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The regular season is done and the playoff seeds are set, but the fantasy season is far from over. Jason Chen looks at the best bets for every team and which players will help you win your playoff pool.
The regular season is done and the playoff seeds are set, but the fantasy season is far from over. It’s time now to shift our focus to playoff pools, where the strategies are completely different. Sure, the best teams still offer up the best options, but the biggest determining factor of playoff pools is number of games played – the further your players and teams go, the better chances you have of winning.
Keeping that in mind, let’s break down the Western Conference teams and their outlook for fantasy purposes, using BetMGM’s Stanley Cup-winning odds to determine the best bang for your buck.
Colorado Avalanche (BetMGM Cup odds: 4.25)
BetMGM had the Avs at the top of the list since July, where they opened at 6:1 odds, and despite an early-season lull mostly due to injuries, never relinquished their title as Cup favorites. At 4.25 odds, the implied probability of the Avs to win is 23.5 percent, which, frankly speaking, seems a little high because the race feels so wide open. On the flip side, all their regulars are healthy and Joe Sakic did a really nice job shoring up his bottom-six trading for Artturi Lehkonen and Andrew Cogliano. One reason to not consider the Avs? Their path to the Finals is much harder through the Central Division, but if they can make quick work of the Preds and have the Blues and Wild beat each other into oblivion so that they’re already tired by the second round, it bodes very well for their chances.
Best Path: Finish off the Preds quickly, get some rest and hope the Wild and Blues beat each other up, then likely face either the Oilers or Flames, whom they’re a combined 4-1-1 against during the season.
Sneaky playoff pick: Alex Newhook, who will center the third line but also has the most offensive upside in their bottom six. Cup winners have usually featured depth players who exceed expectations.
Top playoff picks: Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen, Nazem Kadri, Cale Makar, Darcy Kuemper
Depth playoff picks: Valeri Nichushkin, André Burakovsky, Devon Toews
Only if they go far: Alex Newhook, Artturi Lehkonen, J.T. Compher, Sam Girard
Calgary Flames (8.00)
The Flames were one of the biggest risers over the course of the season, starting at 41:1 odds in July. There’s no glaring weakness on their roster and their depth was shored up with the acquisitions of the very versatile Calle Järnkrok, the very dependable Tyler Toffoli, and let’s not forget that they added Blake Coleman over the summer for a playoff run and his Cup-winning experience. This will also be Darryl Sutter’s 15th appearance in the playoffs, and over his past six appearances dating back to his first stint with the Flames, has only been bounced from the first round twice. The Flames have an easier path to the Finals than the Avs thanks to a weaker Pacific, which makes them an ideal team to pick players from for your playoff pools.
Best Path: The Stars shouldn’t pose much of a challenge if the Flames can shut down their top line, leading to a second-round matchup against the Oilers, who have better top-end talent but lack depth, consistent goaltending and an experienced head coach.
Sneaky playoff pick: Tyler Toffoli, who scored 14 points in 22 games for the Habs in their Cup run. If Sutter mixes up the lines, Toffoli can move up or down the lineup and play both sides on the wing. Dillon Dubé is another sneaky pick, but he’ll get less time than Toffoli.
Top playoff picks: Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, Elias Lindholm, Jacob Markström
Depth playoff picks: Andrew Mangiapane, Tyler Toffoli, Noah Hanifin, Rasmus Andersson
Only if they go far: Mikael Backlund, Calle Järnkrok, Dillon Dubé, Blake Coleman, Oliver Kylington
Edmonton Oilers (19.00)
Which Mike Smith will show up? And will Darnell Nurse be healthy enough to log big minutes in high-pressure situations against tough opponents? Without Nurse, the Oilers will be relying on Cody Ceci, Evan Bouchard, Tyson Barrie and Duncan Keith on defense to help out Mike Smith, the presumed starter who enters the playoffs after a perfect 9-0-0 in April. Who knows how long the veteran goalie can keep this up, but any sort of slip up in net and the Oilers are headed toward the exit.
