Putting the pieces together

TIM BAINES

, Last Updated: 9:23 AM ET

It's 10 minutes past the starting time for your draft and the room is buzzing with hockey talk.

Will the Maple Leafs stink enough to get into a position to draft John Tavares?

And is there a resemblance between NHL commish Gary Bettman and The Count from Sesame Street?

Ramblings aside, the draft is running late ... you're waiting on one guy, the same clown who keeps you waiting every year.

Fifteen minutes. Twenty minutes. And there he is. With a goofy grin and wearing an oversized Boston Bruins jersey, he slides into his chair, offering lame excuses for his tardiness. He's clutching a brand-spanking-new hockey poolies guide, fresh off the shelf at the convenience store up the street.

Not only does "That Guy" hold up the pool, when it comes time for his nomination each round, he scrambles for his magazine, feverishly thumbing through the pages before announcing his latest gem. He's always unprepared, then wonders why his team finishes near the bottom.

Yep, every pool has at least one of these guys. But you can't let that diminish the thrill you can get out of being a fantasy owner/general manager.

On a single night of pooling, I've seen fist fights, co-GMs from the same team bidding against each other and a guy drink so much he fell asleep during the draft (and then had obscenities scribbled onto his stomach in pen by a guy who shall remain unnamed. OK I fess up, it was me.)

Over th years, I've seen arguments, guys mocking selections and a chorus of "nice pick" coming from the nitwits who wouldn't know a nice pick from an ice pick.

If you're not prepared for your draft, you might as well just hand the pool commissioner a cheque and not bother to show up.

You can't just pull out a Top 100 chart from a magazine. It takes preparation. You don't want to be "That Guy."

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Here are some ideas that might help you give your pool geniuses a run for their money:

1. Be prepared. Use poolie magazines as a guide, but only as a guide. Chart a list of your top 75 defencemen, in order. Maybe you want to identify your top 100 forwards (sometimes broken down into wingers and centres). And rate the goalies in order, too (taking into account both goals-against average and potential wins). If your pool involves "keepers," cross off those protected players. Identify weaker positions. If Nicklas Lidstrom is the only premier defenceman available and there are several elite wing options, pay more for Lidstrom.

2. Weigh the pluses. If plus-minus is a category in your pool, don't get stuck with minuses even if they're big point-getters. That means you should be wary of the Los Angeles Kings, Atlanta Thrashers, New York Islanders and yes, the Toronto Maple Leafs. That doesn't mean you shouldn't draft a guy like Ilya Kovalchuk, it just means that you may want to knock your salary projection down a bit.

3. Find a goon who plays a bit of hockey. If penalty minutes is a category, find someone who scores and shoots along with dropping the gloves. Sean Avery could be huge in Dallas. Daniel Carcillo was a monster with Phoenix last season. Other scrappers with a bit of skill include Chris Neil, Zach Stortini, Alexandre Burrows, Steve Downie, David Clarkson and an elite defenceman in Dion Phaneuf. Darcy Tucker's an agitator who could bounce back in Colorado.

4. Get good goalies. If you need to draft two goalies, identify players who are not only going to win games, but are going to post a good goals-against average. You may want to nominate starters such as Cam Ward, Rick DiPietro and Ryan Miller, but there'll likely be a pretty big dropoff between their goals-against and goalies such as J.S. Giguere or Evgeni Nabokov. Let somebody else spend big money on a goalie that could hurt a category.

5. Going completely against the above point, draft cheap goalies (but only if your pool doesn't have a minimum minutes-played category). Spend nearly all of your money on offence, then spend $1 on the backup goalies from two great teams. Anaheim's Jonas Hiller, Dallas' Tobias Stephen, Detroit's Ty Conklin or San Jose's Brian Boucher fit the bill.

6. Identify guys on the upswing. Players such as Jamie Langenbrunner, Sergei Fedorov and Jere Lehtinen have been around awhile. They're all decent players in real life, but don't offer much for poolies these days. More importantly, when it comes time to swing that big trade that could put you over the top at mid-season, you won't be able to talk other GMs into your theory that the guys you're offering are still getting better. You need to take a couple of chances, with huge potential dividends. And I'm not talking about Steve Stamkos, who won't go cheap, taking away some of his value. Phoenix' Kyle Turris could be a superstar someday soon. So could Anaheim's Bobby Ryan, the second overall selection in the 2005 NHL Draft. Steve Bernier has been bounced around the NHL, but is still young and could contribute in Vancouver. If Jordan Staal stays at wing in Pittsburgh, he could put up very good numbers. St. Louis has some superb prospects ready to break out, including forwards T.J. Oshie and Patrik Berlund. Do some research. This is where the unprepared poolies lose the pool.

