished in the Top 2 in scoring on their respective teams)
EASTERN CONFERENCE – SLEEPER PICKS
Mike Knuble, RW
The 38-year old had been seen sipping from the fountain of youth over the final 10 games of the regular season, potting 7 goals (2 PPG) and 10 points during that span. Playing with Ovechkin and Backstrom certainly doesn’t hinder his stock.
Brooks Laich, LW
After a fairly up-and-down season, Laich finished on a high, with 7 assists (4 PPA) in his final 6 games playing on the Caps 2nd line alongside Semin and Johansson.
Mike Green, D
When healthy, Green has the ability to put up incredible numbers. The Caps welcome him back with open arms after a lengthy absence due to a concussion. Will you? He’s definitely worth a flyer late, because the upside is so great.
Nathan Horton, RW
The Dunnville, Ontario native will be looking to make his mark in his first-ever trip to the postseason. He’s been hot of late too, with 6 goals (3 PPG) over his last 10 games playing on Boston’s top line.
Zdeno Chara D
Keep in mind, only 2 defencemen finished in the Top-20 in playoff scoring last year (Pronger & Keith). But rest assured, if the Bruins go deep into the playoffs, Chara will be a big reason why – especially on the powerplay.
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
Vincent Lecavalier, C
While Stamkos will undoubtedly be drafted ahead of Vinny across the board, the two players have actually been going in opposite directions over the past month. Lecavalier, since being reunited with St. Louis, has been a force down the stretch for the Lightning, with points in 10 of his last 11 games (7 goals, 14 points). Stamkos, meanwhile, has mustered on 2 goals in his last 13 games.
Simon Gagne, LW
Gagne’s past his prime, no question about it. But the reliable veteran, who managed 12 points during Philly’s playoff run last season, has amped up his game of late, scoring 18 points for Tampa over their last 15 games.
WESTERN CONFERENCE – SLEEPER PICKS
Alex Edler, D
Don’t be scared off by either the Canucks previous postseason failures or Edler’s surgically repaired back. Edler is Vancouver’s best defenseman and Head Coach Alain Vigneault will put him to use right away on their top PP unit.
Alex Burrows, LW
The streaky Burrows was a big finisher in the 2nd half of the season, scoring 17 of his 26 goals after January 24th, including 9 markers since March 1st. Must be nice playing with the Sedins.
SAN JOSE SHARKS
Joe Pavelski, C/RW
Don’t get Thorntoned this year. Pavelski, the Sharks’ top scorer in last year’s playoffs, has been absolutely on fire down the stretch for San Jose, with 9 goals (5 PPG, 3 GWG) and 17 points over their final 15 games.
Torrey Mitchell, C/LW
While Logan Couture’s the obvious choice to go earlier, Mitchell has shown decent production for San Jose over the final month of the regular season, chipping in with two separate 4-game point streaks over the team’s last 12 games. Depending on how deep your draft is, he’s worth consideration as a final round selection.
Antti Niemi, G
Consider him the Antti-Nabokov. Now that the Sharks have Niemi – a proven, reliable goaltender that won’t choke in the playoffs – this really could finally be their year to win it all.
Teemu Selanne, RW
The 80-point campaign at age 40 is impressive enough. But watching Selanne get into his first career NHL fight in the Ducks’ final regular season game tells me everything I need to know about where this guy’s mind is at. I’ll have what he’s having.
Lubomir Visnovsky, D
The NHL’s top scoring defenceman this season has racked up an amazing 9 Goals and 22 points since March 1st, while anchoring the league’s 2nd best powerplay.
THE BEST OF THE REST:
Chris Pronger, D, Philadelphia – The Flyers hope that their top scoring defenseman in last year’s playoffs can regain his form after an injury-riddled 2010-11 season… Kimmo Timonen, D, Philadelphia – If Pronger can’t go, Timonen will be asked to shoulder the load… Dan Cleary, RW, Detroit – if his performance in the Wings final regular season game vs. CHI was any indication (1G, 1A, GWG), he looks primed for a strong postseason showing… Tomas Holmstrom, LW, Detroit – recorded 4 goals and 3 assists over his past 10 games and will be relied upon heavily to fill the void left by the injured Henrik Zetterburg… Mikael Samuelsson, RW, Vancouver – can he find the touch from last season’s playoffs? Canucks fans certainly hope so… John Carlson, D, Washington – If Green struggles, Carlson will be counted on to give Washington big minutes, especially on the PP. Look for a 10-12 point playoff from the young defenceman if the Caps can actually make it out of the first round this year. Dwayne Roloson, G, Tampa Bay – GM Steve Yzerman rolled the dice hoping that this 41-year old could recapture the magic he showed during the Oilers Cup run in ’06. Tampa’s hopes truly rest on his shoulders… Dan Ellis, G, Anaheim Ducks – With injuries taking their toll on the Ducks’ goaltending corps, it looks like Ellis is going to get his shot to shine.