It always amazes me when people go into a big-money NHL playoff fantasy draft with little or no strategy. Even worse, some participants pick directly in order off the regular-season scoring leaders list, not taking into account that some teams will only play four or five games.
Playoff pools are much more difficult than regular-season pools, simply because they're so reliant on your personal predictions of who will advance.
To help you out this year, here are the two best strategies, things to avoid and 10 players that should offer good value if you can pick them at the right spot.
Before going to your playoff draft, fill out a bracket with your personal predictions. When you get to the draft, try to build your team around one of the teams you have going to the Stanley Cup finals.
The reason is by putting all your eggs in one basket, you're virtually guaranteed to win the pool if that team does make the finals because you'll have most of the scorers on that team.
If your pool has goalies, pick the goalie from the team of your NHL bracket, even if he isn't the best goalie available. If you take a goalie from a different team and the team you've selected many players from is eliminated, the other goalie won't help you win anyway, but the goalie from you're team will further ensure victory.
For example, each of the last three seasons I've picked Detroit to come out of the Western Conference. I've picked around sixth out of 13 people and I've always ended up with Pavel Datsyuk or Henrik Zetterberg in the first round.
After that, I picked Johan Franzen in the second round, and followed him up with an assortment of Nick Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski, Marian Hossa (2009), Tomas Holmstrom, Valtteri Filppula and others in the next five or six rounds. Toward the end of draft, I picked depth guys like Brett Lebda and Jonathan Ericsson.
Unfortunately, I lost last season, when the Red Wings were eliminated in the second round, but I won in 2008 and 2009 when they reached the Cup finals.
This season, I'd recommend this strategy if you are picking anywhere outside the top three picks.
A second strategy that often leads to winning playoff pools is to pick as many team-leading scorers as you can. By doing this, you should get at least seven to 10 points out of each of your picks.
This strategy is about building a huge lead in the first round and using the players who do advance to ride that lead to victory, rather than counting on about even production in each round.
I won using this strategy in a different pool in 2009, when I picked second out of 12 people. I thought Pittsburgh would win the Eastern Conference, but their scoring depth wasn't good enough to build an entire team around.
I selected Sidney Crosby first, but Evgeni Malkin was long gone when my next pick came up. I picked Patrick Kane and Johan Franzen in the next two rounds. Later in the draft, I picked Ryan Getzlaf and Eric Staal, who were both expected to be eliminated in the first round, but I figured they would still get seven or eight points each.
Luckily for me, Anaheim and Carolina pulled off three upsets between them, and those late-round picks paid off extremely well.
This season, I'd recommend this strategy for anyone in the top few picks. Daniel and Henrik Sedin are considered the odds-on favorites to be the top two picks, but Ryan Kesler won't be available when the order returns. No one else on Vancouver really warrants a second-round pick, so go with someone like Martin St. Louis or perhaps Corey Perry (if they're available).
Tampa Bay and Anaheim both score a lot and have good chances to win at least one round, so the top guys from those teams should get at least eight points.
This strategy would have paid off handsomely last season, with Philadelphia and Montreal going from the seventh and eighth seeds to meet in the conference finals.
Do not build your team with two players from each of the top contenders. That is a strategy that could get you up to third or fourth, but will almost certainly never win.
The reason this strategy isn't a good one is that other participants will have each focused on one of the contenders. So when you reach the finals, you'll have two or four players (and probably not the top players), while the other teams will each have six or seven players.
Because you'll only be able to get the top players on one or two of the contending teams, your chances of being able to compete against the narrowly focused teams are very slim.
Logan Couture has been scoring game-winning goals all season. He's set a new rookie record for game-winning goals on the road, which will be very valuable come playoff time.
Couture is second in goals on the San Jose Sharks and is outscoring the likes of Dany Heatley, Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Ryane Clowe and Devin Setoguchi.
Where to Pick Him: Anywhere below 50th pick should be good value for Couture, especially if the Sharks can win a couple of rounds.
Milan Lucic was made for playoff hockey. He's big, extremely physical and clutch. Before joining the NHL, Lucic was the MVP of the Memorial Cup, the Canadian Hockey League's ultimate prize.
Lucic's career points-per-game in the playoffs is 0.12 higher than in the regular season, and he's having the best season of his career.