7. Play on other owners' weaknesses. That guy who walked in with the Leafs jersey? Nominate Leafs and watch him outbid you. You want to load other teams with guys who have "name recognition" and might be good players in real life, but should have little value in hockey pools. Poolies sometimes bid with their hearts, not their brains. Take advantage of that.

8. Do not draft one-category players. You'd like a bit of everything. Phaneuf and Jarome Iginla are good examples of all-around contributors. Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin are worth every penny, too. But if a guy has 70 points and is likely to kill you in another category, stay away.

9. Have a list of players you can nominate that you do not really want, but are pretty sure another team will pick up. You want other teams to fill their rosters, first. Then you can start plucking off your "sleepers" near the end of the draft.

10. Look for value. You want underpriced players. That's how you build a team. You're not going to get a Henrik Zetterberg, Joe Thornton, Vincent Lecavalier, Dany Heatley or Roberto Luongo cheap. You may have to overpay. But you don't want to overpay for middlers such as Mike Ribeiro, David Legwand or Tim Connolly. Good value sets up future trades.

11. Be able to adjust on the fly. If you've identified Crosby, Lecavalier and Thornton as clearly the three available elite centres and you're outbid on Crosby and Lecavalier, get Thornton. Don't be outbid. You want value, but it's OK to overpay for some players if the next rung of available players is a notch or two below. You want a combination of elite players, safe bets and potential jackpots. Happy pooling and on draft day, don't be the one who's unprepared. Don't be "That Guy."

SLEEPERS

- Mikko Koivu, C, Wild (Injured part of last season, has offensive ability and a bit of jam)

- Nikita Filatov, W, Blue Jackets (A first-rounder this year, he has plenty of offensive flair, monitor and see if he sticks with the club)

- Fabian Brunnstrom, W, Stars (Swedish prospect chose Dallas in a bidding war.

He has world-class speed and could help right away)

- Andrew Cogliano, Sam Gagner, C/W, Oilers (Both put up decent numbers last year and should step it up, but beware of plus-minus)

- Kyle Okposo, W, Islanders (Could have an immediate impact on a so-so team)

- Brandon Dubinsky, C, Rangers (Very strong finish last season)

- Brian Lee, D, Senators (Filip Kuba on the Senators' power play? If given a chance, Lee could man the point)

- Kyle Turris, C, Coyotes (Great hockey sense and he will be a star. A great cornerstone along with teammate Peter Mueller)

- Miro Satan, W, Penguins (Playing alongside either Crosby or Malkin sure can't hurt his career)

- T.J. Oshie, C/W, Blues (A dominating player in NCAA, his star will shine in NHL soon)

- Drew Stafford, W, Sabres (Needs to shoot the puck more to reach potential)

- Andrei Kostitsyn, W, Canadiens (OK, so he may not be a secret anymore, but he's still getting better)

- Bryan McCabe, D, Panthers (Hey, it sounds silly ... but this ex-Leaf shoots, gets penalties and could find new life in Florida)

AVOID

- Martin Havlat, W, Hawks (If you draft him, you might want to select a team doctor to take care of the often-injured star)

- Kristian Huselius, W, Blue Jackets (Defence first in Columbus. That can't be good news for the former Flame)

- Glen Murray, W, UFA (How the mighty have fallen. Not currently signed with any team)

- Steve Sullivan, W, Predators (He's still nowhere near returning from back surgery)

- Patrik Elias, W/C, Devils (Paging Patrik Elias, where have you gone?)

