A great number of fantasy hockey leagues will have their drafts this weekend, the last one before the season opener on Oct. 6.
Hopefully, fantasy owners haven't been too swayed by any eye-popping preseason numbers that almost always turn out to be deceiving and instead are relying on good, thorough research.
Here are some tried-and-true fantasy principles that will help on draft day. Even if your draft has already been held, here also is a list of useful players who might be available on your waiver wire.
Whether you're a returning owner or a league newbie, check your league settings, in particular the scoring modifiers.
My long-standing league is poised to drop a second starting goalie, so that will greatly drop their draft position.
Bare Naked Hockey League places a higher value on plus/minus than your average league, so when deciding to pick between several players, that should be taken into consideration.
We are also likely to add a roster spot for a goon/enforcer, so we should all be prepared to know who's likely to rack up the fighting majors.
How much do you know about your fellow owners?
My 11 leaguemates generally don't trade much, so if I miss on drafting a player I want, I'm unlikely to get him otherwise.
In the same vein, know who are some of your friends' pet players. Before my hometown Bruins won the Cup this year, I was also a Rangers fan (long story), so I could be counted upon to take a Blueshirt or two a little earlier than expected.
It's always nice to be able to zap at least one owner on draft day over a player or two.
Does your league have any keepers?
In our league, we get to keep two players for a maximum of two years—each takes the place of one of our first two draft picks (we use a standard serpentine format).
With a 24-man roster, you're bound to have several players worth keeping the following year, but one should still keep age in mind when drafting, particularly in the first few rounds.
In over 15 years of participating in BNHL, I've tried an array of draft strategies—go top-heavy on forwards (mockingly referred by one of my friends as the "the A-B-C-E/no-D" approach), go top-heavy on defensemen, try for a balanced approach between the two or take my two starting goalies fairly high.
This year I'm going to try a new, yet simple approach that I've advocated in other fantasy articles—identify the teams you think will do well and load up on their players.
This strategy was partly borne out of the fact that plus/minus can be such a big swing factor in my league.
It should be noted that defensemen receive bigger pluses (and minuses) than forwards. It is particularly helpful to those who might not know the ins and outs of a lot of players from a fantasy perspective. But knowledge of the league will still be vital.
In the Eastern Conference, I'm on board with the popular pick of the Washington Capitals earning the top seed. The other teams that seem likely to make the playoffs are the Boston Bruins, Philadelphia Flyers, Buffalo Sabres and the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Sidney Crosby's absence is giving me doubts about the Pittsburgh Penguins, though they should still finish in the top eight, while I think the New York Rangers, Montreal Canadiens and Carolina Hurricanes will again be contending for that last playoff spot.
I want little to do with the rest of the East—Devils, Islanders, Jets, Panthers and Senators.
In the West, it's difficult to go against the Vancouver Canucks as the No. 1 team, especially given the weakness of the Northwest Division.
The San Jose Sharks and Chicago Blackhawks seem like the other realistic finalists from the conference, while it'll be interesting to see how the Los Angeles Kings' overhaul works out.
As far as the last four playoff spots, they seem to belong to the Detroit Red Wings, Anaheim Ducks, St. Louis Blues and the Nashville Predators.
The Avalanche are the most interesting of those who seem to be on the outside looking in, which include the Flames, Wild, Blue Jackets, Stars, Coyotes and Oilers.
Now that you've got a rough list of players from the best teams to target, try a mock draft through your league interface.
You should be familiar the way the draft applet looks. What views can you see—projections, last year's stats, three-year averages?
How much information can you get by clicking on a player? Does that include news, or will you have to open another tab/window to do a Google News search or for sites like Rotoworld.com?
How easily can you move players into the draft queue, then up and down your list? How quickly does the chat function post your comment?
An important thing to note is where the players you want—in particular your sleepers—are listed.
If there's a player that you really like and your draft applet is listing him particularly high, you might have to take him a little earlier (or move onto another player). If there are players who are underrated (rookies tend to fall into this category) and can't be found unless you have to scroll for more than a few seconds, you might be in luck.
During your online draft, keep track of how the other owners are drafting.