Best Path: It’s unlikely the Stars will upset and the season series against the Flames was split 2-2-0. Then it’s a tough test in the conference final; they’re 1-0-2 against the Avs, 0-3-0 against the Wild and 2-1-0 against the Blues. In every matchup, the Oilers will have the edge in top-end talent, but a clear disadvantage in every other department.
Sneaky playoff pick: Evander Kane, only one of two top-six wingers in their lineup. With apologies to Jesse Puljujärvi and Kailer Yamamoto, but neither can be counted on to provide consistent offense. Kane’s playoff experience is sparse – he’s played just 29 games his entire career – but there’s just really no one else they can or should count on.
Top playoff picks: Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl
Depth playoff picks: Evander Kane, Zach Hyman, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Darnell Nurse, Mike Smith
Only if they go far: Jesse Puljujärvi, Kailer Yamamoto, Tyson Barrie, Evan Bouchard
Minnesota Wild (19.00)
The Wild finished four points ahead of the Blues and hold home-ice advantage, and based on most public models and BetMGM’s odds, have the clear edge in the series. If defense wins championships, the Wild are in a pretty good position because they defend their own zone very well, ranking among the best in limiting their opponents’ quality scoring chances. Their offense doesn’t sustain pressure very well but it’s very opportunistic with Kirill Kaprizov, and the addition of Matt Boldy has helped elevate Kevin Fiala’s play and given the Wild a very good second scoring line.
Best Path: Once they’re done with the Blues, the Avs are likely next and it could be a closer series than most would think. The Wild went 2-1-1 against the Avs during the season, including an overtime win, a shootout loss, and swapping 4-1 wins. Should they have enough left in the tank in the conference final, note they went 3-0-0 against the Oilers – a testament again to a stout defense – but 1-2-0 against the Flames, with the only win coming in overtime.
Sneaky playoff pick: Frédérick Gaudreau, who had scored 18 points in 103 games at two stops prior to joining the Wild, then broke out with 44 points in 76 games centering Fiala and Boldy for most of the second half of the season. Ryan Hartman is no longer a secret and Joel Eriksson Ek plays in a shutdown matchup role for Dean Evason, leaving Gaudreau as their default No. 2 scoring center.
Top playoff picks: Kirill Kaprizov, Kevin Fiala
Depth playoff picks: Ryan Hartman, Mats Zuccarello, Matt Boldy, Jared Spurgeon, Matt Dumba, Cam Talbot, Marc-André Fleury
Only if they go far: Frédérick Gaudreau, Joel Eriksson Ek, Marcus Foligno
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St. Louis Blues (23.00)
Having nine (!) 20-goal scorers clearly means nothing to the oddsmakers. The Wild are favored in the series and the Blues’ 7-4 loss against Vegas in the season finale with their presumptive starter, Ville Husso, cast some doubt about their ability to win a series. Goaltending was a strong suit when the won the Cup with Jordan Binnington, but Binnington lost the starting job to Husso though neither look totally prepared for the playoffs. Depth is key to winning because it’s such a long grind, but the Blues need to find their footing again quickly, or they won’t even make it out of the first round.
Best Path: They’re 1-2-0 against the Avs during the season with 12 goals allowed, and despite their depth won’t win a horse race against the Avs’ top guns. If they make it far enough to face the Oilers or Flames, it would be because their goaltending has suddenly gotten hot. Note their matchups against them have been high-scoring affairs, with 24 totals goals scored in three games against the Flames and 26 goals scored in three games against the Oilers. They’ve dominated both the Kings and Stars with a combined 5-1-1 record, but it’s doubtful either of them get that far.
Top playoff picks: None
Depth playoff picks: Ryan O’Reilly, Brandon Saad, David Perron, Pavel Buchenvich, Vladimir Tarasenko, Robert Thomas, Jordan Kyrou, Torey Krug
Only if they go far: Ivan Barbashev, Justin Faulk, Colton Parayko, Ville Husso, Jordan Binnington
Nashville Predators (41.00)
The Preds don’t have the worst odds even though they drew the West’s toughest opponent in the first round and Juuse Saros may end up missing the entire playoffs. Since making the Finals in 2017, the Preds have advanced past the opening round just once. It’s slightly concerning that even with Matt Duchene (42 goals) and Ryan Johansen (61 points) providing close to full value of their contracts, and Roman Josi having a historically good season, that this is the best the Preds can muster.
