NHL Playoff Pools: What Not to Do

By Nathan White

I’ve won a few bucks in hockey pools over the years. I’m not saying I’ll be putting my kids through college or anything, but I know a few tricks when it comes to pools. NHL playoff pools in particular are a strange animal, so after (I think) fleecing my buddies in our annual draft last night, I thought I’d pass along a few pitfalls to avoid for those who haven’t drafted yet. So, here’s what not to do if you want to win your playoff pool:

PICK PLAYERS: This is the first rule of playoff pools. You are not picking players. Of course, you really are, but in the bigger picture, you are picking teams, then trying to get the most good players on those teams. I draw out my bracket, pick my final four, then as the draft unfolds, try to load up on players from at least one Eastern Conference and one Western Conference team in that four. The obvious thing to do is go after the top seeds. But guess what? You’re not the only one at the table with access to the NHL standings, so your chances of loading up on a top seed are pretty much zero. Take a top seed’s best player if you can get him, but if there’s a lower seed you believe in, you’re better off going after several players from that team. A lot of people won’t recommend this, but you may even just want to load up on your favourite team (within reason, see “OVERDO IT” below). At least it will make cheering for your team even more enjoyable if they go on a run.

IGNORE THE INJURY REPORT: This year there’s nothing as big as Peter Forsberg coming back or anything like that, but the status of solid vets such as Tim Connolly and Justin Williams (supposedly healthy), is good to know in the later rounds of a deep draft.

DRINK TOO MUCH: You might want to have a beer or two with the guys, but if you don’t have your wits about you in the later rounds, that’s how you end up picking an injured player, or doing something senseless such as taking players who are going head-to-head in the first round.

STICK BLINDLY TO YOUR PLAN: As much as you want to have a strategy going in, there are plenty of other people picking who could ruin that for you quickly by going after the guys at the top of your list. Be ready to adjust on the fly. Have a fifth and sixth team in mind to switch gears to. If their top liners are still available in the middle rounds, consider grabbing a couple and hoping for the best instead of grabbing any warm body from your top teams.

OVERDO IT: Some people like to go for an all-or-nothing, two-team approach. That’s great, but if you could successfully pick the Stanley Cup finalists every year, you could probably get a job at ESPN or CBC. I feel for the guy who took six Habs on his ten-player team last night. “I’ll be the one laughing if the Habs beat out the Capitals,” he said. Yes, he will. But more likely he’ll be like me the year I ruined my 2002 pool with this strategy. I had smartly picked eventual Cup winner Carolina to go deep, but my other team was the San Jose Sharks, who were bumped in the second round. Rather than grabbing a quality player from another team in the later rounds, I kept going to the San Jose well for Gary Suter (4 points) and, yes, Jeff Jillson (0 points,and Wayne Gretzky twice scored more points in a single playoff than he managed his whole career.) Those picks not only cost me the pool, but still earn me lip at the draft eight years later.


~ by Nathan White on April 13, 2010.

2 Responses to “NHL Playoff Pools: What Not to Do”

  1. What if you’re invited to a hockey pool for an evening of fun but know nothing about hockey? How can you prepare for the pool when you’re band wagon jumping, or tagging along for a night out??

    • That is easier than you think, Clarice, we all have stories of being beaten by some guy’s girlfriend who picked the players with the cutest butts or something. Really, the same rules apply. You have to pick the teams you think will go the farthest. Whether that’s based on years of experience and hours of statistical analysis, or your favorite color, ultimately it’s up to you! Once you pick those teams, get a team-by-team scoring list, cross off any injured players (ask a friend to help you find that stuff if you can’t), and try to load up on your teams’ highest scorers.

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