Eastern Conference First Round Preview: Part 1

04/11/2011 11:56 PM -  G Checki

Martin St. Louis (Source: Creative Commons user wknight94)

Pittsburgh (4) vs. Tampa Bay (5)

Penguins to Add: Chris Kunitz, Kris Letang, Marc-Andre Fleury

Possible Sleepers: Tyler Kennedy, Jordan Staal, Paul Martin, James Neal

Penguins to Avoid: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Matt Cooke, Pascal Dupuis, Mark Letestu, Alex Kovalev, Zbynek Michalek

Player Recap: Everyone is certainly aware that Chris Kunitz (12 points in the last 13 contests) and Marc-Andre Fleury (6 wins in his last 10 games and a whopping 36 for the season) were blazing hot in the latter months of the regular season.  However, Pittsburgh has a lot more to offer to playoff pool owners than just a few big names. Tyler Kennedy has responded extremely well to additional ice time in the last month, racking up 6 goals and 6 assists during a 13 game scoring binge. Kennedy possesses a quick release on his wrist and snap shots and may sneak in under the radar of opposing teams. Jordan Staal has also benefitted from the injuries of Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, posting 30 points in 42 games. Drawn out over a full season, Staal would have been just shy of 60 points. That total would’ve established a new career best for Staal. Despite putting up solid numbers in Dallas, James Neal tallied only six points in 20 games with the Pens. He’s also considered day to day with a hand injury and has never played in an NHL playoff game. Picking him could end up making you look like a genius, e.g. Albert Einstein or a goofball, e.g. Albert Brooks. Objectively, he’s only worth picking in the last few rounds of any playoff draft.

Pittsburgh also has enough skill on the back end to help out most fantasy players. Kris Letang cooled down a lot toward the end of the season with only 4 assists in the last 30 days of the regular season. Yet he still finished the season with 50 points and is certainly a solid option from the blue line. Despite not being a top option offensively, Paul Martin could end up as a nice waiver wire addition, as his 16 points in 42 career playoff games may prove a reasonable projection for a solid run this season. Martin is also a superb option if your league counts blocked shots.

Conversely, owners would be wise to avoid Matt Cooke, who’s suspended for the first round and rarely scores anyway. Sidney Crosby is also a huge X factor for Pittsburgh. Nobody knows when or if he’ll be back this year. The reports on his status continue to vary and to say drafting him early could be a huge mistake is an understatement.

TB Lightning Players to Add: Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos, Dwayne Roloson

Potential Sleepers: Simon Gagne, Ryan Malone, Steve Downie

Players to Avoid: Teddy Purcell, Dominic Moore, Sean Bergenheim, Victor Hedman, Mattias Ohlund, Pavel Kubina, Brett Clark

Player Recap: Martin St. Louis wrapped up the 2010-2011 season with 99 points, good for second in the league. But more important, St. Louis was playing alongside Vinny Lecavalier for the final ten to fifteen so games of the regular season. The result speaks for itself. Lecavalier scored an impressive 17 points (9g, 8a) in the last 15 games of the season. Both Marty and Vinny should be drafted highly, as they’ve been battle tested during long playoff runs. Speaking of playoff tested, Dwayne Roloson has also proven his mettle during the post season, starring in a Stanley Cup final run with the 2006 Edmonton Oilers. While he’s never before played in an NHL playoff game, Steven Stamkos is another considerable fantasy option. Though Stamkos may prove to be a solid contributor, he quite can’t be put in the same sentence as Lecavalier or St. Louis this time of year. The big concern is that Stamkos scored only seven times after the All-Star break and no longer has Marty St. Louis feeding him the puck. Stamkos could be due to break out or continue a terribly long slump. He’ll likely be a boom or bust selection.

Simon Gagne may be the best sleeper option in all the NHL for the extended days of the season. After a terrible start to the season, Gagne came out of nowhere to net 18 points in the final 14 games of the year. Plus, Gagne’s known for scoring big goals in the playoffs and will be riding shotgun on one of TB’s top lines. Ryan Malone is also interesting, as he’s been very sharp since returning from a prolonged abdominal strain. However, Malone might not yet be 100 percent and could be at risk of re-injury. The success of Gagne and Malone has come at the expense of Teddy Purcell, who’s seen a substantial reduction in both ice time and production the last few weeks. Avoid burning a draft selection on this wild card unless you’re out of options. Steve Downie is apparently playing through an ankle injury and is only a wise pick if your playoff league heavily values penalty minutes and hits. He finished an injury-riddled 2010-2011 campaign with 32 points in 57 games and has recently been in the doghouse of Lightning coach Guy Boucher.

Series Prediction: Lightning in 7 games. Pittsburgh will be without Sidney Crosby, Matt Cooke and Evgeni Malkin, while the Bolts go into the playoffs on a six game winning streak. Despite this, some prognosticators are picking Pittsburgh, claiming that they’ll win because of “playoff experience.” This is what we in the business refer to as hogwash. T-Bay has several players who’ve either won a cup or been on a prolonged playoff run in the last decade. Lecavalier, St. Louis, Gagne, and Roloson all have seen plenty of April, May and June games and wins. Tampa Bay’s forwards are far and away better than those of Pittsburgh and the two teams are close to equal in net (slight edge to the Penguins). The only real cause for concern in Tampa Bay is an aged and potentially slow defense. Pavel Kubina and Mattias Ohlund have looked a bit slow this season but since the playoffs traditionally allow for a bit more clutching and grabbing, it may turn out to be an illusory weakness. To win, Pittsburgh will need to make the most of home ice advantage, get an out of this world performance from Marc-Andre Fleury and find a way to slow their series down to a pre-lockout pace.