Lucic is one of the leaders on the Boston Bruins and much of their success will depend on him.
Where to Pick Him: If you can get Lucic anywhere in the 10th to 15th range, take him. Great value would be down towards 20th.
Mike Knuble has been on fire recently, with 13 points in the last 14 games of the regular season. Because Knuble only had 40 regular-season points, he should fall toward the later rounds of most pools.
Knuble gets good power-play time in Washington, and now that Alexander Ovechkin is looking more like himself, Knuble should keep piling up points.
Where to Pick Him: If you believe Washington has really learned how to play playoff-style defense, take Knuble around the 50th pick. If you don't, take him around 70th.
Ville Leino was a healthy scratch for four games in the first round of the 2010 playoffs, but when he got back in the lineup, he showed what he could do by posting 21 points in 19 games.
Leino has kept up the great play this season, scoring 53 points and besting his previous career high of 11.
He and linemates Danny Briere and Scott Hartnell tend to draw easier matchups than the Flyers' other top lines, led by Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, and they certainly take advantage of that.
Where to Pick Him: Leino will offer very good value if you can get him around 40th. The Flyers' mediocre play down the stretch might make him drop even lower than that.
Boston Bruins rookie Brad Marchand has had a history of stepping up in the playoffs at every level he's played.
In 2006-07, he put up 40 points in 20 games for the Val-d'Or Foreurs of the QMJHL. In 2008-09, he scored 15 points in 16 games for the Providence Bruins of the AHL.
This will be Marchand's first chance at the NHL playoffs, but you can count on a good performance. Marchand plays a similar role to Dave Bolland from Chicago–solid defensively, annoy the other team's stars and chip in offensively.
Where to Pick Him: Marchand is a guy who should still be available in the late rounds of most drafts. He should offer good value anywhere past 60th and I'd expect you could get him closer to 80th.
Mike Modano is the all-time leading scorer among American NHL players. While he's not the player he used to be, Modano still sees some power-play time and could put up some points if Detroit can survive for a few rounds.
Modano will likely go unnoticed in many drafts because he's struggled this year while recovering from wrist surgery.
Where to Pick Him: Modano is worth the risk on a pick in the last round of most pools. He should be still available around 100th, and anywhere after that is a solid selection.
Saku Koivu plays on a line with ageless wonder Teemu Selanne and plays on the power play with 34-goal man Bobby Ryan.
Even at age 36, Koivu put up 45 points in 75 games this season. Also, Koivu has traditionally been a strong playoff performer at nearly a point-per-game throughout his career.
Where to Pick Him: Koivu should offer good value around 70th. Anytime after that, I'd consider him a quality choice.
Vincent Lecavalier struggled with injuries and inconsistency early in the season, but he's certainly found his game lately. Lecavalier had nine goals and 17 points in his final 14 games of the regular season.
Lecavalier is now centering the Lightning's top line with Martin St. Louis on his wing, which will only help his point totals.
Where to Pick Him: If you believe that the Lightning will get by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round, Lecavalier should fit into your plans around the 30th pick. If you don't have a clue who will win that matchup, take Lecavalier around 40th.
The Philadelphia Flyers' diminutive forward led the playoffs in scoring last season, and he's picked up right where he left off with 68 points in 77 games.
Briere has always been a playoff performer, with 87 points in 86 career games. Playing on a line with physical players like Ville Leino and Scott Hartnell has really helped create space for Briere to use his skill offensively.
Where to Pick Him: Briere should be a valuable pick if you can get him anywhere outside the top 10. Even toward the end of the top 10 isn't a bad place to pick Briere if you think the Flyers are going to win a couple of rounds this year.
Mikael Samuelsson is a veteran scorer whose playoff performances tend to be at least as good as his regular-season performances.
Samuelsson could drop in the draft because of a perception that he's had a poor regular season. That perception exists because he had 30 goals last year, but only 18 this year.
It's important to notice his point total only fell from 53 to 50, so it wasn't a huge problem.
Where to Pick Him: If Samuelsson falls out of the top 30 picks, take him. It's possible that someone will decide to load up on Vancouver, in which case he might go too high, but it's possible that he'll slide far enough to be a great middle-round pick.