The flowers are out, the birds are chirping, and the beers are being chilled. Playoff hockey is every hockey fan’s favourite time of the year. Can’t beat watching multiple hockey games a night, hanging with your friends and enjoying a cold one. This year in the West looks to be potentially the best hockey since the Vancouver Canucks improbable run during the 1994 Stanley Cup. From Nashville right through to Calgary, every team looks to have a shot at earning the title of Western Conference Champion. Let’s break down each team – four this week and four next – and certain players to keep a close eye on for your playoff pools.
We'll start off with some fantasy advice. Don’t pick a few guys from every team. You will never win your pool that way. You have to go hard at the teams you think will win. Often times the third liners on cup winning teams outscore the top guns of teams that are ousted in the first or second round.
This week I will cover Vancouver, Calgary (sorry Colorado fans), San Jose and Minnesota.
This team goes as Roberto Luongo goes, that should be obvious to everyone. He is the best goaltender on the planet and has the ability to steal a game, a series, and potentially more. The Canucks are in the top 10 in goals for since Christmas, after a horrible start offensively. The twins, Henrik who sits fourth in league assists, and Daniel, who is first in scoring for Western left-wingers, carry this offense. Two players who really step up come playoff time are Brendan Morrison and Matt Cooke, so their value goes up in terms of playoff pools. Markus Naslund has been a huge disappointment, but many feel he will be able to turn it around come playoff time. I’m not so optimistic. Vancouver also possesses one of the best defenses in the West, with a stellar top four – Ohlund, Salo, Mitchell, and Bieksa. They will form two elite shutdown pairings, with Krajicek and Sopel on the bottom pairing. Vancouver will win a lot of one goal games in the postseason – they lead the NHL in both one goal games and one goal wins – because of clutch goaltending and team defense. A dark horse to keep an eye on is Ryan Kesler. He is slated to come back mid-first round, and his speed and tenacity will provide a huge boost to the leagues best PK.
Calgary is a team that is hard to get a read on. After a strong start, they faltered in January and February, but have recently picked it up again. Like Vancouver, they rely heavily on their stud goaltender, Miikka Kiprusoff. Calgary also possesses one of the best offenses in the West – boy that felt weird typing. Kristian Huselius has added a ton of skill to that team, as has the addition of Alex Tanguay. We all know what Iginla is like come playoff time. Daymond Langkow is in there too; he is my pick for Selke winner this season. The Flames also have a solid defense, but one prone to careless blunders and mistakes. Which team will show up in the playoffs, the offensively talented physical team, or the sloppy, disinterested team? Definite dark horse is Langkow. He plays playoff hockey basically every night for Calgary at both ends of the ice.