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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.

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Player News
Jannik Hansen
Canucks' Hansen Registers Two Points In Game 6
Jannik Hansen, RW, VAN
12:38 PM
News: Jannik Hansen scored his second goal of the playoffs and had an assist in Saturday's series-ending Game 6 loss to the Flames.
Analysis: Jannik Hansen did alright in these playoffs, registering four points in six games. While the 29-year-old skated on the top line with the Sedin twins in the final few games, he remains a bottom-six player who can contribute 10-20 goals in the regular season.

Ryan Miller
Canucks' Miller Disappoints In Series-Ending Loss
Ryan Miller, G, VAN
12:31 PM
News: Ryan Miller allowed five goals on 31 shots in Saturday's series-ending Game 6 loss to Calgary.
Analysis: This marks the second straight year Ryan Miller has been acquired by a new team but that team has failed to make it out of the first round of the playoffs. It was an awful night for Miller, who had played very well in Games 4 and 5. While it's easy to point the finger at the goalie, the Canucks blew a 3-0 lead in the game and left the 34-year-old out to dry on a few of the goals. Eddie Lack proved his worth in the regular season and at times in the playoffs, but Miller still remains the starting goaltender in Vancouver as the Canucks enter the 2015 offseason.

Patrick Kane
Blackhawks' Kane Notches Two Points In Game 6 Win
Patrick Kane, RW, CHI
12:19 PM
News: Patrick Kane scored his second goal of the playoffs and added an assist in Saturday's series-clinching Game 6 win over the Predators.
Analysis: That's a three-game point streak for Patrick Kane, who has racked up seven points in six playoff games. Skating on the second line, the 26-year-old has been a factor every game, firing 19 shots on goal and registering a steady plus-3 rating. With 39 goals and 98 points in 99 career NHL playoff games, you expect more of Kane's magic in Round 2 and beyond.

Jonathan Toews
Toews' Three Points Help Blackhawks Clinch Series
Jonathan Toews, C, CHI
12:13 PM
News: Jonathan Toews scored his third goal of the playoffs and added two assists in Saturday's series-clinching Game 6 win over the Predators.
Analysis: Jonathan Toews has been a monster these playoffs, notching eight points in six games. He's got 89 points in 100 career NHL playoff games and once again if proving to be one of the best postseason performers in the NHL. The Blackhawks will play the winner of the Wild and Blues series, so expect Toews to continue to pile up points as chicago continues to go deeper into the playoffs.

Patrick Sharp
Hawks' Sharp Contributes Two Points In Game 6 Win
Patrick Sharp, LW, CHI
12:07 PM
News: Patrick Sharp scored his third goal of the playoffs and added an assist in Saturday's series-clinching Game 6 win over the Predators.
Analysis: Patrick Sharp is having a great postseason, notching five points in six games to help Chicago advance on to the second round. He may be skating on the third line, but he's seeing quality power-play time and has fired 24 shots on goal -- fourth most in the NHL. With 41 goals in 112 career NHL playoff games, look for the postseason performer to continue to light it up in the second round.

Duncan Keith
Hawks' Keith Notches Three Points In Game 6 Win
Duncan Keith, D, CHI
12:02 PM
News: Duncan Keith scored the game-winning goal and had two assists Saturday against Nashville in Game 6 of their first-round series. The Blackhawks eliminated the Predators with a 4-3 victory.
Analysis: A marvelous outing from Duncan Keith, who has been on fire in these playoffs. He sits second in NHL playoff scoring with seven points and has already scored two game-winning goals for the Blackhawks. With a whopping 15 shots on goal in his last three outings, look for the surging Keith to continue his excellent play into the second round.

Devan Dubnyk
Wild's Dubnyk In Net For Game 6
Devan Dubnyk, G, MIN
9:29 AM
News: Devan Dubnyk will start in net for Sunday's Game 7 matchup with the Islanders.
Analysis: Devan Dubnyk stopped 36 of the 37 shots he faced in Game 5 on Friday en route to a 4-1 victory over the Blues. He'll lead the club onto the ice Sunday as well as the Wild look to close out the Blues.

Eric Fehr
Caps' Fehr (Upper Body) Out For Game 7
Eric Fehr, RW, WAS
9:14 AM
News: Eric Fehr (upper body) won't play in Game 7 against the Islanders on Monday, Mike Vogel of the Caps' official site reports.
Analysis: Eric Fehr - who suffered the upper-body injury in Game 3 - skated on his own Sunday, but won't be available for the club as they look to advance to the second round of the playoffs. However, coach Barry Trotz indicated he would be available in the next round should the Capitals.

Craig Anderson
Sens Turn To Anderson for Game 6
Craig Anderson, G, OTT
9:04 AM
News: Craig Anderson will start between the pipes for Sunday's Game 6 matchup with the Canadiens, the Ottawa Sun reports.
Analysis: Craig Anderson has been spectacular in net for the Senators over the last three contests, posting save percentages above .950 in each of the contests. The Senators will ride the hot hand in net into Game 6 as they look to force a Game 7.

Kris Letang
Pens' Letang (Concussion) Unconcerned About Future
Kris Letang, D, PIT
8:53 AM
News: Kris Letang (concussion) remains unconcerned about his long-term future, Wes Crosby of NHL.com reports.
Analysis: Kris Letang suffered multiple head injuries in 2014-15, with the last one costing him the entirety of the Penguins' playoff run. While he has indicated that it shouldn't effect his future in the league, it's a situation worth noting, as concussions can become more common in players who have a history of them.

 
 
 
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