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Picking a Winning Hockey Pool

by Greg Alexis (written Oct 2005)

Picking a winning hockey pool involves more than simply going online and downloading last year's scoring statistics and starting from the top down. Anybody can do that! To be a successful hockey prognosticator, you must be able to find players who will exceed their point totals from last year and not simply go with last year's Art Ross Trophy winner with your first pick.

This theory holds true if you picked Tampa Bay's Martin St. Louis to repeat his 2003-2004 season when he tallied 94 points. Last season, I'm willing to wager that St. Louis was a hot commodity and probably picked in everybody's hockey pool in the first or second round because he had one good season. Can't find St. Louis on last year's scoring list? Well, that's because he didn't make it into last year's Top 50 scorers – in fact St. Louis finished tied for 76th overall in scoring with Maple Leafs "super sniper" Darcy Tucker with a grand total of 61 points.

Another strategy to remember in picking a winning hockey pool is selecting players who have a history of consistency. When I think of consistency, I think of players like Joe Sakic, Brad Richards, Mats Sundin, and Daniel Alfredsson. These players are also consistent "point-per-game" players which is crucial in picking a successful hockey pool. Even though some of these players won't compete for this year's Art Ross trophy, they have a history of finishing in the top 25 players in scoring. These types of players are guys you know who are going to show up every night to play and you will thank yourself every night when you look at the box scores.

In most hockey pools, it is usually required to take at least a couple of defensemen but knowing what round to start picking defensemen is another strategy. Last season, the top scoring defenseman in the NHL was Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom who finished with 80 points – good enough for 25th in overall points. The next highest defenseman was Dallas' Sergei Zubov who had 71 points and finished 48th overall in scoring. The bottom line here is only 2 D-Men finished in the top 50 so don't waste your time worrying about selecting a defenseman in the first few rounds of your hockey pool. If you think a forward is still out there that could conceivably score more points then the defenseman you want to pick, take the forward – it will probably pay off in the long run. However, when it does come time to start picking defensemen, the number one rule is pick a player who is going to see a ton of ice time each night and is also going to be a major factor on the power play.

In some hockey pools, it's also customary to pick at least one goaltender for the year. Depending on how points are allocated, goaltenders can be big point producers in any hockey pool. The best advice is to pick a goaltender that is an established number 1 that will play 65 to 75 games and has a good defence in front of him that can earn him a few shutouts. Be careful in picking a good goaltender that plays for a bad team – i.e. Nikolai Khabibulin on Chicago or Olaf Kolzig in Washington. Remember, no goalie is capable of winning a game alone, so make sure he has a solid a solid team in front of him.

It also pays do some homework and find out if any players are injured before the season starts or if they are involved in contract disputes. Having players missing from your line in the early months will set you back early in the season and you may never get a chance to catch up. Similarly, if want to pick injury prone players, make sure your hockey pool rules include a re-draft halfway through the season where you can drop players who are injured or underperforming. You may also want to check in to find out what players are in the final years of their contract and may be looking for that big raise the following year. Players who are due to become unrestricted free agents at the end of the season are usually the best examples of this philosophy.

Keep in mind too; a player may have missed some games the previous season, thus his stats might not be at the very top of the list. An excellent example of this strategy is Bruins centre Marc Savard. Two seasons ago, Savard tallied 52 points in only 45 games and therefore didn't register in the top 25 in scoring. Last season, Savard played in all 82 games and rung up 97 points with the Atlanta Thrashers.

So on draft day, print out a copy of the top 250-300 players from the previous season and go through every player thoroughly and ask yourself, can this player improve on his stats from last year? Could this player do better now that he's playing on a different team with different linemates?

Follow this advice closely and with a little luck, you may find yourself taking home the big prize when April rolls around next year!

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