All the hype surrounding the upcoming Olympic hockey tournament got me thinking: what if we started an Olympic fantasy pool?
What would be the best strategy? Would it be different than for a regular season pool? Some of you may have one planned already, so here are some tips that could help you edge out the competition in a sprint-type tournament.
1- Don't over-analyze the first round pick: Elite scorers are elite scorers. You probably won't win your pool in the first round, but you may well lose it by making a risky pick that doesn't pan out. Try to get out of the opening round with one of these musts: Canadians Sidney Crosby, John Tavares and Steven Stamkos (if healthy enough); Russians Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin; American Patrick Kane or Swedish defenseman Erik Karlsson.
2- Study the tournament format: Of the three groups within which the preliminary round games will be played, Group B seems to be the one where offense will be easier to generate. It has two teams that feature no NHL-calibre goaltender, compared to only one such team in each of the other two groups. Therefore, Canadians and Finns should be favored for possible offensive explosions in the early stages of the tourney.
3- Take a chance on a star form a non-elite team: Past the first round of picks, don't hesitate to go for a hunch on a premier player from a middling nation: Finland, Czech Republic, Switzerland or Slovakia. Not many remember that the late Pavol Demitra and Marian Hossa of Slovakia finished 1 and 2 in scoring in Vancouver 2010. All-star type teams like Canada tend to spread out their scoring throughout the line-up while high scorers on mediocre teams get more quality offensive minutes. This may be the pick that makes the difference.
4- Established chemistry matters: There will be no time for getting acquainted in Sochi. Teammates with a built-in relationship from the NHL will have an advantage. Crosby-Chris Kunitz, Jonathan Toews-Patrick Sharp, Phil Kessel-James van Riemsdyk are all players that should be marked with an asterisk on your draft lists.
5- Keep updated on last minute roster decisions: If you are planning on running a competitive Olympic pool, the draft should be held near the eve of the tourney’s opening game (Feb. 12th). This would give everyone enough time to get a clearer picture of planned PP units and starting goalies. This information will be crucial when compiling defensemen and goalies lists. If such info is unavailable, than make educated guesses. For example, if the draft was held today, I would rank Shea Weber high on my list based on the fact that he has the best right-handed shot to partner-up with Duncan Keith, Canada’s logical choice as quarterback on the PP.
6- Pick a winner and stick with’em: As is the case with playoff pools, you should trust your gut feeling on a team you believe has a chance to go all the way and rely heavily on its players in the heart of the draft. That is how you’ll pile up the points and distance your opponents... Assuming you’re right of course. If someone seems to have the same idea and beats you to every pick, than go to plan B and pick players from the team you think will be the finalist (or at least make the Bronze medal game).
Next week, we’ll take a closer look at some possible sleeper Olympic fantasy picks.