Neutral Zone Wrap
by Evan Berofsky
After 27 weeks of intense hockey and what seemed to be a daily carousel of suspensions, concussions, and imminent personnel changes, we have finally made it to the games that matter. The postseason is a time to focus on the important things. To make sure preparations have been made to stay on the right path. To soak in all the glory that comes from winning the final competition. Of course, we're talking about the fantasy playoff pool, where it's all about money and bragging rights. But mainly about the money. You win and you're in. Trophies are merely for participants. Nobody really cares about some shiny awkward-looking bauble named after a former Canadian politician and nobleman. Well, unless you're an NHLer. Or a fan of binge drinking out of oversized objects.
Before you make your player selections, make sure you know who you think will make it to the final four. That way, you can focus on grabbing a bunch of players from those teams as the base. Then fill out to remainder of your roster either with sufficient scorers or hackneyed hunches. If you think it will help, draft and rank the top 40 or 50 postseason scorers as a guide. And while you're at it, watch to see who's injured, struggling, or on fire before finalizing your order.
Speaking of bruised bodies, we now welcome you to our paragraph devoted solely to Sidney Crosby. Pittsburgh's finest hasn't seen action since January due to symptoms following a concussion but has been recently spotted in full practice. Word around the rink says Crosby won't be ready for the first round but may come back soon after. Or he's ready right away and will lead the Penguins to a higher plain of consciousness. So should you burn a pick on him in an early round? Or even at all? This gambit revolves around whether or not you believe Pittsburgh will reach Round 2, since he's certainly going to try and suit up if given the proper rest and medical advice. Sid the Kid is worth a bid if you think he's rid of the problem with his lid. Got it all? Good.
(NOTE: Henrik Zetterberg could be classified in a similar situation, but his injury seems to be of a less significant variety â€“ which is why you'll notice his name below. Same for Mike Green, although all signs are pointing to his return in the opener Wednesday. As for Chris Pronger? Ah, who are we kidding? He'll come back just to enrage opposing forwards.)
Why struggle with statistics when there are easy methods to figuring out who to take? For forwards, check the numbers, the lines, and the proven producers. For defensemen, go for the point getters and the power-play performers. And in net, grab the ones who you believe will advance as far as possible. Simple enough for the goalies, which is why they have been omitted from this preview. (But you can find comprehensive positional rankings and alternate prognostication input by checking out Jan Levine's latest edition of the Barometer.)
Don't panic if a player is missing from the following compilation. Some are not applicable to a specific category since they may not be good enough to be considered elite but should still be selected somewhere in the draft. Others are unlisted either due to being hurt, in a slump, or generally enigmatic on and/or off the ice.
(NOTE: Each section is listed in alphabetical order by player surname.)
The Obvious Picks
These are the popular picks based on their standard offensive output and team's position, although some may lack playoff pedigrees. Most can be found on teams expected to make it to the second round, although your opinion may vary based on preference and/or available draft pool:
Nicklas Backstrom, C, Washington; Patrice Bergeron, C, Boston; Dan Boyle, D, San Jose; Jeff Carter, F, Philadelphia; Zdeno Chara, D, Boston; Pavel Datsyuk, C, Detroit; Drew Doughty, D, Los Angeles; Christian Ehrhoff, D, Vancouver; Johan Franzen, F, Detroit; Marian Gaborik, F, NY Rangers; Ryan Getzlaf, F, Anaheim; Mike Green, D, Washington; Dany Heatley, F, San Jose; Patrick Kane, F, Chicago; Ryan Kesler, C, Vancouver; David Krejci, C, Boston; Kris Letang, D, Pittsburgh; Nicklas Lidstrom, D, Detroit; Milan Lucic, F, Boston; Patrick Marleau, F, San Jose; Tyler Myers, D, Buffalo; Alexander Ovechkin, F, Washington; Joe Pavelski, C, San Jose; Corey Perry, F, Anaheim; Tomas Plekanec, C, Montreal; Mike Richards, C, Philadelphia; Daniel Sedin, F, Vancouver; Henrik Sedin, C, Vancouver; Alexander Semin, F, Washington; Jordan Staal, F, Pittsburgh; Steven Stamkos, F, Tampa Bay; Martin St. Louis, F, Tampa Bay; Joe Thornton, C, San Jose; Kimmo Timonen, D, Philadelphia; Jonathan Toews, C, Chicago; Thomas Vanek, F, Buffalo; Lubomir Visnovsky, D, Anaheim; Shea Weber, D, Nashville; Henrik Zetterberg, F, Detroit
