NHL Playoff hockey begins Tuesday and this year's Playoff Payoff once again has the numbers and information to help you win your playoff pool.
When it comes to playoff pools, the basic strategy is simple: pick players from the four teams you think will reach the Conference Finals; that will give the players selected ample opportunity to score enough points for your squad. It's very difficult, if not altogether impossible, to win without having a solid presence among the final four teams because no matter how many points get accumulated in early rounds, if your team runs out of active bodies before the Conference Finals, it's going to be extremely challenging to hold the lead.
Naturally, the focus will be on top seeds and there is nothing wrong with loading up on players from Chicago and Pittsburgh if you can get quality players. At the same time, it needs to be recognized that there is not a huge difference in quality between the rest of the playoff teams, so there's likely going to be plenty of value to be found on lower-seeded teams.
That doesn't mean ignoring the blue chip players -- top players on the favourite teams are the most valuable -- but it does suggest that once you have laid the groundwork with players from higher-seeded teams, then there ought to be an opportunity to secure value on lower seeds.
There will come a time, at some point in your draft, that you have to decide whether you would rather have the best player on a low seed or a lesser player on a top seed and the answer will probably come by looking at the players you've already selected.
BEST PLAYER vs. PLAYER ON BEST TEAM
If you can take the best player off a lower seed, and it won't contradict any of your early picks, then it's likely a good move. If you don't have representation on a highly-seeded team already, it's generally not worth it to start investing in lower-tier players.
If you decide to go in on the Canucks late, for example, and you can get Mason Raymond and Jason Garrison, there isn't a great chance that you are going to be able to make much of a difference against the teams that loaded up early on the Sedins, Ryan Kesler, Derek Roy, Alex Burrows and Alex Edler.
Just as with the real teams involved, injuries are always a factor in fantasy sports, so it's imperative to stay on top of the playing status of top players heading into the postseason, both for the potential line combinations and having some idea who might be filling in if a significant player remains sidelined.
NHL teams are notorious for being vague or even dishonest regarding injuries at the best of times, let alone at this point in the season, but you may want to avoid, or at least decrease the value of, guys who are already going into the playoffs with injuries.
The league's biggest and brightest star, Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby, is the most obvious one to monitor. Crosby is recovering from a broken jaw and while it doesn't appear that he will return before the end of the regular season, he hasn't yet been ruled out of Game One in the playoffs. Crosby's status will ripple througout the Penguins' lineup, knocking Jussi Jokinen down the depth chart and boosting whichever wingers end up on his line, whether it's Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis or maybe Jarome Iginla will fine his way to play with Crosby.
Some other players to keep an eye on: Crosby's Pittsburgh teammate James Neal, Minnesota's Jason Pominville, the Rangers' Ryane Clowe, the Blues' T.J. Oshie and Washington's Brooks Laich. If Ottawa's Jason Spezza manages to return from back surgery that has sidelined him since late January, that would make a big difference.
Consider doubling-up on line combinations, when the value is right. If you buy in on Alex Ovechkin in Washington, plucking Marcus Johansson or Mike Green later in the draft would help provide double-up opportunities on Capitals goals. Or it never hurts to nab whomever is playing right wing with the Sedins. Alex Burrows seems most likely, but Zack Kassian could find his way there too.
TAKE A CHANCE
Don't be afraid to make a sleeper pick late in the draft. The small sample size of playoffs lends itself to unexpected results, like Bryce Salvador scoring 14 points in 24 games in 2012 (he had nine points in 82 regular season games), Joel Ward scoring 13 points in 12 games in 2011, Ville Leino tallying 21 points in 19 games in 2010 or many others, from Ruslan Fedotenko to R.J. Umberger to Fernando Pisani, generally unheralded players who have all had double-digit goal totals in a single playoff year.
Given these basic plans, the following team lists will provide information to help organize your drafting priorities. Each player listed has their points per game listed and that's a general value to start with.
Then, look at what the player has done in March and April this season. Usually, I break down splits after the All-Star break but, in a shortened season, a look at the last couple months is a reasonable enough split.
If the point totals are higher, maybe it's a young player, like Chicago's Brandon Saad, who is taking on more responsibility, or a veteran whose playing situation changed due to trade. In either case, it's usually preferable to get a player who is more productive now, as opposed to one that padded his scoring numbers early in the year (like Ottawa's Cory Conacher, for example).
The third rate included for each player is their NHL career playoff scoring average. In the vast majority of situations, that number will be lower than players' career averages because the playoffs are tighter checking games that involve the best teams. Even some great players have lower career scoring averages in the playoffs because they didn't contribute much early in their career and they've since emerged as elite postseason perfomers.
Pavel Datsyuk, Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Marian Hossa, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are among the high-profile players that didn't produce early in the playoffs, but have had productive postseasons since then.
By no means should previous playoff production eliminate a player from consideration -- because sometimes a player is labeled as unproven in the postseason, until suddenly he is -- but if a player has made a career of under-performing in the playoffs, the safe play could be to let someone else take that risk or wait an extra round or two before wading into those waters.
Power plays rule the postseason so make sure your roster is loaded with players who get time with the man advantage. The Kings' Dustin Penner was the only player to finish in the Top 25 in playoff scoring last season not to register a power play point and New Jersey's Bryce Salvador and Adam Henrique were the only ones to finish in the Top 25 with fewer than three power play points.
Power play defencemen, in particular, have more value in the playoffs so don't let these players slip by you in the middle-to-later rounds of the draft. Drew Doughty, Dan Girardi and Michael Del Zotto all hit double figures in scoring in last year's playoffs, all with at least four points on the power play. Power play point totals are included as a general guide for which players are most likely to get those man advantage opportunities.
Finally, as the postseason approaches and match-ups are set, check out the Fantasy Hockey Update playoff editions, and my blog which will have my playoff picks for more information as you prepare to win your playoff pool.
For the complete stats breakdown, click here.
Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen.