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Ice Chips: NHL Playoff Primer

April 9, 2007 | By Mike Chen | comment on this post
Detroit Red Wings winger Todd Bertuzzi could be a major factor against Calgary.
Todd Bertuzzi adds some edge to the skillful Wings and it may come in very handy as they look to topple Calgary.

Picking your fantasy playoff roster isn’t an exact science. You can’t just stack your team with stars because, in the end, only two teams will play all four rounds. So, what’s the best strategy? Here are three options and the pros/cons involved with each:

Option 1: Pick two to three teams and stack your roster.

Pros: If your teams make it to the conference finals, you are almost guaranteed a win.
Cons: If any of your teams get bounced in the first round, you’re screwed.

Option 2: Spread your roster out among eight teams.

Pros: With good depth, you’re almost assured of having players in every round.
Cons: Your superstars can still get knocked out at any time and there’s no guarantee that you’ll pick the right role players.

Option 3: The hybrid solution.

With the hybrid solution, you can use the first four or five rounds to grab as many big-name players as you can, regardless of team. Then select two to three teams exclusively to fill out your depth.

Pros: You should get decent first round points by having different star players scattered around.
Cons: After that, it’s a crapshoot depending on who advances.

My personal theory is that you might as well go with the hybrid solution. This gives you a reasonable base for first-round points, then gives you a good chance to win if your depth player teams go deep. Once you get past the first round, it’s all a gamble anyways — you never know what goalie will bomb or who will get injured, so you might as well stick with a few teams and hope they go deep.

As for the matchups, below you will find the exclusive Ice Chips analysis and predictions.


WESTERN CONFERENCE

Detroit vs. Calgary

It’s deja vu as Detroit’s skill goes up against Calgary’s grit. This time, however, Detroit is a little beefier, especially when Todd Bertuzzi gets going, and Calgary’s a little more skilled thanks to Alex Tanguay and Kristian Huselius. The X-factor here will be the goalies: will Dominik Hasek stay healthy and will Miikka Kiprusoff stay hot?

Potential hero: Jarome Iginla doesn’t have to shoulder the load himself. That means he might be even more dangerous.

Potential goat: Pavel Datsyuk’s giant contract will be questioned if he disappears for another playoff series.

Sleeper pick: Kyle Calder’s been on fire since being paired up with Robert Lang, though no one really noticed.

Prediction: Red Wings in six.


Anaheim vs. Minnesota

Since Marian Gaborik returned, the Minnesota Wild has been on fire. Add to it Nik Backstrom’s ridiculous goaltending stats and you’ve got the makings of an upset — except that Minny is going against the best defense in the league. If Scott Niedermayer shuts down Gaborik and Chris Pronger shuts down Brian Rolston, Anaheim could roll pretty easily.

Potential hero: Gaborik is the most dynamic offensive player on either side.

Potential goat: Backstrom’s has to prove that his stats aren’t a fluke.

Sleeper pick: Dustin Penner’s had a monster rookie year, yet no one outside of California really noticed.

Prediction: Ducks in five.


Vancouver vs. Dallas

Two trap-minded, low-scoring teams are ready to slug it out in what should be a not-very-exciting series. Vancouver’s essentially a one-line team with the Sedin twins, and Dallas technically finished with a better record. Still, the Canucks have more scoring depth than a pretty mediocre Dallas forward group (anyone seen Eric Lindros recently?) and Markus Naslund may just yet wake up.

Potential hero: This is Roberto Luongo’s chance to prove he’s not just a great regular season goalie.

Potential goat: If Marty Turco fails, this may be his last stand in Dallas.

Sleeper pick: Kevin Bieksa’s quietly become one of the league’s best young defensemen.

Prediction: Canucks in six.


Nashville vs. San Jose

These two teams are built with speed, talent and great goaltenders. They both have tremendous forward depth and a young defense, though one could argue that San Jose’s forwards are better and Nashville’s defense is better. This series should come down to bounces and special teams and will probably be the most entertaining battle of the first round.

Potential hero: Count the number of hat tricks Patrick Marleau’s had in his playoff career. That’s clutch consistency.

Potential goat: Both Evgeni Nabokov and Tomas Vokoun have high price tags and their partners chomping at their heels. Will it be Chris Mason vs. Vesa Toskala by Game 3?

Sleeper pick: Shea Webber’s a name that more people should know about.

Prediction: Sharks in seven.


EASTERN CONFERENCE

Buffalo vs. New York Islanders

Ted Nolan tops off his first year back in the NHL by coaching against his former team in the first round. The Sabres have speed, talent and…more talent. The Islanders have grit and teamwork. Who will come out on top? Let’s face it — Garth Snow’s group is probably just happy to be there.

Potential hero: This is Chris Drury’s favourite time of year.

Potential goat: Will the Islanders get stellar first-half Alexei Yashin or mediocre second-half Alexei Yashin?

Sleeper pick: Marc-Andre Bergeron’s been a power play godsend for the Islanders.

Prediction: Sabres in five.


New Jersey vs. Tampa Bay

Despite the seeding disparity, this may be a tougher matchup than you might think. Tampa’s forward depth blows away New Jersey’s, but the Devils will send Martin Brodeur to the crease. Johan Holmqvist and Marc Denis have no consistency and fluctuate between brilliant and awful. This series will most likely depend on the play in Tampa Bay’s net.

Potential hero: Expect more goals out of big-game Vincent Lecavalier.

Potential goat: Once again, goaltending can be blamed if the Lightning loses.

Sleeper pick: Dan Boyle’s one of the league’s top defensmen and hardly anyone recognizes it.

Prediction: Lightning in seven.


Atlanta vs. New York Rangers

Enigmatic talent. Cagey veteran power forwards. Talented second-year goaltenders. These two teams are almost mirror images of each other and it will really come down to which star players step up to carry their team. The playoff experience of Brendan Shanahan will definitely help the Blueshirts keep their composure.

Potential hero: Marian Hossa was a Hart Trophy candidate the first half of the season.

Potential goat: Ilya Kovalchuk’s has to put up with playoff-style checking for the first time in his career.

Sleeper pick: Anyone notice how consistent Michael Nylander’s been for the past few seasons?

Prediction: Rangers in six.


Ottawa vs. Pittsburgh

All eyes will be on this series as Sidney Crosby makes his playoff debut in just his second season. Who’s got more talent? As of now, the answer is Ottawa, though Pittsburgh’s potential really is unlimited — it’s just a question of whether it will be fully realized in the playoffs. The Senators aren’t as talented as they were last year, but have more grit now, and the young Penguins may feel overwhelmed by the intensity of post-season play.

Potential hero: If the Penguins win, it will be because of Marc-Andre Fleury more so than Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

Potential goat: Senators fans are cautiously optimistic that Ray Emery really is their right goaltender.

Sleeper pick: Jordan Staal, welcome to the playoffs. Got any more shorthanded goals in you?

Prediction: Senators in six.

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