Thursday, April 8, 2010

Fantasy Hockey Playoff Pool Primer

sidney crosby fantasy hockey concussion
The NHL playoffs are a week away and since the Leafs are once again on the outside looking in my only source of entertainment is fantasy hockey. From a fantasy perspective, it’s almost better if your favourite team is out of the playoffs. That allows you to make cold, clinical decisions about who is the best player to pick, rather than spending the first overall pick on Phil Kessel. Obviously, I’d prefer the Leafs in the playoffs, but playing fantasy hockey with them out has allowed me to hone my strategies as best as possible.

I don’t claim to be an expert on fantasy sports and, in reality, any so-called expert is really just making educated guesses. Absolutely no one predicted the Fernando Pisani fantasy bonanza in 2006 or that the Oilers would even make it past the first round. That’s the nature of the playoffs; role players transform into heroes and certain superstars become invisible.

That being said, I tied for first in my 2006 playoff pool and won outright in 2007 (thanks in large part to Dany Heatley – what an anti-heart pick). I couldn’t make the draft in 2008 (I think?) and finished in fifth (out of 10) last year. So I’ve had some success.

These are some of the strategies that I’ve used over the past few years that have worked for me. Try these unless your pool is using quirky rules. The most common format is 10 players, no set positions, no goalies, and all that is recorded is goals and assists (most points wins). Don’t blame me if you place last. But if you do win feel free to send some of the winnings my way.

Make your bracket

This is the single most important preparation you can do before your draft. You want to predict which teams will make the final four and then pick the best players from these teams. The highest scoring players in the playoffs will almost always come from the teams that make the final four. Your earliest selections should be from the two teams you expect to make it to the Stanley Cup Finals as they will play the most games and accumulate the most points. Your first four or five selections should be players from these teams (depending on how many people are in your league). After the quality of these players diminishes, move on.

Don’t forget underdog teams

People will certainly be raiding players from favoured teams early on, which means by mid-draft there will be only third and fourth line players available from those teams. Often it will benefit you to take a star player from an underdog team at this point because even if they go out in the first round they can accumulate more points than a fourth liner who plays deep into the playoffs. Plus, if there is a stunning upset these players become even more valuable.

Find out who’s playing the power-play

There is tighter checking in playoff hockey and defensive responsibility is demanded of everyone. As a result, it is much harder for teams to score 5-on-5. Your best opportunity for getting points will be from players who play on the power-play.

Double-up on line-mates

Choosing players who play together is a great way to double your point total. If you’re convinced that the Canucks are poised for a deep run in the playoffs try and choose line-mates such as Daniel and Henrik Sedin. Each time one player scores a goal there is a good chance that the other assisted on it. Picks like this will almost certainly have to be done with your first and second round selections.

Be aware of injuries

This is something you should know going into every fantasy league, not just playoffs. NHL playoffs are a time when pretty much every player will play with some sort of ailment, but you want to recognize any players that have something serious going into the playoffs. Has anyone missed games heading into the playoffs? Even if they play, the injury might be severe enough that they are useless. Joe Thornton played with broken ribs for the Bruins one year and recorded 0 points in a first round surprise defeat. If you took Joe early that year he killed your team’s chances.

Who’s hot? Who’s not?

Look at which teams have blazed into the playoffs (Detroit) and which teams have limped in (Colorado). Teams playing well will carry that momentum into the playoffs and, unfortunately, teams that aren’t playing well will do the same. In March and April the ’09 Penguins were 14-2-3; the ‘08 Wings were 12-3-1; and the ’07 Ducks were 11-3-4. I’d avoid anyone playing the Wings first round this year for sure.

Be wary of young teams

Young teams often flame out in the first round or two in their first trip to the post-season. They have yet to learn what it takes to win in the post-season and are often overmatched by their experienced opponents. This happened to the Penguins in the 2007 playoffs as they lost 4-1 to the Senators even after finishing the regular season with 105 points. However, the Chicago Blackhawks made it all the way to the Conference Finals last season. It depends on the team, but that’s hard to predict. If you aren’t 100% sure a young team is ready then stay away. Be wary of taking players from these teams with your top picks. However, if everyone has neglected them there is nothing wrong with taking a chance in the later rounds.

Go wild in the last two rounds

Whatever you get in these rounds is often just extra. You have to hope that your top picks work out and these late picks won’t make or break your post-season. Therefore, you can take risks in these rounds and take a chance on a deep sleeper or even a heavy underdog. In 2006, I tied for first with Matt Cullen in the 9th round being my only remaining player in the finals, while the person I tied with took two Oilers as his last picks.

If you follow these simple strategies I guarantee the worst you can finish is dead last!


Lars Attacks said...

Any suggested picks??

Matt Horner said...

Don't be the guy who banks on San Jose. Sure, this could be their year, but people have thought that for the past 5 years. I said I wouldn't slag on Marleau and Thornton after the Olympics, but that doesn't mean I will endorse them in any way.

Anonymous said...

I'm a long time reader, first time commenter... What's your take on Geno Malkin

Matt Horner said...

If you're big on Pittsburgh then obviously Malkin is the second best player to take. He had 4 points today and since returning from a foot injury he has 7 points in the last 4 games. He had a down year, but he still scored 77 points in only 67 games.

He also has 1.265 points per game in the playoffs and led the playoffs last year with 36 points. I wouldn't worry about picking Malkin at all with my first round choice (provided you don't have #1 overall).

At the moment I'm unsure whether Pittsburgh will be able to beat Washington in the East (if all top 4 seeds advance then it will be Pens-Caps in round 2). I don't know if this is the year for the Caps or not.

Matt Horner said...

I took Malkin first round in my pool tonight, for what it's worth.

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