Fantasy Hockey: Breaking down the Western Conference for playoff pools

Sometime over the next few days, you'll be sitting down for a playoff pool draft. Generally that means printing up a list of final scoring stats a minute or two beforehand, and slinking into the boardroom (or the pub, or your buddy's living room) three minutes late, sheepishly grinning as your competition boorishly complain about how you are holding up the draft.

Do something different this year. At the cost of an extra 10 minutes. Pick up a nice playoff draft list, such as the one I'm selling over at DobberHockey (I'm also running a free playoff pool there, to get you in the mindset). Then do a bit of research on dark horses and recent trends.

Better yet, let me do that for you. Here is my take on the Western Conference playoff outlook:

Vancouver Canucks (1)

The obvious: Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, Ryan Kesler,  Alex Burrows, Alex Edler, Kevin Bieksa.

Dark horses: Corey Schneider will get the call faster than he did last year, if Roberto Luongo has similar struggles. ... Assuming Zack Kassian recovers from his upper body injury, he will get an opportunity to use his big frame to really make a splash. ... Max Lapierre would make a decent final round pick on your team if you are building around Vancouver as one of your four teams (I generally draft players from four teams, depending on the size of the pool). He could be a sleeper if the team goes deep. He had six points in his last seven games after just 13 in his first 75.

Could let you down: Ryan Kesler, with two points in his last 12 games, has had a tough time offensively this season. The slow start could be attributed to his missing training camp recovering from hip surgery, but what about the slow finish?

Keep in mind: Whenever the Canucks are in the postseason, Burrows occasionally gets moved off of the Sedin line. Generally, this means he'll slip from being a 60-point player to being a 40-point player, so he does carry some risk… Daniel Sedin is skating on his own. Or not. Another confusing concussion situation. I wouldn't be drafting him in the first several rounds, those picks are too important.

St. Louis Blues (2)

The obvious: David Backes, TJ Oshie, Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk, David Perron and Andy McDonald.

Dark horses: Chris Stewart and Patrik Berglund each had terrible seasons. I would have been less surprised if each of them tallied 68 points this year than I am that they combined for 68. Each of them boasts a large frame that could see them thrive in playoff games. Either one will be available in the later rounds, either one could tally two points in 12 games en route to a second-round elimination. But either one could also post a point-per-game. ... Alex Steen has four points in six games since returning from a concussion and is probably one of the better Blues to draft, though his 28-point season will let him slip a few rounds to you.

Could let you down: Given his bigger contract and the fact that he's "supposed" to be the starter, Jaroslav Halak should be the guy in Game 1. And from December onward, he has been the second or third best goalie in the league. The problem is, "backup" Brian Elliott has been tops. If the goaltender that St. Louis goes with does not break down, then he'll start all the games. The problem is — picking the right one. ... As I cautioned above, Berglund and Stewart and their terrible production could be the real deal. ... Rookie Jaden Schwartz made a splash, scoring a game winner in his first NHL game and posting three points in just seven contests. But he's been scratch a few times down the stretch and his ice time is down under 10 minutes.

Keep in mind: Carlo Colaiacovo was a healthy scratch twice in the last four games and pointless in his last seven. ... Jason Arnott had six points in nine playoff games last year. Now 37, his usefulness in regular season leagues has been waning, but there still may be something there for the postseason.

Phoenix Coyotes

The obvious: Ray Whitney, Radim Vrbata, Shane Doan, Keith Yandle

Dark horses: Mikkel Boedker is blessed with a lot of talent that we have yet to really see. He finished the year with four points in four games, so if the top line is snakebitten he could step in to fill the void.

Could let you down: After two years with Phoenix, Lauri Korpikoski has two points in 11 playoff games — and is a minus-10. ... Antoine Vermette only tallied 10 points in 22 games after joining the 'Yotes. ... Yandle should be a good pick given his 10 points in 11 playoff games. But he finished the campaign with just two in 11 and had just one power-play point in the final 18.

Keep in mind: Mike Smith has been a wall. In the last four games of the regular season, he allowed just one goal. Considering Chicago's netminding has at times been akin to a doggie door flap, the 'Yotes may do better than you think…

Nashville Predators (4)

The obvious: Martin Erat, David Legwand, Mike Fisher, Shea Weber, Ryan Suter and, of course, Alexander Radulov.

Dark horses: Matt Halischuk has five points in his last six games despite minimal ice time. However, he's been scratched several times down the stretch as the Preds try to make room for all of their forwards, so there is some risk.

