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Frozen Fantasy: Looking Ahead

Janet Eagleson

Janet Eagleson

Janet Eagleson is a four-time winner of the Hockey Writer of the Year award from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.

It's that time of the year. You're pushing hard to the finish, but you also have one eye on the postseason. There's money in "them thar hills."

Go big or go home.

Playoff leagues - or pools as us Canadians like to call them - have been a mainstay in our culture for decades. Like beavers and beer. It's a right of passage from preschool to elementary - everyone dives in. So how do you prepare?

There are loads of different types of playoff formats, but there are two that I enjoy the most: box - picking a single player from each of 20-24 groups of players - and open - anyone can pick anyone (within the candidate pool), so you could end up with the same guys as your buddy.

I can't wait.

Both formats operate on the same principle - who will play the most games and also produce the most points? Can you win taking a guy who might get eight points in a seven-game, first-round loss? Or is it better to take a guy who goes a few rounds, but might not be the sexiest scorer?

My buddy Chris runs my favorite playoff pool. It's a winner-takes-half affair - not bad when more than 30 people jump in for a swim. I get to pick up to 20 players whose regular-season point totals do not exceed 850 points total. My choice. And I can take any skater I want...but then again, so can everyone else.

So what kind of strategy do I use in the postseason? It's pretty much the same no matter what kind of pool I play. I can't bring myself to pick guys from just two teams - that risk is just too steep for me. But I'm a huge advocate of trying to predict the final two teams in each division and picking guys from those four teams.

I know what you're thinking - what teams are in my final four?

I love the Blues, but I just can't do it. They still don't score enough goals. And as much as I love what the Sharks have done, I cannot bring myself to pick them. They won't get past the Kings if they face them in the first round. So right now, I'm willing to go on a limb with L.A. and Chicago in the west and Boston and Montreal in the east. Yes, you read that right.

Bu-bye, Sidney Crosby.

The Bruins will saw off against the Kings (sorry, Hawks - I love you, that's why I have to be realistic). And gulp - the Kings will win the Cup. On the back of Jonathan Quick's Conn Smythe performance, Jeff Carter's 12 postseason goals and (gulp) Marian Gaborik's 20-point performance.

Hey - don't judge. Gabby has to be a man some time...right?

Now let's take a look who caught my eye this week.

Josh Bailey, LW, NY Islanders (9 percent owned) - Bailey has disappointed me this year - I expected so much more. But this past week, he caught my eye with a four-game, six-point scoring streak that included two goals. He has four games remaining between Tuesday and season's end, and they're against bottom-feeders like the Sabres, Devils and Sens. Check your games remaining and stuff him into your lineup before someone else snaps him up - his ownership jumped six percent between Saturday and Sunday. Wow! Just beware the plus-minus if you're in a dog fight in that category. You just can't count on a positive result there.

Darren Helm, C, Detroit (2 percent owned) - Darren Helm or Gustav Nyquist? Darren Helm or Gustav Nyquist? Well last week (ending Friday), the answer to that question was none other than Mr. Helm. He outpaced his super-hot teammate in every category, but most impressively in goals. Helm's four snipes this past week tied him with Corey Perry and put him one behind Max Pacioretty (Nyquist had three). But relative to Nyquist, Helm had more points, PIM and SOG to go with a better plus-minus. No, Helm isn't a better player. But heading into the home stretch, he might produce like he is...especially against the likes of the Sabres and Canes (his other games are against the Pens and Blues). He's only owned in two percent of leagues. Take the risk.

Nick Holden, D, Colorado (2 percent owned) - Very quietly, this undrafted and soon-to-be 27 defender has really put up solid offense from the back end. How solid? Try 13 points, including six goals, in his last 20 games - that's a 50-plus point pace! He maintained a solid plus-minus (plus-six) in that span. And he delivered solid hits, too. He was top-45 on the blueliner list over the last month plus. So, I ask you this - how many defensemen does your league roll? He has three games left, including matches against the Oil and Orcas. Take the chance, particularly if you need defensemen.

Tomas Jurco, RW, Detroit (1 percent owned) - So, it goes a little like this, see. You know that guy in Washington - the one who shoots first, second, third and fourth, before considering a pass? Yep - you guessed it. Alexander Ovechkin. Well, guess who tied Ovie in SOG last week. Oh yah - out produced him, too. Jurco had 16 SOG heading into Saturday. He also had twice as many goals (two) than Ovie. And was even, compared to the (gulp) minus-4. He's cheap and isn't afraid to pelt opposing goalies with pucks. Pick him up if you're desperate for a move in that category. He could move the proverbial yard sticks for you if he keeps this up.

Chris Neil, RW, Ottawa (10 percent owned) - Neil has been on a bit of PIM rampage of late. He had 26 last week and 51 in his last nine games. He's within 27 PIM of tying his career high (232) from his rookie year. And he should meet that mark, what with four games - including tilts against the Isles, Devils and Leafs - to finish the season. He's also delivering hits - he laid eight on the Habs in that debacle on Friday night - and could easily boost you by a dozen or more before seasons end.

James Reimer, G, Toronto (44 percent owned) - The Leafs' net is his and he needs to shine, not only for the Leafs, but also for his career. The impending RFA isn't likely to be wearing blue and white next season, but he needs to prove to other teams that he's worth his weight in a trade. Three games against Tampa Bay, Florida and Ottawa should give him that chance. After all, he did kind of stand on his head Saturday night, even if the score didn't favor the Leafs. You're desperate; so is he. Sounds like a match made in fantasy heaven.

Carl Soderberg, LW/C, Boston (17 percent owned) - Soderberg is many things. Talented. Fast. And talented while fast - he doesn't lose even a half step when he has the puck on his stick. He missed Thursday's game to attend the birth of his child, but before that, he rang up five points, including three power-play points, in the previous four outings. It's that production with the man advantage that has me salivating - a couple extra points in that category might make a world of difference in a tight race. Of course, there's no guarantee with special teams play. But the Bruins face the Jets, Sabres and Devils after they face off with the Wild on Tuesday. Soderberg might be a solid play in H2H formats this coming week - it always pays to have a lot of guys playing Sunday, particularly in a four-game week.

Travis Zajac, C, New Jersey (11 percent owned) - What a week to sit this guy. I activated Adam Henrique this week instead of Zajac in my H2H finals. Henrique hasn't done badly, but man - Zajac's four goals, two assists, plus-4 and 18 SOG would look damn good on my roster right now. Yah, he can be streaky. But you have to think there's solid multi-category production coming up in a week against the Flames, Sens and Isles...especially with linemate Jaromir Jagr pushing toward his best season since 2007-08.

Back to the Kings.

I don't like them, but that doesn't matter if they help me win a pool. And sure, they play boring defensive hockey. But they'll play a lot of game.s And that means points, one way or another.

And hey - I don't mind eating crow if I'm wrong. But I'm not counting on that. I just have to figure out where to spend my winnings...

Now, before I go - here's this week's update on my pursuit of second in my newest Yahoo! league. It's been a haul, but I'm there...for now. I'm still pushing hard to keep the hounds at bay, but I'm a couple points up on the third-place team.

Active management - even when you can't win the overall title - is the only way to play fantasy. I was 16 points out of second a couple games after the Olympic break. Sixteen! Now active - or should I say aggressive - management has helped me scratch and claw away that 16-point deficit and turn it into a two-point advantage. So I've proven my point even if I don't end up in second.

Never. Give. Up.

But I don't intend to finish third. Second is mine. Sucka.

Until next season.

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