- Justin Williams, W, Hurricanes (tore his right Achilles tendon and could be out for six months)

- Mike Comrie, C, Islanders (Solid enough player, but not much upside)

- Alexander Frolov, W, Kings (Sure there's upside ... but unless his name is Anze Kopitar, don't draft a King, especially if it's a goalie)

- Martin Gerber, G, Senators (The Senators shopped around for a goalie at the trade deadline and you can bet they're still shopping)

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2007-08 STATISTICAL LEADERS

MOST GOALS

Alex Ovechkin 65

Ilya Kovalchuk 52

Jarome Iginla 50

Evgeni Malkin 47

Henrik Zetterberg 43

Brad Boyes 43

Marian Gaborik 42

Dany Heatley 41

Daniel Alfredsson 40

Vincent Lecavalier 40

MOST ASSISTS

Joe Thornton 67

Pavel Datsyuk 66

Marc Savard 63

Henrik Sedin 61

Nicklas Lidstrom 60

Evgeni Malkin 59

Jason Spezza 58

Ryan Getzlaf 58

Martin St. Louis 58

Mike Ribeiro 56

POINTS BY A ROOKIE

Patrick Kane 72

Nicklas Backstrom 69

Jonathan Toews 54

Peter Mueller 54

Sam Gagner 49

Andrew Cogliano 45

Brandon Dubinsky 40

Tobias Enstrom 38

Martin Hanzal 35

Erik Johnson 33

Tom Gilbert 33

ICE TIME

Jay Bouwmeester 27:28

Dan Boyle 27:24

Zdeno Chara 26:50

Nicklas Lidstrom 26:43

Dion Phaneuf 26:25

Chris Pronger 26:00

Bryan McCabe 26:55

Sergei Gonchar 25:54

Sergei Zubov 25:41

Duncan Keith 25:33

SHORT-HANDED GOALS

Daniel Alfredsson 7

Patrick Sharp 7

Rene Bourque 5

Mike Richards 5

Rick Nash 4

Niklas Hagman 4

Richard Park 4

(15 players tied at 3)

POWER-PLAY GOALS

Alex Ovechkin 22

Thomas Vanek 19

Olli Jokinen 18

Evgeni Malkin 17

Alex Kovalev 17

Henrik Zetterberg 16

Ilya Kovalchuk 16

Petr Sykora 15

Jarome Iginla 15

Mike Knuble 15

POINTS BY A DEFENCEMAN

Nicklas Lidstrom 70

Sergei Gonchar 65

Mark Streit 62

Brian Campbell 62

Dion Phaneuf 60

Andrei Markov 58

Mike Green 56

Brian Rafalski 55

Tomas Kaberle 53

Zdeno Chara 51

Ed Jovanovski 51

SHOOTOUT GOALS

Patrick Kane 7

Joe Pavelski 7

Erik Christensen 6

Alex Hemsky 6

Patrik Elias 5

Shawn Horcoff 5

Kris Letang 5

Radim Vrbata 5

Nikolai Zherdev 5

Trevor Linden 5

Nigel Dawes 5

Saku Koivu 5

Ales Kotalik 5

Phil Kessel 5

Vyacheslav Kozlov 5

Brendan Shanahan 5

Sam Gagner 5

PENALTY MINUTES

Daniel Carcillo 324

Jared Boll 226

Adam Burish 214

Riley Cote 202

Zach Stortini 201

Chris Neil 199

David Clarkson 183

George Parros 183

Dion Phaneuf 182

Alex Burrows 179

PLUS-MINUS

Pavel Datsyuk +41

Nicklas Lidstrom +40

Dany Heatley +33

Ryan Getzlaf +32

Henrik Zetterberg +30

Duncan Keith +30

Alex Ovechkin +28

Viktor Kozlov +28

Jarome Iginla +27

Brian Rafalski +27

Johnny Oduya +27

MOST GOALIE WINS

Evgeni Nabokov 46

Martin Brodeur 44

Miikka Kiprusoff 39

Cam Ward 37

Henrik Lundqvist 37

Ryan Miller 36

J.S. Giguere 35

Roberto Luongo 35

Niklas Backstrom 33

Vesa Toskala 33

BEST GOALS-AGAINST

Chris Osgood 2.09

J.S. Giguere 2.12

Evgeni Navokov 2.14

Dominik Hasek 2.14

Martin Brodeur 2.17

Henrik Lundqvist 2.23

Pascal Leclaire 2.25

Niklas Backstrom 2.31

Marty Turco 2.31

Cristobal Huet 2.32

SHUTOUTS

Henrik Lundqvist 10

Pascal Leclaire 9

Dan Ellis 6

Roberto Luongo 6

Evgeni Nabokov 6

Dominik Hasek 5

Martin Biron 5

Manny Legace 5


Photos