In this week's edition of CBCSports.ca's Fantasy Hockey 1-on-1, we help poolies start planning for the post-season with ideas for fun playoff-pool formats and some advice on which players to take.
Looking for a league to join? Check out CBC's Hockey Night in Canada Fantasy Pool. It's free to play, and weekly prizes are up for grabs.
All stats are through Wednesday's games.
Any ideas for different pool formats?
Jesse: Like Ronnie Van Zant, I'm a simple man. So my favourite playoff-pool format is still "pick any 10 skaters, most points wins." It's easy enough to attract a lot of friends and co-workers, even if they're not hard-core hockey fans, yet challenging enough because you've got to predict which teams will go deep and select your players accordingly.
But if you're looking for a twist, how about an "underdog pool," where you're only allowed to pick players from the teams seeded No. 5 through No. 8 in each conference? That eliminates obvious picks like Ovechkin and Crosby and rewards the poolies who can sniff out the right dark-horse teams. Or how about a setup where you have to take one player from each of the 16 playoff clubs? Haven't you always wanted to be in a playoff pool that forces you to pick a Phoenix Coyote? Wait, don't answer that.
Jordan: When we did our Olympic hockey pool ideas a few editions ago, I suggested a format whereby each manager could only draft one player per NHL team. Using the same principle, how about a playoff pool that requires fantasy owners to draft players from different countries? Since there were 12 countries in the Olympic hockey tournament, and not too many more are represented in the NHL, a pool with no more than two players per country for a total of 15 to 25 players, which may or may not include goalies, could certainly shake things up a bit.
It's not as simple as it sounds. Yes, a handful of countries are represented by only one player — Slovenia's Anze Kopitar (LA), Lithuania's Dainius Zubrus (NJ), France's Cristobal Huet (CHI), Austria's Thomas Vanek (BUF), Poland's Wojtek Wolski (PHX), Kazakhstan's Nik Antropov (ATL), Norway's Ole-Kristian Tollefsen (DET) and Denmark's Jannik Hansen (VAN) — but after that, the debating begins.
OK, so which players should you pick under those formats?
Jordan: Let's begin with the easier choices. Do you take Ukraine's Ruslan Fedotenko or his countryman and Penguins teammate Alexei Ponikarovsky? Which Belarussian Kostitsyn brother makes your list? And for your German, do you select Christian Ehrhoff (VAN), Marcel Goc (NSH), Jochen Hecht (BUF), Thomas Greiss (SJ), Dennis Seidenberg or Marco Sturm (BOS)? Now let's get to the big boys. We all know the cream of the crop can be found within Canada, Russia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Finland, Sweden and the U.S. So how do you choose?
In my mind, there are four main criteria to consider here when deciding on a player: season stats, Olympic stats, recent playoff performances and quality of the player's NHL team (along with that team's potential matchup). Using that strategy, let's examine Canada. At this point in the season, Sidney Crosby finds himself third in the league with 94 points, while Dany Heatley has 78, Jarome Iginla has 69 and Jonathan Toews has 62. At the Olympics, Toews led Canada with eight points and a plus-9 rating in seven games, while Heatley, Iginla and Crosby had seven points each. In last year's playoffs, Crosby was second overall with 31 points on his way to the Cup, while Toews had 13 points in 17 games. So you could say that it appears Crosby and Toews are the two Canadian front-runners, as the Pens are the defending champs, while Chicago will surely go deep into the playoffs this time around.
If you add goalies into the mix and are the type of poolie who likes to load up on one or two teams, which is a good strategy, you could take Crosby and Fleury, along with Malkin and Gonchar (RUS) from Pittsburgh and go heavy on another team in the West. Don't you just love this time of the year?
Jesse: Whether you play my "pick any 10" pool, the "Sweet 16" pool or the "underdog" pool, you've got to answer one question: which teams will go deep in the playoffs? More games played equals more opportunities for your guys to rack up points. Washington is easily the best team in the East (and the highest scoring), so pencil in Alex Ovechkin, Nick Backstrom, Alex Semin and Mike Green if there's no limit on the number of players you can take per team. Out West, it's a lot trickier, but I think Chicago and Vancouver are the best bets to go deep, so the Blackhawks' Pat Kane and Jon Toews, and the Canucks' Sedin brothers are good calls. San Jose? Stay away. Sure, the Sharks have the best record in the conference, but how many times have they burned poolies who loaded up on them? Fool me once...
Should pools use individual goalies or team goalies?
Jesse: When it comes to playoff pools, I'm a skater-only guy. But if you really want to add goalies, do it by team. There's nothing worse that picking a goalie on a good team who ends up getting the hook early in the playoffs. When the backup comes in and plays well in his first game, you know you're done right away.
I can see this happening (again) in Detroit, where Chris Osgood always seems to be lurking, waiting for Jimmy Howard to let in a few Cheveldae-esque softies. Remember a couple years ago when Dom Hasek was named the Wings' playoff starter, only to falter in the first round against Nashville? After a pair of road losses by the Dominator, Osgood stepped in and led the Wings to the Cup. Could Hasek have done the same? I think so. But a lot of poolies paid the price for Mike Babcock's quick trigger finger when they could've been rewarded for knowing Detroit had the best team in hockey no matter who stood between the pipes.
Jordan: Last year I was in a playoff pool that required each manager to draft two goalies each. I selected Marc-Andre Fleury and Ty Conklin. I'm sure I wasn't the only one who had Conklin as his goalie but watching him warm the Detroit bench as Osgood made another Cup run was not what I had in mind. Now, I could sit here and say that I wish I had been in a pool that let me take a team goalie (in that scenario, I would have had Conklin and Osgood), but what kind of a challenge would that have been?
As in any pool with goalies, if you want a premier guy, you have to be bold and draft him early. I did take Fleury early but waited until the end to take Conklin. Allowing managers to draft a team's entire set of goalies takes away some of the fun and the skill of it. I'll be the first to admit that I drafted the wrong Wings' netminder, but it was OK: I still won my pool.