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Neutral Zone Wrap: Preparing for playoff pools

by | Rotowire.com
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Just when you thought you were done with Fantasy hockey for the season, the playoffs appear out of nowhere with promises of wonder and excitement for the next two months. And that means another pool (or pools) to enter, where you'll require a strategy and the proper tools to draft your way to another title.

The planning portion is rather simple and begins with determining which teams you believe will advance to the Conference Finals. From there, you can focus your picks on four clubs - with the last few pieces from the remaining rosters. Trying to figure out whether an injury will hurt one's performance becomes a complicated issue. The latest reports may claim someone is back to health and available to help. But if you don't believe a skater will be ready, then it's better to err on the safe side and avoid.

Most likely, you will then look at the different positions and analyze each one. 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. (Which is why you won't see any netminders in the following lists.) In addition to this, you can find comprehensive positional rankings and other goodies by checking out the latest cheat sheets.

If you don't see a particular person in the upcoming lists, then they may have been omitted for various reasons. Some may lie in between categories, but that doesn't mean they should be avoided. Meanwhile, you won't see others who carry significant pain, are in a slump, or are not fit for consumption.

(NOTE: Each section is shown in alphabetical order by player surname.)

Sure, fire

You wanted the best, you're getting the best. Some could be classified as superstars, but others are lesser likes who still possess a proficient postseason pedigree:

David Backes, F, St. Louis; Nicklas Backstrom, F, Washington; Patrice Bergeron, F, Boston; Dan Boyle, D, San Jose; Ryan Callahan, F, NY Rangers; Brian Campbell, D, Florida; Zdeno Chara, D, Boston; Sidney Crosby, F, Pittsburgh; Pavel Datsyuk, F, Detroit; Alexander Edler, D, Vancouver; Patrik Elias, F, New Jersey; Johan Franzen, F, Detroit; Marian Gaborik, F, NY Rangers; Claude Giroux, F, Philadelphia; Scott Hartnell, F, Philadelphia; Marian Hossa, F, Chicago; Patrick Kane, F, Chicago; Erik Karlsson, D, Ottawa; Ryan Kesler, F, Vancouver; Anze Kopitar, F, Los Angeles; Ilya Kovalchuk, F, New Jersey; David Krejci, F, Boston; Kris Letang, D, Pittsburgh; Nicklas Lidstrom, D, Detroit; Milan Lucic, F, Boston; Evgeni Malkin, F, Pittsburgh; Patrick Marleau, F, San Jose; James Neal, F, Pittsburgh; Alexander Ovechkin, F, Washington; Zach Parise, F, New Jersey; Joe Pavelski, F, San Jose; Alex Pietrangelo, D, St. Louis; Brad Richards, F, NY Rangers; Daniel Sedin, F, Vancouver; Henrik Sedin, F, Vancouver; Alexander Semin, F, Washington; Jason Spezza, F, Ottawa; Joe Thornton, F, San Jose; Kimmo Timonen, D, Philadelphia; Radim Vrbata, F, Phoenix; Shea Weber, D, Nashville; Ray Whitney, F, Phoenix; Henrik Zetterberg, F, Detroit

Just As Good, Not As Famous

Players who can be classified under the first tier. Probably second or third liners, with the potential to raise their game:

Daniel Alfredsson, F, Ottawa; Artem Anisimov, F, NY Rangers; Kevin Bieksa, D, Vancouver; Danny Briere, F, Philadelphia; Dustin Brown, F, Los Angeles; Brent Burns, D, San Jose; Alex Burrows, F, Vancouver; David Clarkson, F, New Jersey; Ryane Clowe, F, San Jose; Logan Couture, F, San Jose; Michael Del Zotto, D, NY Rangers; Shane Doan, F, Phoenix; Drew Doughty, D, Los Angeles; Pascal Dupuis, F, Pittsburgh; Oliver Ekman-Larsson, D, Phoenix; Martin Erat, F, Nashville; Valtteri Filppula, F, Detroit; Mike Fisher, F, Nashville; Tomas Fleischmann, F, Florida; Jason Garrison, D, Florida; Dan Girardi, D, NY Rangers; Sergei Gonchar, D, Ottawa; Martin Hanzal, F, Phoenix; Martin Havlat, F, San Jose; Tomas Holmstrom, F, Detroit; Patric Hornqvist, F, Nashville; Marcus Johansson, F, Washington; Duncan Keith, D, Chicago; Niklas Kronwall, D, Detroit; Chris Kunitz, F, Pittsburgh; Brooks Laich, F, Washington; David Legwand, F, Nashville; Brad Marchand, F, Boston; Paul Martin, D, Pittsburgh; Milan Michalek, F, Ottawa; T.J. Oshie, F, St. Louis; David Perron, F, St. Louis; Rich Peverley, F, Boston; Alexander Radulov, F, Nashville; Mike Richards, F, Los Angeles; Brent Seabrook, D, Chicago; Tyler Seguin, F, Boston; Dennis Seidenberg, D, Boston; Patrick Sharp, F, Chicago; Kevin Shattenkirk, D, St. Louis; Jordan Staal, F, Pittsburgh; Viktor Stalberg, F, Chicago; Derek Stepan, F, NY Rangers; Steve Sullivan, F, Pittsburgh; Ryan Suter, D, Nashville; Petr Sykora, F, New Jersey; Kris Versteeg, F, Florida; Jakub Voracek, F, Philadelphia; Stephen Weiss, F, Florida; Ian White, D, Detroit; Dennis Wideman, D, Washington; Justin Williams, F, Los Angeles; Keith Yandle, D, Phoenix; Marek Zidlicky, D, New Jersey