Boston (3) vs. Montreal (6)

Boston Players to Add: Milan Lucic, David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, Nathan Horton, Zdeno Chara, Tomas Kaberle, Tim Thomas

Potential Sleepers: Mark Recchi, Brad Marchand, Dennis Seidenberg

Players to Avoid: Michael Ryder, Gregory Campbell, Tyler Seguin, Tuukka Rask

Player Recap: After what appears to be a second Vezina winning season, all eyes will once again be on goaltender Tim Thomas. If you need a goalie, Timmy’s your guy. Not only has Thomas dazzled us all during the regular season, but he’s posted tremendous save percentages and goals-against averages during the playoffs during his career as well (10-8, 2.26 GAA, .926 SV%). But the Bruins boast plenty of scoring too, as evidenced by scoring the fifth most goals per game in the league. Despite their leading scorers, Milan Lucic and David Krejci netting only 62 points on the season, they have plenty of legitimate late season fantasy options. Patrice Bergeron (57 points), Nathan Horton (53 points), Zdeno Chara (48 points) and Tomas Kaberle (9 points in 23 games) are all solid fantasy picks. Not only can many of their players score, but the Bruins have many players above +20 in the plus/minus category (8 to be exact) and several of them have a respectable amount of PIM too. Nearly all of the above listed players can be counted on in leagues that count hits and blocks too.

And if you need a reasonable option in the later rounds, look for Mark Recchi or Dennis Seidenberg. Despite being 73 years old (not actually), Rex keeps finding a way to score points.  With 48 points, 17 of them on the power-play, he’s shown he can still score. But more impressive are his playoff totals. Recchi has an eye-popping 133 career points in 166 career playoff games. Furthermore, he had 10 points in 13 playoff games last season and will likely be affordable in your pool too. Dennis Seidenberg was a valuable contributor on the back end and had 31 points with Boston in 2010-2011. And though you probably don’t know it, he’s been through a long post-season run before too, popping in six points in 19 games with the Hurricanes in 2009.

On the other hand, you’d be wise to avoid Tuukka Rask. The mercurial Finn had a bit of a down year during the regular season (in very limited duty) after ending the prior season with disappointing playoff numbers (2.61 GAA, .912 SV%). Thomas is the playoff starter and isn’t likely to falter but if he does, there’s no guarantee that Rask will be any better. Don’t bother drafting him unless you’ve got no other options.

Montreal Players to Add: Tomas Plekanec, Mike Cammalleri, PK Subban, James Wisniewski

Potential Sleepers: Brian Gionta, Roman Hamrlik, Carey Price, Scott Gomez

Players to Avoid: Andrei Kostitsyn, Benoit Pouliot, Jeff Halpern, Lars Eller, Max Pacioretty (injured), Jaroslav Spacek, Andrei Markov (injured)

Player Recap: After a deep playoff run last year, Montreal appears another year older and ready to repeat their feat. Despite lacking high profile forwards, there are several intriguing options in Montreal. The Canadiens have two top notch options on the back end in James Wisniewski and PK Subban. Wisniewski posted 30 points in 43 games with the team and Subban ended a disappointing rookie season with a hot month (7 goals, 9 points in his last 14 games). Subban’s also a solid option for penalty minutes and hits or blocks in multi-category leagues. Brian Gionta may be the top post-season forward available at a reasonable price. He posted 15 points (9g, 6a) in 19 games during last year’s playoffs. Tomas Plekanec had 11 points in 19 games and can be potentially found affordably as well. However the top option here is Mike Cammalleri. He was one the top scorers during last year’s second season, potting 13 goals and 6 assists.

While the highest profile player on the Canadiens is Carey Price, he may not be the best fantasy option. With only 5 wins to 11 losses, a save percentage below .900 and a goals-against average above 3, his postseason numbers leave a lot to the imagination. If Price is available in the later rounds, he could make for an interesting gamble. He’s coming off an excellent regular season and the entire franchise seems to be behind him, but does he have the mental makeup to succeed in the playoffs? Time will tell. On the other hand, Roman Hamrlik has a great mindset when it comes to staying around in the playoffs. He’s played in an impressive 90 playoff games. Then why is he not an option for your playoff pool? Simply put, he doesn’t score! Despite scoring about a half point a point per game in the regular season, his numbers fall by a considerable amount, down to a mere 33 points in 90 playoff games. Avoid him unless you’ve got no other options. Though Scott Gomez had a very disappointing regular season (7 goals and 38 total points), he always seems to find success when the games get gritty. Gomez notched 14 points in 19 games last post-season. More impressive is his career playoff total of 95 points in 133 games. Obviously, Gomez isn’t someone to draft highly but he could be an affordable space-filler.

Like Hamrlik, Jaroslav Spacek is great in the playoffs. That is to say, he’s great in the real NHL playoffs, not the fantasy playoffs. Despite being a familiar face in April and May, stay away from Spacek, as Montreal already has several more pleasant options on the blue line. Andrei Kostitsyn is another well-known name that lacks fantasy playoff value. With 45 points, AK46 is at best a supplemental option, although he may be a nice choice if your league counts hits.

Series Prediction: Bruins in 6 games. Compared to last year, Boston’s a far improved team this season. They’re no longer having problems scoring goals and Thomas has been unreal all season long. Boston has the size and skill up front to match up with almost anyone. Moreover, Montreal isn’t an overly physical team and has lacked production from their best goal scorers this season. Price is also a very big wildcard. This series will likely have emotions running high and some of their games could degenerate into a brawl on ice, but whether or not that happens, my money’s on the Bruins. In order to win, Montreal will need stellar netminding from Price, magic from Cammalleri and a number of goals from Subban and Wisniewski.

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