What positions do they need to fill? Is there a run on a certain position? Are they seemingly relying on last year's stats? Projections? Neither, as in their own list?
By trying to see what those owners are seeing and getting a handle on their thought process, this might help you prepare for an alternative ready if your guy seems likely to be picked.
This comes in especially handy if you feel like you might be rushed before hitting that "Draft" button, whether that be from getting zapped or simply being under-prepared.
I wouldn't bother actually completing a draft—there's little to be gained from where certain players were drafted unless your league is near-identical to the mock one (unlikely).
Now that you've got a strategy, we get down to the nitty gritty—choosing the right players.
I won't bore you with a list of top guys to take—like you need to be told to get Ovechkin or Malkin. Rather, I'd like to present you with some under-the-radar players—guys whom you want to be choosing in the middle of the draft, where most drafts are won and lost.
Even if you make mistakes with your top picks, you can save yourself by unearthing some sleepers. If you get decent production out of your studs, hitting on the mid-round players can put you over the top.
Let's start with some interesting players in the East.
Watch out for Nicklas Backstrom slipping into the second or third round. He may be under the radar after a 65-point season, but he scored 36 more only two seasons ago. One can't think that he, Ovechkin and their power play will slump again.
The Caps have three defensemen who bear watching. Mike Green is another former fantasy stud who might slip after a 24-point season that was depressed by injury.
John Carlson had a solid 37 points as a rookie, and while his numbers may dip with a healthy Green, he's still a credible third or fourth fantasy D-man.
Dennis Wideman produced seven points in 14 games for Washington before a season-ending leg injury—he'd make a fine fifth or sixth fantasy D-man.
I absolutely love Tomas Vokoun as a No. 1 goalie this year, so I've got to mention him even if he's not really under the radar. The 35-year-old has always lacked offensive support on the teams he's backstopped (Nashville, Florida), but that shouldn't be the case this year. His save percentages have hovered around .920 for the last several years, and a repeat of that could put him into 40-win territory.
It's remarkable that the Stanley Cup champions were able to get through the playoffs with such an anemic power play.
Out goes Tomas Kaberle and in comes Joe Corvo, who had 42 points in 80 games with Carolina. Corvo has tended to be a minus player in recent years, but that could be due to the fact that he's played with middling teams.
He should be able to help a power-play unit that ranked only 20th in the regular season.
The Sabres tend to get a bad rap as a poor offensive team, but they actually ranked ninth last season in goals and power-play efficiency.
Adding defenseman Christian Ehrhoff could be the piece they need to go deeper into the playoffs. Ehrhoff had 50 points last year with the Canucks, and he could be that second point man that Buffalo has been lacking with the man advantage.
It'll be interesting to see whether Teddy Purcell can carry over his terrific 2011 postseason (17 points in 18 games) to the regular season.
The right wing tallied 51 points in 81 games, but note he only did that with an average of a little over 14 minutes per game. If Guy Boucher increases his ice time, Purcell could really break out.
Jamie McBain had a solid 30 points in his rookie season and should at least match that total this year. The defenseman averaged 2:44 on the power play and could see that total rise, even if Tomas Kaberle was brought in to replace Joe Corvo's 23 points on the power play.
Kaberle is on the downside of his career, while McBain, who had only eight points with the man advantage, is on the upswing.
It's commonly said that the hockey in the Western Conference is stronger than in the Eastern, so it shouldn't be a surprise that it has more players of note.
Note that those leagues whose owners are mainly in the East sometimes have some of the West's better players get drafted below their average draft position, since those owners typically do not see those players as much on TV against their favorite teams.
A Sharks power play that was second in the league last year but lost Dany Heatley might still be as proficient, thanks to the acquisition of Brent Burns.
The defenseman got 14 of his 46 points with the man advantage in Minnesota and should complement Dan Boyle at the point. Burns' presence should allow Joe Pavelski to move off the point and closer to the net, meaning the right wing could be in line to exceed his 20 goals from last season.
The Wings were dealt with an unexpected departure in the offseason when Brian Rafalski retired.
That prompted the signing of Ian White, who's in line to take over Rafalski's 3:32 on the power play. In his first stint with a good team last year, White tallied 10 points in 23 games with San Jose.