Could let you down: Sergei Kostitsyn is pointless in nine games. Hey! That's when Radulov came back on board. ... Craig Smith finished the season with a three-point game, but prior to that he had just two points in 21 games and was scratched eight times. ... Colin Wilson has been a frequent healthy scratch. He also has just one point in nine career postseason games.

Keep in mind: Patric Hornqvist and Andrei Kostitsyn each tallied six points in nine games since Radulov re-joined the squad. ... Not only is Radulov Nashville's top offensive gun, but he has eight points in 10 career playoff games with them back when he was a rookie and sophomore.

Detroit Red Wings (5)

The obvious: Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Valtteri Filppula, Johan Franzen, Jiri Hudler and Nicklas Lidstrom.

Dark horses: He's pointless in his last six and he may not see a lot of ice time, but then again Gustav Nyquist has really impressed in limited action. If Dan Cleary is out for any length of time, Nyquist could see enough action to solidify his spot — though I would take him no earlier than the final round, and only then if I'm building around Detroit as one of my four teams. ... Niklas Kronwall has 38 points in 74 career playoff games.

Could let you down: Lidstrom has three points in his last 12 games and is coming off of a recent ankle injury. The future Hall-of-Famer will still get his points, but bet on Kronwall to get more. ... Ian White has two points in his last 16 games and was a healthy scratch last week.

Keep in mind: The playoffs are what put Franzen on the map after 59 points in 51 playoff games over three years. But last season he managed just three points in eight games. ... Todd Bertuzzi has 17 points in his 23 playoff games with Detroit.

Chicago Blackhawks (6)

The obvious: Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Viktor Stalberg, Duncan Keith

Dark horses: Dave Bolland has been a playoff stud going back to his junior days with London. He takes the offense to another level. ... Andrew Shaw came out of the woodwork this season and has become a solid contributor. He has the work ethic needed to achieve results in the playoffs.

Could let you down: Corey Crawford finished with a save percentage of 0.903. And while Ray Emery's was slightly worse, Emery also carried a reputation as a clutch goalie who gets the wins when he needs them. The situation makes me too uncomfortable to draft Crawford. ... Not that Michal Frolik's 15 points would tempt anyone to draft him, but if your pool is deep enough and you want another Blackhawk — look elsewhere. Anywhere.

Keep in mind: Jonathan Toews is out with a concussion, but he'll be back tomorrow. Or next fall. The "Toews will be back soon" story has been a headline in Chicago papers for a couple of weeks now and at some point this will be start being compared to the "Sidney Crosby is skating" stories we were blessed with last April. ... Andrew Brunette missed the last three games with a lower body injury.

San Jose Sharks

The obvious: Joe Thornton, Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, Dan Boyle and Ryane Clowe

Dark horses: Martin Havlat has just 27 points in 39 games, but he struggled with getting off the bench in one piece a knee injury. He has 28 points in his last 26 playoff games. ... Brent Burns has 28 points in his last 53 games, which is a 43-point pace. That's where you should consider him, and not the 37-point guy that he actually was.

Could let you down: Antti Niemi has been so inconsistent that he makes Jonas Gustavsson look like Henrik Lundqvist. Not really, but he hasn't been as reliable as the Sharks would like. Meanwhile, Thomas Greiss has been very solid in limited duty and I can see a situation developing like J-S Giguere/Ilya Bryzgalov circa 2006 in Anaheim. That was the year that JSG went 3-3 and temporarily lost the starting gig to Bryzgalov. ... Michal Handzus no longer has the legs and has been a healthy scratch often down the stretch.

Keep in mind: The jokes about Joe Thornton's terrible postseasons are plentiful, but statistically he hasn't been bad at all. He had 17 points in 18 games last year and 64 in 74 overall as a Shark. ... Couture has 13 points in 19 games since the team traded his buddy Jamie McGinn.

Los Angeles Kings (8)

The obvious: Anze Kopitar, Justin Williams, Dustin Brown, Mike Richards

Dark horses: Drew Doughty has a star-caliber name that would hardly qualify him as a "dark horse". But after a 36-point season he'll go lower in drafts than he should, considering he has 11 points in 12 career playoff games. ... Dwight King is not a future first liner by any stretch, but occasionally they do play him with Kopitar. His big body (6-3, 234) is perfect for planting in front of the net on the PP.

Could let you down: Jeff Carter (ankle) is still not officially on the Game 1 roster as of yet. His terrible year has been well documented, and the problems that he's had with his feet/ankles are more than a little concerning. Pass…

Keep in mind: Since Carter was acquired, Richards has 13 points in 21 games. That is to say, his crappy production didn't budge.

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