Cullen: The 2012 NHL Playoff Payoff

Scott Cullen
4/9/2012 9:47:39 AM
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Playoff hockey begins Wednesday and this year's Playoff Payoff once again has the numbers and information to help you win your playoff pool.

There is a rather tried-and-true draft strategy and it doesn't require any new tricks to get the job done: pick players from the four teams you think will reach the Conference Finals; that will give the players selected enough games to make a significant statistical contribution. The importance of getting players from the right teams is what makes playoff pools so challenging -- it's very difficult 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 teams runs out of active bodies before the Conference Finals, it's going to be extremely challenging to hold the lead.

As always, the focus will be on teams that finish at the top of the standings, but there is always value to be found beyond the number one and two seeds. There is such parity in the league now that the difference between a second-seeded team and seventh-seeded team, for example, is not hugely significant. Boston finished 10 points ahead of Washington this season, but with five more shootout wins. That means, shootout results aside (because that's irrelevant to playoff hockey), the Bruins were five points better over an 82-game schedule. Would it be such a shock to see that seventh seed emerge victorious?

That doesn't mean going hog wild on bottom seeds and ignoring the blue chip players -- top players on the favourite teams -- but it does suggest that once you have some cornerstone pieces from higher-seeded teams, then there should be an opportunity to do some damage by getting good value on six, seven or eight seeds in the mid-to-late rounds.

At some point in the process, you'll likely need to decide if you would rather have the best player on a low seed or a third-line player on a top seed and the answer will probably come by looking at the players you've already selected.

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 Red Wings late, for example, and you can get Dan Cleary and Ian White, 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 Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Nicklas Lidstrom, Johan Franzen etc.

Injuries are always a factor in fantasy sports (real sports too!!), but 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.

While the injury news appears favourable for the likes of Vancouver's Daniel Sedin, Los Angeles' Jeff Carter and perhaps Philadelphia's Danny Briere, all of whom were injured late in the season yet could be ready to start the playoffs, there are questions hanging over Blackhawks centre Jonathan Toews, who has yet to play since suffering a concussion February 19.

Additionally, monitor the goaltending situations. Washington's Tomas Vokoun is already out with a groin injury, leaving Michal Neuvirth to handle the starter's role down the stretch, but Neuvirth has run into his own injury troubles, which has opened the door for Braden Holtby. Washington's complicated crease situation could affect the value throughout the lineup.

Consider doubling-up on line combinations, when the value is right. There are few things in fantasy sports so sweet as recording multiple points on a single goal. If you like Devils snipers Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise, maybe try centre Travis Zajac later in your draft. Zajac missed much of the season as he recovered from an Achilles injury, but he's back in the middle of the Devils' number one line, which seems like a good opportunity to put up points.

Also, don't be afraid to make a sleeper pick late in the draft. It's hard to predict from where the next Max Talbot, Ruslan Fedotenko or Sean Bergenheim will emerge, but when it comes to a 12th-round pick, those diamonds in the rough can be the difference between winning and losing.

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 since the All-Star break. If the point totals are higher, maybe it's a young player 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 fattened up his scoring totals in October and November.

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 the others 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, for instance, had 15 points in his first 42 playoff games, but he's tallied 76 points in 79 playoff games since.

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 pulling the trigger.

Power plays rule the postseason so make sure your roster is loaded with players who get time with the man advantage. 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. Power play point totals are included as a general guide for which players are most likely to get those man advantage opportunities.

Click here for the full stats breakdown.

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