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Playoff Pool Primer

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The NHL season has reached its final days with some teams vying for postseason positioning and others simply playing out the string. Once the final buzzer sounds on Sunday and fantasy league champions have been crowned, poolies will have precious little time to prepare for their next endeavor – playoff leagues. I have participated in many a playoff pool in my day and I thought it might be of use to my readers to provide you with a handy list of tips for playing in these formats.

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1. Stacking is key

Unlike regular season formats where everyone in your league will conceivably get the same number of games from their players, the biggest differentiator in playoff pools is the fact some teams will play significantly more games than others.  This definitely isn’t a shock to anyone, but due to this reality, the best strategy is to select players concentrated on just a few teams. Preferably, you will focus on one team in each of the Eastern and Western Conferences and stack players from each roster. This plan of attack might get you blown out of the water if one of your teams makes an early exit, but spreading your players out across a large number of teams only ensures you’ll be stuck in the middle of the pack. In short, stacking is covered in Playoffs 101. You can be certain your competitors will be doing it so you’re only harming yourself by not following suit.

2. Seek out top offenses

When implementing the stacking strategy I discussed above, you may find yourself unable to decide which teams you would like to hitch your wagon to, especially in the hyper-competitive Western Conference.  If I’m faced with a similar situation in my league, I’ll make my decision based on the offensive profile of the teams in consideration. That’s not to say I don’t believe a defensive-minded team like the Kings or Bruins can win the Stanley Cup, in fact Boston is the team I’m most interested in loading up on, but just that I’ll favor players from the Blackhawks or Blues over the Kings if I’m otherwise torn about who to draft. You may remember that an astounding 56 goals were scored between the Penguins and Flyers in their six-game opening round series two seasons ago. The top scorers from these two teams registered as many points that spring as many of those from clubs whose playoff run lasted much longer.

3. Remain flexible to obtain value

You may enter your draft planning to load up on members of the Blues and Bruins, but if those selecting ahead of you have the same idea, you’re better off changing directions and choosing, say, Penguins and Ducks or Canadiens and Sharks in order to generate value. You might truly believe that Boston and St. Louis will square off in the Cup Finals, but it does you no good to select depth players from these teams when one or many of your competitors have already rostered their stars. If we look at it purely from the standpoint of probabilities, your odds of winning are higher if you get yourself the best players from a slightly lesser team.

4. Don’t chase “playoff performers”

Every year around this time, media members trip over themselves to write glowing stories about players who have earned the reputation of “proven playoff performer”. What it takes to be admitted into this lauded group of players is not entirely clear. Some, like David Krejci, have a history of exceptional performances during the postseason, while others might just be able to grow a mean playoff beard. If the Predators were ever among the favorites for the Stanley Cup, the collective pixels devoted to praising Shea Weber as the ultimate playoff defenseman might break the internet. Whatever the reason, I’m here to tell you this is a myth.  I’ll admit that Krejci is a great selection in playoff pools this year, but that’s because he’s a genuinely great player on a rock-solid team. In most cases, the best players during the regular season will also be the best players in the playoffs. Those who don’t perform to expectations are more likely the victims of small sample size fluctuations than they are genetically pre-disposed to folding once the calendar turns to April. If you find your competitors relying heavily on this misnomer, I encourage you to zig in the face of their zagging.

5. Youth is not a disadvantage

Along the same lines as the notion of “playoff performers”, the idea that inexperienced players are not yet equipped to handle the rigors of the postseason is  - pardon my language – pure and utter poppycock.  Opinions are pretty divided about the prospects of the Colorado Avalanche this season, but if you believe the team can make some noise in the playoffs, I trust you would not pass on Nathan MacKinnon to select a more experienced (and less talented) veteran. The list of players who have turned in excellent playoff performances in their first taste of the postseason is extensive and includes Patrick Roy, Cam Ward and Drew Doughty to name just a few. Taking this a step further, the NHL playoffs have long been known as one of the most physically taxing battles of attrition in pro sports so I can’t say I understand the logic behind passing up young, fit players in favor of older ones.

6. Don’t ignore the part-timers

Because of how little time there is for the public to prepare for playoff pools, it’s common for folks to arrive at their draft without having taken a good look at the rosters of the 16 teams who have qualified for the postseason.  If you’re counting on taking a quick glance at each team’s regular season scoring leaders and having that form the extent of your prep work, you’re doing it wrong.  In doing so, you’re likely to overlook players who missed large chunks of time within the season.  Players such as Tomas Hertl (35 games), Kris Letang (35 games) and Paul Martin (37 games) could all prove to be important contributors this spring and may not be on the radar for many of your league mates. Take advantage of that.

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