It feels odd to label Pavel Datsyuk a sleeper, but he might not be at the forefront of many owners' minds after a 59-point season. That was, of course, in only 56 games due to injury.
In the playoffs, the Russian produced 15 points in 11 games, which is more indicative of his ability.
Think of Blues defensemen, and Alex Pietrangelo rightly should come to mind first.
But don't sleep on Kevin Shattenkirk. The rookie garnered 26 points in 46 games with Colorado, then upped his scoring clip to a more impressive level (17 points in 26 games) after being traded to St. Louis.
He should man a point again for the Blues and should be a nice fifth or sixth fantasy defenseman, barring a sophomore slump.
A good goalie can really turn a team's fortunes around, so look out for Semyon Varlamov to make a big impact in Colorado, which ranked last in goals against average (3.50) last year.
The Avs thought enough of him to give up several high draft picks for the Russian, whose 2.23 GAA and .924 save percentage (in 27 games) both ranked among the top six last season.
A candidate to piggyback on Varlamov's success could be Erik Johnson, who thrived after a midseason trade from St. Louis. The former top draft pick had only 19 points in 55 games with the Blues, but got nearly a point every other game (10 in 22) with his new team.
His minus-five should go into plus territory if Varlamov can be steady between the pipes.
Should Be Drafted Higher, but Generally Aren't
Chicago's Patrick Sharp and Nashville's Pekka Rinne are among the best at their position but won't be drafted accordingly.
Sharp's 71 points put him among the league's top 20 scorers, but he likely won't be among the first 20 forwards taken—he should be a steal in the fifth or sixth round.
Rinne ranked second in GAA (2.12) and third in save percentage (.930), but he'll likely go after some bigger names like Henrik Lundqvist or Ryan Miller.
Injured D-men Who Could Provide Big Value
Veterans Ryan Whitney (Edmonton) and Marek Zidlicky (Minnesota) both had injuries limiting them to less than half a season.
When healthy, Whitney was sizzling with 27 points in 35 games. After he was out for the year, a young Edmonton went into the tank. A healthy Whitney could boost the fantasy production of their many young forwards.
While Zidlicky was not as hot, putting up a credible point every other game (to me, the standard of an offensive-minded blueliner), he could be in line for a solid season, as he'll take over as the No. 1 D-man on the power play after Burns's departure and Heatley's addition.
There's a reason I put their two most interesting players at the bottom of this slide—this is more of a buyer-beware note.
Jeff Carter was not psyched to be traded from a potential Cup contender to one of the worst teams, so I worry about his motivation and drive.
He put up 46 goals and 84 points three years ago, but that was in Philly. Even in orange and black, Carter averaged 35 goals and 64 points the last two years—don't overdraft him just because Rick Nash will be his line-mate.
As for the other notable, James Wisniewski is a D-man who's shown he can score more than a point every other game, but I worry about his plus/minus.
He's never been that good in his own end, and I am not a believer that Steve Mason can get his mojo from three years ago back.
As someone who owned him last year, I know he could wind up being a bit of an occasional fantasy starter like when he was with the Islanders, rather than when he was a near must-start after being traded to the Canadiens.
Hope you've enjoyed some of my insights into the world of fantasy hockey, even if some of my buddies might glean some info for our draft on Sunday the 2nd.
Another thing to keep in mind—how active are your owners on the waiver wire?
If any of my aforementioned players are available, I'd jump to roster them, unless you are in a really shallow league.
While it's easy to pick up the hot guy, I like to take the long view and give a guy a chance, rather than add/drop at the drop of a hat (which is easy to do in Bare Naked Hockey League, which has unlimited free agency).
This is particularly true in the first few weeks of the season, when sample size becomes an issue. It might take time for a player to get the right linemates.
When in doubt, look to ice time. As much hockey as we think we know, we don't know more than an NHL head coach. If a coach is giving more ice time to someone, that player must be doing something right.
Agree with everything I've said? Disagree with everything I've said? Interested in my take on some other players or strategies?
Feel free to pass along any comments, as well as some of the players you think should be worthy of making my draft cheat sheet.