VANCOUVER — The NHL is back and so are hockey pools. The bitterness and frustration of the 113-day lockout has been replaced by the anticipation of drafting a team that trounces all your buddies. Talk about bragging rights. Right?
The season starts Saturday so there is no time to waste. Richard Lee, manager of the website officepools.com, says interest has hardly waned. His company sent out 36,000 emails last weekend to remind people they are still around and not many replied to say they'd had it up to here with the NHL and wouldn't be back.
“I've probably heard from about eight who said they weren't going to do anything this year, which is a lot less than I thought,” Lee said. “There are pools being created every minute. I don't think we'll hit the numbers we had last year — 13,000 for the the regular season — but it's been steady since the lockout ended. In the time we've been talking, 12 new pools were created.”
Officepools.com has been in business since 1996. For a fee of $20 per pool, the website will administrate it for you and keep all stats updated to the minute. The jackpot is up to you.
Lee said he rode an emotional elevator as the lockout dragged on and on — and on.
“It was totally frustrating,” he remarked. “With us, we have two seasons, regular season and playoffs so obviously if there is no regular season, there are no playoffs. So it's all or nothing for us. I was up and down the roller coaster of emotions every time it sounded like there was going to be a deal.”
Now on to the matter at hand, picking your team. In a normal season, the strategy rarely wavers: choose the proven power-play guys. How hard is that? But the shortened 48-game season provides a different challenge.
What do you do with slow starters, like Jarome Iginla? What do you do with aging stars, like Ray Whitney, Jaromir Jagr and Daniel Alfredsson? What do you do with players who've had recent concussion woes, like Sidney Crosby, Marian Hossa and Daniel Sedin? How do you approach a season in which East won't play West?
“The only real strategy that might be affected by the shortened season is the fact the teams are just playing within the conference,” Lee said. “So I was thinking that personally I'm just going to probably pick as many players from the Eastern Conference as I can because it seems to be more wide open.”
Indeed, six of the seven worst defensive teams in the league last season resided in the East, which is why 10 of the top 11 scorers came from that conference. Canucks captain Henrik Sedin was the only Western Conference player to crack the top 10 and he was tied for seventh with Islander John Tavares and Penguin James Neal at 81 points. Henrik won't even have a shot this season at defensively inept teams like the Lightning, Islanders, Jets, and Hurricanes.
As for Crosby? Lee figures Sid is too good to pass up no matter his concussion history. Crosby appeared in just 22 games last season and still collected 37 points.
“I always try to stay away from any player who has any injury history at all, I won't go near them,” Lee said. “But if Crosby is healthy, he's the best. So if have an opportunity to take him, I think you have to take him and then take your chances.”
Lee is leery of aging stars like Jagr and Ray Whitney and is down on Jarome Iginla, who began Flames camp on the sidelines with a sore groin. Iggy is not only 35, he's a chronically slow starter. In a 48-game season, you can't sit around waiting for him to get it going 25 games in.
Lee is also wary of anyone on the L.A. Kings. The defending Stanley Cup champs were the league's second lowest scoring team during the 2011-12 regular season and Lee figures that won't change much. Anze Kopitar is beginning the season on the sidelines (knee), further hurting the Kings' chances of being an offensive juggernaut.
“I still think they're going to have a hangover, too,” Lee added.
Here are some names to ponder as you get set to draft your (hopefully) winning squad:
1. Evgeni Malkin, Penguins
2. Steven Stamkos, Lightning
3. Claude Giroux, Flyers
4. Henrik Sedin, Canucks
5. Jason Spezza, Senators
Stay away from:
1. Ales Hemsky, Oilers
2. Patrik Elias, Devils
3. Jarome Iginla, Flames
4. Vinny Lecavalier, Lightning
5. P.A. Parenteau, Avalanche
1. Gabriel Landeskog, Avalanche
2. Jakub Voracek, Flyers
3. David Perron, Blues
4. Kyle Turris, Senators
5. Damien Brunner, Red Wings
1. Alex Ovechkin, Capitals
2. Eric Staal, Hurricanes
3. Rick Nash, Rangers
4. Mike Cammalleri, Flames
5. Mikko Koivu, Wild
1. Justin Schultz, Oilers
2. Chris Kreider, Rangers
3. Mikael Granlund, Wild
4. Sven Baertschi, Flames
5. Vladimir Tarasenko, Blues
1. Erik Karlsson
2. Kris Letang
3. Zdeno Chara
4. Shea Weber
5. Drew Doughty
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