NHL·Analysis

The indisputable guide to winning your NHL playoffs pool

The NHL playoffs have finally arrived, and all regular-season stats can be thrown out the window. So forget about your miserable last-place finish in fantasy hockey and follow this guide to reclaim glory atop your pool.

Here's why you should load up on 1 team to win it all

Is Bryan Little, right, a better pick in your NHL playoffs pool than Claude Giroux, left, or Auston Matthews? (The Canadian Press and Getty Images)

The NHL playoffs are here, which means it's time to expect the unexpected — until the Pittsburgh Penguins, Los Angeles Kings or Chicago Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup.

Only once since 2009 has one of those teams not sipped from Lord Stanley's mug. That was in 2011, when Boston's victory in Game 7 sparked riots in Vancouver.

But this season, the Blackhawks missed the playoffs altogether, while the Kings limp in as the West's No. 7 seed. Meanwhile, the Penguins are likely on tired legs after two consecutive Cup runs.

So which team is primed to take advantage and make good on the NHL's promise of parity? And, more importantly, should you load up on that team in your NHL playoffs pool or spread the wealth in a year where uncertainty abounds?

Dominant top 4

Let's assume the prime targets in your league are point scorers, since even in categories leagues those players tend to fill up the stat sheet with power-play time and shots on goal.

There are probably just four teams you'd be comfortable loading up on this post-season: the Nashville Predators, Winnipeg Jets, Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins.

Just outside of the top four are the Vegas Golden Knights — who'd be a decent bet in the Pacific Division — but keep an eye on goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who recently returned after dealing with a concussion.

On each of the top-four teams, there are a few players you should be comfortable taking no matter what. If you're rolling with the Bruins, their top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak are all safe choices.

The Bruins top line of Brad Marchand, left, David Pastrnak, centre, and Patrice Bergeron could be the best in hockey. (Michael Dwyer/The Associated Press)

The Jets present even more options, with five players having reached 50 points, plus Paul Stastny playing at a 59-point pace since joining the team. Winnipeg also has two potentially high-scoring matchups. They'll get the Wild without top defenceman Ryan Suter in the first round and — if they win — they could meet the Predators in the second round.

The Jets and Predators have played five times this season, and they've combined to average over eight goals per game in those contests.

Auston Matthews vs. Bryan Little

The difficult decisions arrive after the high-end players on contenders are gone. The middle tier of playoff teams includes the Golden Knights, Penguins, Toronto Maple Leafs, Washington Capitals, San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks.

Would you prefer Auston Matthews or Bryan Little? Ryan Getzlaf or J.T. Miller? The former in each case could be first-round fodder, while the latter should be strongly favoured.

Assume the favourites win out. That would mean seven games at most for Matthews and Getzlaf, and at least four additional games for Little and Miller. If their regular-season averages hold up, Matthews and Getzlaf will score one point per game, while Little and Miller hover around half a point each.

How confident are you, then, that the Jets will play double the amount of playoff games as the Leafs?

Let's take this one step further: Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux finished with 102 points, meaning he should score 8.5 points in a seven-game series. Philadelphia will also be a heavy underdog in its first-round matchup with Pittsburgh.

Would you rather Giroux or the Predators' Calle Jarnkrok? Jarnkrok scored seven points during the Predators' Cup run last season, in 21 games. If you're in a deep league, these seemingly easy decisions suddenly become much more difficult.

And if you're confident in the Predators even going three rounds, then Jarnkrok is the answer. The downside to taking Giroux or New Jersey Devils Hart Trophy contender Taylor Hall is a mere four games.

Go big or go golfing

Which brings up another point: don't take players that are playing against each other. And ideally, don't take players from teams in the same division. This strategy assures failure; someone in your league will pick teams correctly, and you'll probably finish in the middle of the pack.

In non-draft leagues, the best bet is to stick to four teams — one per division. Split about 80 per cent of your players on one team from each conference (Predators and Bruins, for example) and the rest of the 20 per cent on two teams in the opposite divisions (Sharks and Penguins).

In a salary cap league, you probably can't afford the top players from all those teams, so dedicate your final 20 per cent to one sleeper in each conference. So congratulations, you're now a Flyers fan!

(Hey, the Eagles won the Super Bowl and Villanova captured the college basketball national title, making 2018 the Year of Philly so far.)

If you're in a league that drafts players, it becomes much harder sticking to one strategy. You certainly won't be able to pick from your two top choices. In this case, just load up on one team.

Hedge on fun

The Penguins and Jets, tied for the fourth-best Cup odds according to Bodog, would be nice choices as second-tier favourites.

In terms of drafting for specific positions, top-end defencemen are good early choices in a draft, since the drop-off is severe. Drew Doughty, likely to play 30 minutes a night with the Kings, is a potential sleeper.

Finally, just take the starting goalie from your main team. Even if it's Philipp Grubauer...

In the end, you're probably going to lose money when it turns out the office secretary picked Keith Kinkaid's Devils to win it all.

So hedge on fun. You're a big Leafs fan? Go all out on a Lightning Stanley Cup run. You think this is finally San Jose's year? Roll the dice on Vegas.

It's bad and stressful enough watching your team get eliminated from the playoffs, but now you'll have one more horse in the race.

Unless that horse is the Capitals. Never bet on the Capitals in the playoffs.

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