Hello and welcome in for a quick article on my thoughts about playing fantasy hockey in these crazy COVID playoffs. Some of you may be wondering why I’ve been relatively silent on fantasy hockey advice for the upcoming Stanley Cup Playoffs. The reason for that is very simple; it’s that I just don’t know. Look, the playoffs are a bit of a crapshoot every year as far as fantasy goes. The Tampa Bay Lightning got swept in the first round last year after all, costing a lot of Kucherov/Stamkos/Point/Hedman/Vasilevskiy owners a lot of money in the process. And that was without the looming spectre of COVID-19 hanging over the NHL’s bubble. Every year people try and fail to predict the outcome of each of the series, and in a seven-game series a lot can happen. Momentum means a lot more, players’ hot and cold streaks get amplified, and the player pool gets thinner and thinner as the playoffs progress. With all that said, I do have a few overarching theses that should provide you a little boost if you’re taking the plunge on playoff fantasy hockey.
Bet on Good Players with Playoff History
This one is listed under “sense, common”. This isn’t a time to get cute trying to figure out who the new Fernando Pisani is going to be in 2019/20. Get good players who you have no doubts are able and proven to perform in the playoffs. The big break between the season and this tournament means everyone is pretty healthy and ready to go. This benefits vets who know how to get themselves ready to play and guys you know are consummate professionals who didn’t eat a bag of chips a day during quarantine. That means to me that the Sidney Crosbys and John Tavares’s of the world get a little bit of a bump when I weigh them versus the Kevin Fialas and Travis Konecnys who just haven’t had the chance to prove themselves yet. It also means that I like Joe Pavelski a whole lot more in a playoff atmosphere given his goal-scoring talents around the net (and production in playoffs past) than I did during his putrid season in Dallas. Give me more Patrice Bergeron and less Sebastian Aho.
Bet on Scoring Beating Defense
I’m sure this has been said by many already, but the early parts of the playoffs at least are likely to be pretty freewheeling a la the exhibition games and early regular season games we see each year. There’s just so much muscle memory that has been lost, and there are bound to be a dozen instances each game of players just forgetting where to be in the neutral and defensive zone. Scoring will be high, and the teams that rely on stingy team defense (think Islanders, Coyotes, Blue Jackets, Stars) are unlikely to be able to form that cohesive 5-man defensive strategy so quickly. So don’t fade Barkov and Huberdeau or Duchene and Forsberg just because they’re up against a team that had a good team defense in the early going. Those teams could easily be a train wreck if they get behind early and have to play from behind a lot, opening up their team defense to even more scoring opportunities against. Perhaps this effect is averaged out across the league (all teams play worse defense at roughly the same delta from their regular season numbers), but I’d be willing to bet that the teams most affected are the teams who heavily rely on defense to win.
Bet on Players Who Are Locked and Loaded on the PP1
This advice applies to pretty much any part of the season, but take the guys you absolutely know will be on that PP1 unit. It’s playoff time and you can bet the PP2 guys are going to get nothing but the scraps as coaches push for those extra goals. It’s nice that your sleeper pick was starting to get some extra love on the PP and snuck onto the top unit a few times, but unless you’re absolutely sure that he’s not coming off when the PP sputters in the first two games, it’s time to look elsewhere. Most teams have 3-4 of the PP1 slots locked down, which means 72-96 players should be highest on your draft board. This applies doubly to defensemen as coaches seem to end up playing more and more conservatively as the playoffs progress. Sorry, Miro Heiskanen truthers (and I count myself as one). Unless Klingberg goes down, he’s the only defenseman in Dallas worth owning.
Don’t Bet on Anything
Seriously though, don’t do it. I know you’re all enjoying those stimulus checks and have had the itch to put it into fantasy sports, but this is going to be just about the worst betting opportunity possible. As I’ve already mentioned, weird stuff happens in the playoffs and things change drastically from game to game and series to series. Throw in a cocktail of potential COVID-19 lineup disruptions and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a lot of lost dollars. Maybe we’ll see some discernable trends come out of the play-ins and seeding games, but realistically this is the least predictable sporting tournament in hockey history. Buy the kids an extra ice cream cone this summer instead.
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