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Neutral Zone Wrap: Playoffs? Playoffs?! PLAYOFFS!

Evan Berofsky

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Playoffs? Playoffs?! PLAYOFFS!

Now that we have your attention, we hope you are ready for the NHL postseason. The real games get rolling Wednesday and we're here to prepare you for your pools.

Never heard of a hockey playoff pool? First, welcome back from your sabbatical on Mars. And now that you've once again settled for oxygen-based terrestrial life, you'll be happy to know the format is simple to follow. So anyone can play. Yes, even you.

Most setups allow people to pick a set number of NHLers to see who can earn the most points based on predetermined categories. Unsure who to take? Don't panic. Below, you'll find four player tiers. And like financial transactions, each tier has its own risk assessment. Sticking to the safer bets may work in an ideal situation but you may need to make a few shrewd selections in order to stand out amongst the masses.

Besides this standard form of evaluation, the majority of your players should come from the four teams you believe will make it to the Conference Finals. The best of the rest will end up filling out your roster. Analyze each position and see what's available. Sounds simple enough, right?

Also be sure to check the latest news and injury updates. Don't be the one who blindly grabs players based on statistics and then doesn't realize they're either out until next season or have been benched/demoted. We have the resources; you can build the winning team.

If you don't see someone in any of these lists, don't worry. They probably have been omitted for various reasons. Some may be hurt, inconsistent, or ultimately end up fitting in between categories. But that doesn't necessarily mean these types of players are unworthy of selection; your team preference will ultimately dictate whom you end up picking:

(NOTE: Each section is shown in alphabetical order by player surname. Goalies sold separately. Jan Levine did a set of player rankings in order by position, if you prefer that layout.)

Sure Things

The obvious producers. Can't go wrong with any of these, mainly based on production and pedigree. Too bad many will be headed home soon:

David Backes, F, St. Louis; Jamie Benn, F, Dallas; Patrice Bergeron, F, Boston; Dan Boyle, D, San Jose; Jeff Carter, F, Los Angeles; Ryan Callahan, F, Tampa Bay; Zdeno Chara, D, Boston; Logan Couture, F, San Jose; Sidney Crosby, F, Pittsburgh; Pavel Datsyuk, F, Detroit; Drew Doughty, D, Los Angeles; Cam Fowler, D, Anaheim; Marian Gaborik, F, Los Angeles; Ryan Getzlaf, F, Anaheim; Claude Giroux, F, Philadelphia; Scott Hartnell, F, Philadelphia; Victor Hedman, D, Tampa Bay; Marian Hossa, F, Chicago; Jarome Iginla, F, Boston; Ryan Johansen, F, Columbus; Patrick Kane, F, Chicago; Mikko Koivu, F, Minnesota; Anze Kopitar, F, Los Angeles; David Krejci, F, Boston; Niklas Kronwall, D, Detroit; Chris Kunitz, F, Pittsburgh; Gabriel Landeskog, F, Colorado; Kris Letang, D, Pittsburgh; Milan Lucic, F, Boston; Nathan MacKinnon, F, Colorado; Evgeni Malkin, F, Pittsburgh; Andrei Markov, D, Montreal; Patrick Marleau, F, San Jose; Ryan McDonagh, D, NY Rangers; Rick Nash, F, NY Rangers; James Neal, F, Pittsburgh; Max Pacioretty, F, Montreal; Zach Parise, F, Minnesota; Joe Pavelski, F, San Jose; Corey Perry, F, Anaheim; Alex Pietrangelo, D, St. Louis; Jason Pominville, F, Minnesota; Brad Richards, F, NY Rangers; Mike Richards, F, Los Angeles; Tyler Seguin, F, Dallas; Steven Stamkos, F, Tampa Bay; Alexander Steen, F, St. Louis; Martin St. Louis, F, NY Rangers; Mark Streit, D, Philadelphia; P.K. Subban, D, Montreal; Ryan Suter, D, Minnesota; Joe Thornton, F, San Jose; Thomas Vanek, F, Montreal; Jakub Voracek, F, Philadelphia; James Wisniewski, D, Columbus

Wise Investments

The reliable contributors, including a few who normally shine around this time. Not the flashiest of the bunch but also not risky:

Daniel Alfredsson, F, Detroit; Cam Atkinson, F, Columbus; Tyson Barrie, D, Colorado; Francois Beauchemin, D, Anaheim; Patrik Berglund, F, St. Louis; Nick Bonino, F, Anaheim; Derick Brassard, F, NY Rangers; Dustin Brown, F, Los Angeles; Brent Burns, F, San Jose; Matthew Carle, D, Tampa Bay; Alex Chiasson, F, Dallas; Charlie Coyle, F, Minnesota; Jason Demers, D, San Jose; David Desharnais, F, Montreal; Loui Eriksson, F, Boston; Valtteri Filppula, F, Tampa Bay; Johan Franzen, F, Detroit; Brendan Gallagher, F, Montreal; Brian Gionta, F, Montreal; Dan Girardi, D, NY Rangers; Alex Goligoski, D, Dallas; Sergei Gonchar, D, Dallas; Erik Johnson, D, Colorado; Jack Johnson, D, Columbus; Tyler Johnson, F, Tampa Bay; Jussi Jokinen, F, Pittsburgh; Duncan Keith, D, Chicago; Torey Krug, D, Boston; David Legwand, F, Detroit; Brad Marchand, F, Boston; Paul Martin, D, Pittsburgh; Alec Martinez, D, Los Angeles; Jamie McGinn, F, Colorado; Matt Moulson, F, Minnesota; Nino Niederreiter, F, Minnesota; Matt Niskanen, D, Pittsburgh; Gustav Nyquist, F, Detroit; P.A. Parenteau, F, Colorado; Mathieu Perreault, F, Anaheim; Ryan O'Reilly, F, Colorado; T.J. Oshie, F, St. Louis; Ondrej Palat, F, Tampa Bay; Tomas Plekanec, F, Montreal; Teddy Purcell, F, Tampa Bay; Matt Read, F, Philadelphia; Brandon Saad, F, Chicago; Jaden Schwartz, F, St. Louis; Brent Seabrook, D, Chicago; Patrick Sharp, F, Chicago; Kevin Shattenkirk, D, St. Louis; Andrew Shaw, F, Chicago; Wayne Simmonds, F, Philadelphia; Carl Soderberg, F, Boston; Paul Stastny, F, Colorado; Derek Stepan, F, NY Rangers; Kimmo Timonen, D, Philadelphia; Slava Voynov, D, Los Angeles; Justin Williams, F, Los Angeles; Mats Zuccarello, F, NY Rangers

Retirement Killers

No, these players aren't retiring. And no, they aren't under arrest for any crime. But you may be committing a felony if you select any of the following over-the-hill/inexperienced/habitual fantasy spoilers:

Danny Briere, F, Montreal; Erik Cole, F, Dallas; Carl Hagelin, F, NY Rangers; Dany Heatley, F, Minnesota; Steve Ott, F, St. Louis; Brendan Smith, D, Detroit; Reilly Smith, F, Boston; R.J. Umberger, F, Columbus

Hot Tips

It's often difficult to speculate on the future performance of a commodity if one is relatively unknown during this portion of the season. While most of these guys haven't produced much to date, there's a chance they can break out in a shortened schedule:

Sean Couturier, F, Philadelphia; Raphael Diaz, D, NY Rangers; Dougie Hamilton, D, Boston; Nick Holden, D, Colorado; Nikita Kucherov, F, Tampa Bay; James Sheppard, F, San Jose; Ben Smith, F, Chicago; Brandon Sutter, F, Pittsburgh


OK, OK, this will be the last time I brag about my Finals prediction from last year ( That only means this next one will fall way, way off the mark.

In the Eastern Conference, Detroit (W2) are experienced enough to knock off the Bruins (A1) but lingering injuries will prevent that from happening...Tampa Bay (A2) possess too much offense for Montreal (A3) to handle...Columbus will give Pittsburgh (M1) a brief scare but nothing for Sid's Kids to worry about...King Henrik provides the edge the Rangers (M2) will need to slip by the Flyers (M3).

Moving West...Despite the 14-point gap, Colorado (C1) versus Minnesota (W1) looks relatively even. Give the Avs' depth the edge...Thanks to the Blues' (C2) late swoon and their multitude of MIAs, Chicago (C3) will be able to prevail...Give Dallas (W2) some credit against Anaheim (P1) but the Ducks' firepower will overpower the Stars...The Kings (P3) return with the same core from the 2012 Cup squad and that should be enough to beat the Sharks (P2).

Boston swept the Bolts in the season series and that should continue in Round #2...The Blueshirts will be able to survive a tough series with the Penguins...The Blackhawks down the Avalanche, thanks to Chicago's dynamic duo up front...In the battle of crosstown rivals, Anaheim knocks out LA.

And in the end, I've got a hunch about the Rangers representing the East and a stronger inkling Anaheim makes it out of the West. Broadway's Best have fought hard to power past two fierce rivals, while the pick of Orange County have gone down an easier road. Despite how solid New York plays in all areas, there's no discounting the Ducks' danger. Quack, quack, quack, quack...Anaheim in seven.

Who's in your bracket?