Fantasy Hockey: Playoff picks

In this week's edition of CBCSports.ca's Fantasy Hockey 1-on-1, we deliver the second instalment of our playoff pool preview. It's also our last column of the hockey season, so thanks for reading.

Last week, we gave you ideas on what type of pool to run. This week, we tell you which players to pick and, just as importantly, which players not to pick.

Jesse's advice is tailored to pools using some version of the basic format of "choose x number of players (usually 10-15), most total points wins the pool." Jordan focuses more on pools with a draft, as he delves into some deeper picks.

Looking for a playoff pool to join? Try the Hockey Night in Canada Playoff Pool. First prize is a new car. Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you're fired (kidding on the last two, but that car really is up for grabs).

All stats are through Wednesday's games.

Which players are must-haves for your playoff pool?

Jesse: The key to winning a playoff pool is identifying which teams will go deep, then picking the highest-scoring players from those teams. No kidding. But how do you predict those teams correctly? That's tough. Take this year's field. The Western Conference is a veritable minefield where you could make a strong case for five teams (Chicago, San Jose, Vancouver, Phoenix and Detroit) reaching the Cup final. Even the bottom three teams (Nashville, L.A. and Colorado) are not lightweights. That's why I'm looking to the East and loading up on Washington Capitals — clearly the cream of their conference. Alex Ovechkin (106 points), Nick Backstrom (a breakthrough 98), Alex Semin (80) and defenceman Mike Green (74) should all be on your playoff roster. Even Brooks Laich (58), Mike Knuble (52) and Tom Fleischmann (51) deserve consideration.

Jordan: In addition to identifying the teams you think will move on, it's also a good idea to try to figure out the teams they may play against. In the West, Chicago is built like a team that can go all the way, as they almost did last year with a group of inexperienced players. This season, they added some key components and look poised to go deep once again. At this point, it seems the Hawks will avoid Detroit in the first and second rounds, if the Wings make it that far, so loading up on Chicago stars like Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith and Team Canada MVP Jonathan Toews seems like a great bet. But don't forget that it's the role players that win championships, so take a long look at Andrew Ladd, Dave Bolland, Dustin Byfuglien and even Troy Brouwer. In the East, you have to expect Washington's Ovechkin, Semin and Backstrom, and Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin will be taken right at the top of your draft. But as of now, Washington and Pittsburgh are poised to potentially meet in the second round (if the Penguins end up finishing fourth). Doesn't that scare you? On the flip side, if the top four seeds advance through Round 1, New Jersey will play Buffalo. As good as Ryan Miller has been, Buffalo's offence hasn't looked great this season (yes, I'm especially looking at you, Thomas Vanek), while Jersey's Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk are as good a pair of high-powered forwards as perhaps the Devils have ever had.

Which players should you avoid?

Jordan: Despite the fact that the Coyotes have been fantastic this year, for a playoff pool that relies on individual players, Phoenix is just not a good bet. Unless you're planning on taking Ilya Bryzgalov to fill a goalie spot or Wojtek Wolski to round out your roster, there's not much else. Shane Doan, Matthew Lombardi and Ed Jovanovski haven't seen the playoffs in what seems like decades, and they didn't exactly set the world on fire during the regular season. As for Lee Stempniak, he's been as hot as they come since being traded to the desert, but he's never seen the NHL's second season and he's still not a premier player. Sorry Yotes/Jets fans!

Jesse: Be careful about going too heavy on Penguins. Sure, the defending champions have a pair of tempting choices in Crosby (100 points) and Malkin (72 points in 64 games), but no other Pittsburgh player has even cracked the 50-point barrier. With goalie Marc-Andre Fleury having a poor season (he ranks 36th in the league with a .904 save percentage), the Pens seem ripe to be upset. You can't leave Crosby off your team, but I'd omit Malkin on the heels of an injury-hampered regular season.

Who's your pick for a playoff sleeper?

Jesse: First, some advice. Don't try to be the hero who picks a player off a No. 8-seeded team, with hopes of bragging about the pick for decades to come after that underdog team goes on an improbable Cup run. But there is some value to putting a player on your team that few other people in your pool have. This year, that man could be a Shark. San Jose's penchant for early playoff exits (particularly last year's first-round debacle after they won the Presidents' Trophy) has many playoff poolies saying "Never Again!" and vowing to stay away from the risky Sharks. But San Jose is once again near the top of the Western Conference, and they've got to go deep one of these years, right? Right? If you're still with me, consider choosing one or two guys from the Sharks' top line of Joe Thornton (87 points), Patrick Marleau (81) and Dany Heatley (80).

Jordan: You know, some people are just good at picking players or teams that have no business winning (i.e. when I picked New Orleans to win the Super Bowl a year in advance… but I digress!) You can't exactly say that taking some Detroit players would be going against the grain, but the Wings have been so good for so many years for a reason, so don't overlook their playoff studs. One team that may get overlooked, though, is Los Angeles. Compared to some of the other teams in the West, L.A. has a great mix of youngsters and veterans. Guys like Ryan Smyth, Michal Handzus, Justin Williams, Rob Scuderi and Fredrik Modin have been there before and will help the team endure. As for those youngsters, some of them have looked like veterans at times — Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar and especially Drew Doughty. Don't be afraid to be bold!