Fantasy Playoff Drafting

A quick look at the stats below shows that the top 7 scorers from last year’s playoffs all came from Stanley Cup finalists. (Refer to stats at the end of this post). Interestingly, only 1 of the 7 (Kane) was in the top 30 in scoring during the 2009-2010 season. If you’re involved in a playoff pool, this underscores the need to shift your drafting focus from top players to top teams. Now this doesn’t come as much of a surprise for experienced playoff poolies, but does serve to reinforce conventional wisdom. The following should provide further clarity.

Last year’s final four included Chicago, Philadelphia, San Jose, and Montreal. In all, these teams accounted for 23 of the top 30 scorers in last year’s playoffs! The only other players who managed to get into the top 30 were from Detroit (Franzen, Zetterberg, Datsyuk), Vancouver (Samulesson, Sedin, Sedin), and Pittsburgh (Crosby…).  All of those teams made it into the second round, while Boston, who also made it into the second round (and played 13 games in all) didn’t have a single scorer in the top 30.

The highest scoring player from a team outside the final 4 was Johan Franzen, who finished tied for 10th. The next highest finished 18th. Herein lies the simple key to success: Only draft players from teams who will finish in the final four. Don’t think that you have to pick all the players from the Stanley Cup champ in order to finish on top; conversely, don’t assume that drafting a team’s top player will necessarily get you anywhere either, unless you think that team is going deep. (Though you can often get top players from underdogs teams really late and get a huge payoff if they pull off an upset).

While it’s anyone’s guess which teams will make it into the semis, there are still some things to consider when drafting your team. Firstly, put an emphasis on drafting captains. While this also may seem obvious, as a team’s captain is generally one of their very top players, it is also common for captains to raise their level come playoff time. A few historical examples help to illustrate:

Keith Primeau (C)– Philadelphia – 2004

After a season where he finished 11th in team scoring, (22 points in 54 games), Philadelphia`s captain managed to guide them to the semi-finals, putting up 16 points in 18 playoff games, and finishing 6th overall in playoff scoring

Chris Drury (C)– Buffalo – 2006

While Drury has been admired for his 2-way play, and been considered a great 2-way centre for much of his career, he never hit 70 points in a season.  While he managed to accumulate 67 points in 81 games in ’05-06, he raised his level during the playoffs with 18 points in as many games.

Rod ‘the Bod’ Brind’Amour (C)– Carolina – 2006

While Brind’Amour was still a productive, 2nd line centre in 2006, (registering 70 points and finishing 4th in team scoring), he became a man possessed in the second-season, scoring 12 goals and 18 points; good for 2nd in goals, and in a tie for 6th in overall playoff scoring.

Brenden Morrow (LW)– Dallas – 2008

Morrow has been a consistent second-line winger since the lockout, but his 2008 playoff performance (along with his 2010 olympic effort) solidified him as one of the game’s best captains. He managed to put up 9 goals and 15 points, tying him for 10th in playoff scoring.

Eric Staal (C)– Carolina – 2009

While Staal is recognized as one of the game’s top players, his ’08-09 stats were quite pedestrian by his standards. He had 75 points in 82 games, and actually finished second in team scoring during the regular season. Not so during the playoffs, as he scored 10 goals and 15 points (9th overall in playoff scoring), leading the underdog ‘Cardiac Canes’ to an unlikely semi-final appearance.

Mike Richards (C)– Philadelphia – 2010

In an off-year where he put up only 62 points in 82 games, Richards turned it around in the playoffs, scoring at a point-per-game clip. His 23 points were good for 4th overall in playoff scoring.

NOTE: You’ll notice that among this small sample of captains, five of the six play centre. This is common, as more captains play centre ice than any other single position. Of the 26 teams who currently have full-time captains, 12 of them play centre. (9 wing, 5 defence).

Another commonly known trend in playoff scoring is age. The average age among last year’s top 30 scorers was 27.4 years of age – substantially lower than it would have been in past year’s due to the young core of the Blackhawks (Kane, Toews, Bolland, Versteeg, and Byfuglien were all <=25 in 2010). While we’re becoming used to the playoff exploits of young phenoms like Crosby, Kane, Toews, Giroux, and others, on the whole, playoff performance is still skewed towards those with more experience. So if you have the choice between a young second liner (i.e Logan Couture), and a veteran second liner with generally comparable stats(Scott Hartnell), you’ll want to take the experienced player in most cases. (Please note that Couture may be a bad example, as he got a taste of playoff success last year, scoring 4 goals, including a big one against Detroit in the quarter-finals).

Another important factor to consider involves simple research. Make sure you’re familiar with player injuries heading into the playoffs. Quickly scanning and noting down the key players will make sure that you don’t waste a pick on Anze Kopitar, Mike Green, or any other injured star. I’ll be posting a complete list of team depth charts today which includes injury notes for all 16 playoff teams, so you won’t have to look too far for this information.

I’ll be posting detailed playoff predictions before playoffs start on Wednesday. On a related note, how sweet is spring going to be?

  2010 PLAYOFFS – LEADING SCORERS
  Player Pos *Age Team GP G A P P/G
1 Danny Briere C 32 Phi 23 12 18 30 1.30
2 Jonathan Toews C 21 Chi 22 7 22 29 1.32
3 Patrick Kane RW 21 Chi 22 10 18 28 1.27
4 Mike Richards C 24 Phi 23 7 16 23 1.00
5 Patrick Sharp C 28 Chi 22 11 11 22 1.00
6 Claude Giroux RW 21 Phi 23 10 11 21 0.91
7 Ville Leino LW 26 Phi 19 7 14 21 1.11
8 Michael Cammalleri LW 27 Mtl 19 13 6 19 1.00
9 Sidney Crosby C 22 Pit 13 6 13 19 1.46
10 Johan Franzen LW 30 Det 12 6 12 18 1.50
11 Chris Pronger D 35 Phi 23 4 14 18 0.78
12 Joe Pavelski C 25 San 15 9 8 17 1.13
13 Scott Hartnell LW 27 Phi 23 8 9 17 0.74
14 Duncan Keith D 26 Chi 22 2 15 17 0.77
15 Dustin Byfuglien RW 24 Chi 22 11 5 16 0.73
16 Dave Bolland C 23 Chi 22 8 8 16 0.73
17 Brian Gionta RW 30 Mtl 19 9 6 15 0.79
18 Mikael Samuelsson RW 33 Van 12 8 7 15 1.25
19 Henrik Zetterberg C 29 Det 12 7 8 15 1.25
20 Marian Hossa RW 30 Chi 22 3 12 15 0.68
21 Kris Versteeg RW 23 Chi 22 6 8 14 0.64
22 Daniel Sedin LW 29 Van 12 5 9 14 1.17
23 Henrik Sedin C 29 Van 12 3 11 14 1.17
24 Scott Gomez C 30 Mtl 19 2 12 14 0.74
25 Dan Boyle D 33 San 15 2 12 14 0.93
26 Patrick Marleau RW 30 San 14 8 5 13 0.93
27 Pavel Datsyuk C 31 Det 12 6 7 13 1.08
28 Dany Heatley LW 28 San 14 2 11 13 0.93
29 Matt Carle D 25 Phi 23 1 12 13 0.57
30 Simon Gagne LW 29 Phi 19 9 3 12 0.63
      *Age as of Jan 1, 2010    

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