Best Path: Should an upset occur, the Preds’ 3-0-1 record against the Wild is literally the mirror image of their 0-3-1 record against the Blues. There’s no in-between, either, with a plus-11 goal differential in their three regulation wins against the Wild but a minus-10 goal differential in their three regulation losses to the Blues. They’re also 2-0-1 against the Flames, with all three games requiring extra time, but 0-2-1 against the Oilers. Cross their fingers and hope it’s the Wild and Flames next… which seems rather counter-intuitive, actually.
Sneaky playoff pick: Tanner Jeannot, whose physical style translates well in the playoffs and with 24 goals definitely has some offensive pop. Eeli Tolvanen and Luke Kunin are serviceable wingers, but neither have showcased enough offensive upside to be fantasy-relevant.
Top playoff picks: Roman Josi
Depth playoff picks: Filip Forsberg, Matt Duchene, Mikael Granlund, Ryan Johansen
Only if they go far: Tanner Jeannot, David Rittich
Dallas Stars (51.00)
The Stars made the Finals thanks to excellent good goaltending last time, and it’s hard to see them repeat this time. With all due respect to Jake Oettinger, who is a big reason they’re here today, he’s just not quite at the level to be able to carry this team deep into the postseason. They’re also still far too reliant on one line, and this is Jason Robertson’s first taste of the playoffs after skating as a black ace in 2020.
Best Path: If the Stars can upset the Flames, they should have an easier time against the Oilers and Kings, both of whom have losing records against the Stars. Interestingly enough, the Stars are 3-1-0 against the Avs, and like the Preds, had an easier time against the Wild than the Blues during the regular season.
Sneaky playoff pick: Denis Gurianov, who ranked fourth among Stars forwards with 17 points in 27 games during their 2020 Cup run. His nine goals also only trailed Joe Pavelski, and he might be the only member outside their top line worth taking since Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn have declined significantly in their offensive production.
Top playoff picks: Jason Robertson, Roope Hintz, Joe Pavelski
Depth playoff picks: Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Miro Heiskanen, John Klingberg, Ryan Suter, Jake Oettinger
Only if they go far: Denis Gurianov, Vladislav Namestnikov
Los Angeles Kings (51.00)
The Kings will put in a valiant effort in Dustin Brown’s final season, but with Drew Doughty out for the season, their defense just won’t be good enough to cover up their average goaltending. Jonathan Quick and Cal Petersen can steal the occasional game, but it’ll be difficult to steal four games from the Oilers, who were 3-1-0 against the Kings during the season. Going from last in the Pacific three seasons to go to a playoff berth is an incredible accomplishment even if no one’s taking the Kings’ playoff hopes very seriously. One teeny tiny wrinkle… the Kings rank second in the West behind the Flames with the best Corsi For percentage, and that has historically boded well for strong playoff performances.
Best Path: The Pacific is the easier path to the conference final but the Kings have been horrendous against the Central Division this season, going a combined 3-9-0 against the Avs, Wild, Blues and Preds.
Sneaky playoff pick: Philip Danault, who was excellent in his first season with the Kings. In the Habs’ Cup run, Danault scored just four points in 22 games, but his role is very different with the Kings where he gets both the hard matchups and scoring opportunities. Offense will never be his calling card, but he will certainly play a ton of minutes to take some pressure off Anže Kopitar.
Top playoff picks: Anže Kopitar
Depth playoff picks: Adrian Kempe, Philip Danault
Only if they go far: Trevor Moore, Alex Iafallo, Viktor Arvidsson, Quinton Byfield, Arthur Kaliyev, Sean Durzi, Jonathan Quick, Cal Petersen
– Feedspot Hockey News Fantasy
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