FANTASY ERROR 501: Player Not Supported

Warning! Danger ahead! If you select any of these folks, then be ready to pay the consequences. High risk with generally low reward. Move along and try not to stare:

Todd Bertuzzi, F, Detroit; Joe Corvo, D, Boston; Brandon Dubinsky, F, NY Rangers; Michael Frolik, F, Chicago; Mike Green, D, Washington; Michal Handzus, F, San Jose; Sergei Kostitsyn, F, Nashville; Matt Niskanen, D, Pittsburgh; Chris Stewart, F, St. Louis

Stealing The Show

John Druce. Chris Kontos. Paul DiPietro. Ville Leino. Joel Ward. Those names made a lasting impression in the annals of NHL playoff history, but will generally not be remembered for anything else. The following guys may be next-in-line:

Jordan Caron, F, Boston; Alec Martinez, D, Los Angeles; Mason Raymond, F, Vancouver; Brayden Schenn, F, Philadelphia; Andrew Shaw, F, Chicago; Craig Smith, F, Nashville; Alexander Steen, F, St. Louis; Kyle Turris, F, Ottawa; Marc-Edouard Vlasic, D, San Jose

The first round looks ripe for upsets, with San Jose (7) over St. Louis (2) as the popular choice in the West. Technically, both Detroit (5) and Chicago (6) would qualify as surprises, but both lineups contain enough experience to balance the matchups. Meanwhile in the Eastern Conference, Washington (7) have come on of late but Boston (2) owns too much depth and fewer injuries. New Jersey (6) comes out of the tough Atlantic Division, so first-time division winner Florida (3) is in for some trouble.

As much as I'd like to back Detroit, I can't really see them getting past the second round. St. Louis surprised many with their unbelievable second-half run, but Vancouver is just that much better and more seasoned during this part of the year. So give me the Canucks to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.

Can't argue with anyone who likes the Rangers and Bruins, but I can't see how the Penguins - at full capacity - doesn't reach the Final. Even if Philly (and other opponents) bang and bruise Pittsburgh at every opportunity, their skill set is just too strong for others to overcome.

So then, it's only fitting for Vancouver to go down in consecutive seasons to thwart their first championship. Give me Pittsburgh in six and let it ride.

Which teams are in your Final? List them in the comments, along with any other notes you may find relevant.

Enjoy the playoffs, folks. I'll be back in a few weeks to preview the second round. And to make sure y'all have been paying attention.

Get player news notifications, manage your team and check scores
- all updated in real time. Download the CBS Fantasy App.

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Braden Holtby
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News: Braden Holtby surrendered three goals on thirteen shots, and was pulled late in the first period of Washington's 4-3 loss to the Predators on Saturday.
Analysis: It was a poor outing for Braden Holtby, who had won four of his last five starts heading into Saturday's match against the Predators, a powerhouse in the Western Conference. The decision to pull him early in the game likely means he will be called upon to start Sunday's crucial showdown with the Metropolitan Division leading Rangers, but check before game time to confirm the start. Despite the poor performance, Holtby owns a sterling 36-19-9 record, with a 2.18 GAA and .925 save percentage, on the season.

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Analysis: The original diagnosis was that Patrick Kane would miss 12 weeks that put his return by the Western Conference Finals. Blackhawks' coach Joel Quenneville though sort of left open the door that he could return earlier. Kane has recently been skating on his own so it has spurred some optimism in the Blackhawks' camp that he will return before the conference finals.

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News: Brandon Sutter exited Saturday's game against the Coyotes in the third period with an injury, Josh Yohe of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.
Analysis: With only a few minutes left in the match, it appears unlikely that Brandon Sutter will return. He's the second player to exit for the Penguins, after defenseman Kris Letang was removed from the game in the second period following a hit into the boards. Sutter should be viewed as day-to-day heading into Sunday's match against the Sharks.

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News: Trevor Daley (knee) will return to the lineup Saturday against the Canucks, Elliott Pap of the Vancouver Sun reports.
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Jason Garrison
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3/29/2015
News: Jason Garrison was ruled out from returning to Saturday's game against the Red Wings due to an upper-body injury, Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times reports.
Analysis: Jason Garrison skated just two shifts and logged 0:41 of ice time before departing. He should be considered questionable ahead of Monday's game in Montreal until the Lightning issue further word on the severity of his injury.

Markus Granlund
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3/29/2015
News: Markus Granlund missed Saturday's practice due to a case of the flu.
Analysis: The illness could put Markus Granlund at missing Sunday's game against the Predators. Josh Jooris centered the Flames' third line at practice with Granlund unavailable.

Kris Letang
Pens' Letang Departs With Injury Saturday
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3/29/2015
News: Kris Letang left Saturday's game in the second period after he was hit into the end boards by the Coyotes' Shane Doan, Shelly Anderson of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.
Analysis: The Penguins haven't ruled Kris Letang out of the game yet, but that seems like a safe conclusion after he was unable to skate off the ice on his own. It appeared that Letang's head backed into the boards on the hit, so the blueliner will undoubtedly be evaluated for a concussion, among other possible injuries. Penguins tough guy Steve Downie quickly got in a skirmish with Doan shortly after play resumed, but that won't make up for any potential absence for Letang, who entered Saturday ranked in a tie for second among all NHL blueliners with 54 points in 68 games.

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