The Second Tier of Respectability
By no means the cream of the crop, but a reliable bunch nevertheless. A second/third liner forward or a useful blueliner on a contender or a proven commodity on a lesser club:
Jason Arnott, F, Washington; Daniel Briere, F, Philadelphia; Dustin Brown, F, Los Angeles; Alex Burrows, F, Vancouver; Michael Cammalleri, F, Montreal; John Carlson, D, Washington; Brett Clark, D, Tampa Bay; Ryane Clowe, F, San Jose; Tim Connolly, C, Buffalo; Logan Couture, C, San Jose; Shane Doan, F, Phoenix; Brandon Dubinsky, F, NY Rangers; Alexander Edler, D, Vancouver; Valtteri Filppula, C, Detroit; Mike Fisher, C, Nashville; Cam Fowler, D, Anaheim; Simon Gagne, F, Tampa Bay; Brian Gionta, F, Montreal; Claude Giroux, F/C, Philadelphia; Tomas Holmstrom, F, Detroit; Patric Hornqvist, F, Nashville; Nathan Horton, F, Boston; Marian Hossa, F, Chicago; Tomas Kaberle, D, Boston; Duncan Keith, D, Chicago; Tyler Kennedy, F, Pittsburgh; Mike Knuble, F, Washington; Vincent Lecavalier, F, Tampa Bay; Ville Leino, F, Philadelphia; Andrej Meszaros, D, Philadelphia; James Neal, F, Pittsburgh; Chris Pronger, D, Philadelphia; Brian Rafalski, D, Detroit; Mark Recchi, F, Boston; Bobby Ryan, F, Anaheim; Mikael Samuelsson, F, Vancouver; Teemu Selanne, F, Anaheim; Devin Setoguchi, F, San Jose; Patrick Sharp, F, Chicago; Ryan Smyth, F, Los Angeles; Drew Stafford, F, Buffalo; Kris Versteeg, F, Philadelphia; James Wisniewski, D, Montreal; Keith Yandle, D, Phoenix
Don't Even Go There
Steer clear of the following skaters, since you'd be better off picking their teammates. Some may have excellent track records, but habitually can't find the scoresheet when it matters or mysteriously go down with an undisclosed form of malaise. Disappointment, thy middle name isâ€¦:
Jason Blake, F, Anaheim; Brian Campbell, D, Chicago; Matt Cooke, F, Pittsburgh; Steve Downie, F, Tampa Bay; Dan Hamhuis, D, Vancouver; Andrei Kostitsyn, F, Montreal; Dustin Penner, F, Los Angeles; Vaclav Prospal, F, NY Rangers; Michael Ryder, F, Boston; Nikolay Zherdev, F, Philadelphia
Out of the Blue
Not necessarily a longshot, but for the most part quiet and out of the spotlight. Could impress if given the right situation and favorable team result. Remember Ville Leino before last spring? Uh, no one did. Maybe one or more of the following will also go down in history with a bang:
Nathan Gerbe, F, Buffalo; Darren Helm, C, Detroit; Chris Higgins, F, Vancouver; Lauri Korpikoski, F, Phoenix; Brandon McMillan, C, Anaheim; Torrey Mitchell, F, San Jose; Dominic Moore, C, Tampa Bay; Daniel Paille, F, Boston; Wayne Simmonds, F, Los Angeles; Mats Zuccarello, F, NY Rangers
Buffalo over Philly in the first round. Only one regulation defeat in their last 12 has the Sabres looking like the updated version of the 2008-09 Hurricanes. I think they can stretch it all the way to the Conference Final, where they will go down to the Bruins. Sorry, Caps fans, you'll have to endure another campaign of finishing first and then flushing all of it away in a stream of missed chances and questionable decisions.
I can't see any of the higher seeds being beaten in the West, although Nashville can take Anaheim deep (and as these teams are evenly matched, it's hard to label this a shocker should the Preds advance). Almost every year in recent memory has the Sharks anointed as pre-playoff favorites, but nothing comes to fruition. Last season, I backed off the bandwagon and gave Chicago the thumbs-up. This time, I'm returning to recommend San Jose as my Western Conference Lock of the Monthâ€¦OK, the week. Fine, they're guaranteed to win at least one series. But I like them to drop Vancouver before making their first Finals appearance. Don't forget about Antti Niemi, who besides being one of the hottest goalies this side of Hades (26-5-4 since mid-January) should serve as a talisman having picked up the Cup last June as an integral member of the Hawks.
And in the inaugural Thornton Bowl, I'll take San Jose over Boston in seven. Just because it sounded good. And my psychic friend told me so.
What does your Final look like? List them in the comments section, but I wanna see proofs. And no cheating.
Have a happy playoffs, everyone. I'll be back in a couple weeks to make sure you've been watching.
Evan Berofsky enjoys writing. Seriously. When he's not trying to shove hockey miscellany down your throat, he gets his kicks playing tournament Scrabble. If you have anything to say about Evan's work (or need any hot word tips), feel free to contact him at email@example.com.