With the Stanley Cup tournament mere days away, it's time to start thinking about your playoff pool.
The Fantasy Hockey 1-on-1 guys are here to help with suggestions on different formats to try, plus tips on which players could be poised for a big post-season and which might flame out.
And since it's the stretch run for regular-season pools, the fellas offer their last pieces of advice on which moves to make this week to put yourself over the top in your league.
Looking for a playoff pool to join? Try the Hockey Night in Canada Playoff Pool presented by Kia. The winner drives away with a new car.
1. What's the best format for a playoff pool?
Jesse: My favourite is still the tried-and-true "pick any 10 skaters, most points wins" because its simplicity attracts the most people. But you may consider adding a twist, like awarding two points for every goal and one point for assists, or three and two. I've always advocated making goals worth more than assists. After all, goals are harder to earn, if only because two helpers are usually awarded for every goal.
Feeling more adventurous? How about setting a regular-season points limit (600, say) and asking everyone in your pool to submit a list of 10 players whose combined points total falls under that bar? (Break out the calculators and the aspirin.) Everyone loves upsets, so what about an "underdog pool," where you're only allowed to pick players from the teams seeded No. 5 through No. 8? Or how about a setup where you have to take one player from each of the 16 playoff clubs?
Whatever you choose, avoid doing a draft. There are only two rest days between the end of the regular season and the playoffs, so just allow everyone to email in their picks and don't worry about duplication. The differences in the teams will surprise you. I also recommend setting up an Excel spreadsheet that allows everyone in your pool to keep track of scores on their own. That way you'll avoid those annoying texts from people who can't wait for the official end-of-round updates.
Jordan: I also like the first format you suggested, but I'm a fan of bigger rosters, which could include goalies. Though it's tough to whittle down a list of the best skaters that could go the furthest to just 10, everyone knows generally who will be picked, and there will be a small variation in the players on everyone's team.
It takes much more skill and knowledge to put together a list that goes deep into one or two NHL team's rosters. For example, if I think Detroit will get to the final four, I want to go beyond just Henrik Zetterberg, Nick Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk, Brian Rafalski and Johan Franzen. Dan Cleary, Todd Bertuzzi, Val Filppula, Jiri Hudler and others should also be part of my team.
Likewise, if I were to go with Boston, I would want Brad Marchand and Rich Peverley in addition to their big guns. Just like in the real playoffs, it's the role players who should make or break your post-season.
2. Who might have a big — or disappointing — post-season?
Jordan: It's clear the NHL's firepower is in the West. Even though matchups (which have yet to be determined) will play a significant role, I'm looking at the perennially underachieving Sharks and the surging Ducks. Just two short months ago, neither of these California teams appeared headed to the post-season. Now they enter the second season as perhaps the two hottest teams, aside from Washington.
Despite having 103 points through 79 games and an unbelievable 26-4-4 record since Jan. 15, San Jose has largely been overshadowed by New Jersey's turnaround in the East, the great play of the Canucks and Wings and the tight races at the bottom of each conference. Because of that, and because many poolies are afraid to gamble on a team that's probably burned them recently, the Sharks are riding a quiet and relatively pressure-free wave of momentum they haven't had in years.
Don't be surprised if Joe Pavelski, Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle take their team deep into the spring. As for the Ducks, they have three of the league's more valuable players in Corey Perry, Teemu Selanne and Lubomir Visnovsky, plus three experienced goalies in Ray Emery, Dan Ellis and Jonas Hiller. I just hope those two teams don't meet in Round 1.
In the East, it seems likely the Bruins and Canadiens may face off in the first round. After their Cinderella story this time last year, many managers may be considering loading up for another Habs run. A word of caution here: the Habs have arguably been the most inconsistent playoff-bound team in recent weeks, as they've gone just 13-12-2 since Feb. 6, with their share of injuries. I'm sorry to say I expect Montreal, potentially facing a dominant Tim Thomas between the Boston pipes, will make an early exit this time around.
Jesse: Every year, playoff poolies load up on players from the top seed in each conference. That makes some sense this year in the West, where Vancouver has been dominant (though a first-round matchup with cup champion Chicago looms as a possibility), but over in the East it could be dangerous to hitch your wagon to the Flyers.
Philly's offence is balanced — six guys have scored between 21 and 36 goals — but the team doesn't have a point-a-game player (Claude Giroux comes closest with 75 points in 80 games), so it's hard to single out one or two players to take if you don't want to stack your team with Flyers. Plus, goaltending is a question mark, as it is every year with this team. Sergei Bobrovsky has done an admirable job for a rookie, but he's got a middling goals-against average and save percentage, plus this potential red flag: zero shutouts this season.
Is it more likely that Bobrovsky steps up and steals a series, or melts into the next Roman Cechmanek? Ask yourself that before you load up on Philly skaters.
3. What's your move for the regular season's final days?
Jesse: At this stage of the season, the only way you're going to make up a significant deficit in the standings is with goalies. When they're hot, netminders can put up more points over a short span than skaters. So, if you've still got a move or two left, focus on getting to the maximum number of goalie starts (most people never reach the limit).
One of the guys you can pick up is Buffalo's Jhonas Enroth, who's available in about nine out of 10 Yahoo! leagues. With Ryan Miller out with a bad bruise, possibly through the end of the regular season, Enroth could be the go-to guy for the Sabres. So far, the rookie has responded, going 3-0-1 since stepping in for Miller, extending his streak of not losing in regulation to six games.
Jordan: If you're like me and fighting for that coveted fantasy hockey victory, it's important to infuse your lineup with a player or two guaranteed to get playing time with only a few games remaining. In St. Louis, the Blues are just playing out the season and aren't likely to do much roster or line juggling. Youngsters Kevin Shattenkirk and Patrik Berglund have been playing well of late and are owned in just 35 per cent and 17 per cent of Yahoo! leagues, respectively. Shattenkirk has 10 points in his last eight games, while Berglund has six points in his last six games.
You could also try Erik Cole, who is owned in 29 per cent of leagues. As long as the Canes are still in the race, Cole could continue getting big minutes and putting up decent numbers (seven points in his last eight games).