NHL Playoff Pool Strategies and Sleepers

Updated: April 11, 2010 at 1:45 pm by Matt Bennett

As the regular season ends, it becomes a sad day for fantasy hockey players – win or lose.  Fortunately, we all have playoff pools (often scrounged up by the dude in the shady office) to keep us occupied for the next couple months.  If you’re looking for an NHL playoff pool solution, be sure to visit HockeyDraft.ca, or if you want to jump into a pool, CBC.ca should have something for you.

The Strategy:

  • High risk – high reward players often show the high-risk side in the post-season.  The intensity level always increases in the postseason and it won’t be uncommon for a few of the antagonists or grinders to rough up a few stars.  If a player has an injury history (i.e. Marian Gaborik) or their team is in-line to play the Flyers (if they make it) then you might want to steer clear.
  • First select the teams you like to go deep (think Final Four) and then select players from those teams.  If you limit yourself to players matching up in the first two rounds, you’ll find yourself in the bottom of the pack in no time.  This especially applies to goaltenders.  If you get the option to pick more than one goaltender, be sure to pick one from the East and from the West
  • At the same time, try and avoid picking players from teams that have difficult first round matchups.  For example, Ottawa-Pittsburgh isn’t too enticing because it could go either way the way both teams are playing coming in.
  • If you especially love one team, by all means load up on their stars.  If you feel a team will go deep in a particular conference then get all of their top scorers because they will most likely get you 2 or 3x the points on a scoring plays.  I’m sure we’ll see many Semin-Backstrom-Ovechkin-Green picks this year if the league setup permits it.
  • Icetime (for offensive players) rules everything.  Lean your picks to guys who will play on the powerplay and shorthanded as well as the top 2 scoring lines because they will see the most icetime.  This season, Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexander Ovechkin were 1-2 in powerplay time per game but did you know Bill Guerin ranks number 5 among playoff forwards for PP time in the regular season?

The Sleepers:

When looking at the rules above and trying to pick players with low-risk and high-reward, I’ve come up with a few notable names:

Alexander Edler – D: Edler was the third highest defenseman in points per game at .8 P/G and is bringing a 1.0 P/G pace from April into the postseason.  If you like Vancouver’s chances, you will like Edler’s spot on the Canucks’ top powerplay unit as well.

Kris Versteeg – F: Chicago has a good shot of going deep provided they get some stability in net and their newly appointed second-line center could give your team some late juice.  Versteeg performed well last postseason at .71 P/G and is bringing 6 points in 5 April games with him into the postseason.  There’s icetime risk here given the plethora of talent on the Hawks but he could easily become this playoff’s Maxime Talbot.

Mike Knuble – F: His stock will probably drop because of all the other Washington options but Knuble is still seeing time on the Caps’ top line – which is guaranteed to see a lot of icetime in the postseason.  Knuble enters the postseason with a 1.0 P/G pace and has 10 points in his last 18 postseason games with the Flyers.

Tomas Holmstrom – F: The Wings are always a postseason threat and outside of the must-have Johan Franzen, Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, Holmstrom is a legitimate postseason threat.  He’s guaranteed to spend most of his time on the ice in scoring situations parked right infront of the net, setting him up for a lot of opportunities to rack up points.  Holmstrom has 9 points in his last 6 games en route to the playoffs.

Buffalo Sabres Forwards: Nobody is predicting much from the Sabres this post-season and are ranking all of the Sabres forwards appropriately.  However, a conference final appearance from the Sabres isn’t out of the question because of their solid goaltending and their forwards can provide a lot of consistent scoring for poolies.  Jason Pominville, Tim Connolly (injury risk) and Thomas Vanek rank 1-2-3 in powerplay TOI during the season and Connolly has .89 P/G coming into the playoffs.  Derek Roy also ranks among the top Sabres powerplay players and leads the Sabres in scoring.  Tyler Ennis could be a worthy longshot sleeper here if he gets considerable playing time in the top-6.  Ennis has 9 points in 9 games going into the playoffs and has seen time on the second line and powerplay unit.

Jimmy Howard – G: As mentioned before, the Wings are always a postseason threat but nobody has more wins coming into the postseason over the last month than Howard.  Backing a rookie goalie is always a tough play but we were all witness to some excellent postseason play by Semyon Varlamov last season – so it is possible.

Pekka Rinne – G: A lot of a team’s success in the postseason comes from a goaltending playing on top of their game.  Nobody in the NHL has played better than Rinne over the last month, amassing 10 wins and 4 all-important shutouts.  Keeping the hot streak alive wouldn’t be out of the question and the goaltending inconsistencies of the top 3 teams in the West could be the perfect set up for a 6th-seed team to go deep.

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Matt Bennett is an original DailyFaceoff.com co-Founder. Feel free to reach Bennett directly @bennettdf.
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