Eastern Conference Playoff Prep

by Eric Daoust on April 4, 2017
Nicklas Backstrom - USA TODAY Sports Images

 

Looking closer at the Eastern Conference playoff teams …

 

Even with most of the year’s hockey pools coming to a close this week, the beginning of the NHL playoffs is a very important time in fantasy hockey. Player values change all the time and the postseason is no different in that regard. This week we will look at the 10 teams in the Eastern Conference still in the playoff mix.

In playoff pools, the drafts usually unfold in a similar fashion. People will try to get a hold of multiple players from teams they believe will survive a number of rounds. In most cases, player production does not differ a lot between the regular season and playoffs. However, there are always outliers that cannot be ignored. While focusing on the right teams is essential, the choices that you make within those clubs are equally important, especially in the later rounds. Most casual poolies select their rosters based solely on this year’s stats. However, when we look deeper we can identify risky players along with some excellent value picks which can help give us an edge on draft day.

 

Boston Bruins

The stat that stands out the most in Boston is how their top two centers have fared in postseason play. Patrice Bergeron is the more popular player and is considered a better leader, so he will usually get picked first. However, David Krejci has fared much better in the spring throughout his career which makes him an excellent value pick.

Of course, Bergeron was more productive last spring while he and his line had an outstanding year. He also has the benefit of centering Brad Marchand who has become one of the top wingers in the league. It remains to be seen which one will come out on top this time, but Krejci should be available in a later round and has a solid chance of offering a good return on investment.

 

Columbus Blue Jackets

The Blue Jackets are a relatively new team on the playoff scene. However, some players have enjoyed longer histories of success during the postseason. One of them is Scott Hartnell who has somewhat fallen out of favor this year and has just 35 points while playing a bottom-six role. However, in the past, he has had some great playoff runs with the Flyers and could be a factor once again in Columbus if the team needs a shot in the arm.

The other forward to watch is Brandon Dubinsky who has recovered nicely from a slow start and is logging just under 18 minutes per game. In 37 playoff games he has 23 points, including six points in 2013-14 when the Blue Jackets were eliminated in the first round by the Penguins.

 

Montreal Canadiens

If the Canadiens are going to win a couple of playoff rounds it will be on the back of Carey Price because their main offensive players have mostly been underwhelming in postseason play. For example, Max Pacioretty, Shea Weber and Andrei Markov have all produced points with much less frequency than we are accustomed to seeing from them in the regular season.

On the flip side, Andrew Shaw’s past experience in Chicago could come in handy this spring. We expect between 30 and 40 points from him per year yet in his last three postseasons with the Blackhawks he has a combined 26 points in 41 games.

 

New York Islanders

The Islanders are on the outside looking in and are highly unlikely to secure a playoff spot. In the event they beat the odds, you can look to a guy like Josh Bailey as a good value pick. He has generally done well come playoff time despite mostly disappointing numbers in the regular season. He has taken his game to another level this year on the top line, so you have to wonder if this would also translate to a boost in playoff numbers.

On defense, Johnny Boychuk is a popular veteran who has a decent history putting up secondary point totals. However, come playoff time his offense usually dries up. Case in point, since 2013-14 he has just four points in 30 games.

 

New York Rangers

The Rangers have produced a ton of goals this yea,r but you should be careful not to invest too heavily in their forwards that have a history of underperforming at this time of the year. Derek Stepan normally produces at a 60-point pace yet his career-high points-per-game in the playoffs is 0.63 (52-point pace).

The other red flag is Mats Zuccarello. Despite reaching 59 points in three of the past four campaigns he has just 24 points in 48 career playoff games. When the Rangers went to the final in 2014, he only contributed 13 points.

 

Ottawa Senators

Derrick Brassard has been a massive scoring disappointment in his first year with the Sens. As a result, he will be overlooked in playoff drafts. However, he has posted great numbers during postseason play and should be one of the first Senators off the board despite his scoring struggles this season.

In deeper leagues, you can turn to veteran Alex Burrows in the final rounds. He has slowed down significantly in recent years but has had playoff success in the past. He is risky due to his decline in play but may still have another decent playoff run left in the tank.

 

Pittsburgh Penguins

The defending Stanley Cup champions have been ravaged by injuries lately and will be in tough to have playoff success with a depleted roster. At this point, it could be foolish to waste an early pick on Kris Letang, even if he returns from his injury on time. The last three years he has posted incredible points-per-game totals, but his playoff production is typically not at this level. Add in the health concerns and there is plenty of reason to be cautious about calling Letang's name out too early.

Meanwhile, Phil Kessel should be an early pick despite not producing to his potential in the regular season the last three years. He has been in the playoffs twice and both times he finished in the point-per-game range. Expect more of the same this spring.

 

Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lightning have had a lot of playoff experience the last two years so if they manage to grab a spot they could do some damage. The most notable forward to take his game to another level during playoff hockey is Tyler Johnson who has been in the point-per-game range each of the past two postseasons. He has been underwhelming in the regular season for the second time in a row, so he might get overlooked in playoff drafts.

Another forward who exceeds expectations in the spring is Alex Killorn. He has a career-high of 41 points yet in the last two postseasons he has a combined 31 points in 43 games which represents a 59-point pace over 82 games. He could be an excellent value pick if you can add him in the final rounds.

 

Toronto Maple Leafs

Unfortunately, the Leafs have a very young roster and have not been to the postseason much in recent years. Thus, there is not much data to use. The team was last in the playoffs in 2013 when they faced the Bruins and lost in seven game. One noteworthy stat from that series was Jake Gardiner’s five-point effort. This could come into play again as Gardiner is currently logging over 20 minutes per game and is on the top power-play unit.

There may also be a temptation to grab Brian Boyle late given his playoff experience. However, despite several deep playoff runs he has just 26 points in 100 playoff games. It is best to avoid him even in deep formats.

 

Washington Capitals

The Capitals will have to undo a long history of disappointing playoff production throughout their roster if they expect to finally put it all together this year. Their duo of star centers has been the most notable culprits. Nicklas Backstrom has been a big tease over the years, considering he is typically a point-per-game player but follows up with ordinary playoff numbers. Meanwhile, Evgeny Kuznetsov has just nine points in 26 career postseason games.

Marcus Johansson has been a fine secondary scorer over the years, producing well above 40 points consistently since 2012. However, this has not extended to playoff action as he has just 22 points in 56 career games. Making matters worse is his career-high 56 points this year – he is going to get looks fairly early in playoff drafts. He might not be worth the risk.

 

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