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Ice Chips: Playoff Primer

April 3, 2010 | By Mike Chen | comment on this post
Marc-André Fleury is a slam dunk playoff pick for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Marc-Andre Fleury should definitely be the first goalie taken in your playoff pool.

With the regular season winding down, it’s time to look ahead to a unique beast of its own — playoff pools. Playoff pools are always a crapshoot, since one unpredictable upset could mean that you’re essentially done. It’s also difficult to project long-term because even if you get a lot of points in the first round, sheer attrition will knock some of your players out of the lineup. How can you navigate this minefield? Well, there’s no surefire way, but here are some general guidelines to go by.

Know the competition: Most hockey pundits agree that the Western Conference is far more competitive than the Eastern Conference. Because of that, a six seed winning its first-round series might not be that big of an upset. That means that there’s a definite lack of stability when it comes to choosing players for a playoff pool, and playoff pools are all about games-played. Top teams in the Eastern Conference are less likely to get upset, so keep that in mind when picking players.

Starting goalies are key: yup, it’s all about games-played, but that becomes even more magnified when you look at goalies. In some cases, like San Jose or Buffalo, you know who’s going to start. In other cases, like Washington and Chicago, the coaching staff may just look at the hot hand and go with it. The best way to pick a goalie is to take a safe bet to get regular starts and make it to at least the Conference Final. By process of elimination, that leaves Marc-Andre Fleury as my choice for top goalie pick.

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Look at power plays: It’s not just about getting a power play quarterback defensemen for playoff pools; you need to look at teams that (a) draw a lot of penalties; and (b) convert on those opportunities. Also, beware of the fourth forward on the power play. Before you sort out your defenseman picks, check the power play units of teams as they finish up the regular season. Some guys may get relegated to the second unit because the coach opts for four forwards on the power play.

All or nothing: Do you load up on one team and roll the dice or do you spread it around knowing that you’ll get players knocked out each round? In my opinion, if you play it safe, you won’t win your league simply because the numbers will go against you. If you stick with just one or two teams and the players go far, they don’t have to have dynamite point totals as long as they keep playing the next game. To me, the sensible thing to do is to draw from three teams — two favourites and one underdog that you have a gut feeling about — and let it play out.

Look at secondary scoring: Defensive checking gets even more intense in the playoffs, and that means you’ll need clutch secondary scorers to pull their weight. While it’s difficult to predict who will have a magical playoff run, the best things to consider are history, linemates, and injury status. Does the player tend to show up for big games? Can he play with any set of linemates or is he attached at the hip to a certain wing or centre? Does he have any lingering injuries down the stretch?

First-liners are first-liners: While it’s very tempting to take Alex Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby with the first overall pick, don’t necessarily buy into it right away. Remember, this is a short tournament, and there’s a reason why the playoff point leader is almost always from the Cup-winning team — it’s all about games-played. Big-name players can follow a soft round by an explosive round (see Evgeni Malkin last year), and the level of discrepancy between, say, Pavel Datsyuk and Joe Thornton might not be that much in seven-game chunks. In other words, first-line forwards should be fairly comparable and there’s more of them available than starting goalies or power play defensemen.

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