(For the sake of this article, my pool allows six protected players and uses a roto style scoring system)
Personally, I give myself until the all-star break before taking a look at my status within my league and doing my best to make an unbiased evaluation of my team. It is important to remember that while winning every year should be your goal in October, it is also not a legitimate possibility. Therefore, if you feel you cannot win your league, but are confident you can place in the upper half, then I suggest taking a semi-conservative approach to the last half of the season. The fact that your are in contention should tell you that your team is in great shape for next season, and perhaps a couple of better decisions with draft picks, better waiver wire moves, or just plain better luck could land you in the top spot next year. Do your best to finish as high as possible, but keep the bulk of the keeper portion of your team intact.
If after conducting this evaluation you find yourself at or near the top of your league, and feel you have a justifiable opportunity to put your name on the trophy, then it’s time to, as they say in poker, “go all-in”. Here are five courses of action that you should study and apply to your current situation. Use any and all if the opportunity presents itself, and under no circumstances have mercy on the weak. It is much easier to have an off year down the road with a championship or two under your belt.
1) Be prepared to sacrifice younger talent for the last few pieces of the puzzle you need this year. Do your homework and assess the potential protected players for each team in your league. When you find a competitor whose keepers are not definitive, propose a trade that offers him someone like Jordan Staal or Phil Kessel in return for a player that he probably won’t protect, but is definitely helpful to your second half surge towards the title. Good examples would be Langkow, Nagy, and Semin. In many ways this is similar to what real NHL teams do just prior to the trade deadline.
2) Pay close attention to the actual stat categories and target those you have the best chance at gaining ground in. For example, if you could possibly gain four positions in both the Goals and Plus/Minus categories, you would then look at the four teams ahead of you in each of those categories, and determine which category provides a better opportunity for advancement. Once you have decided where you want to focus your attack, get a few players who specialize in that aspect.
3) By using the strategy above to determine where your focus will be, you can often sneak trades by your closest challengers by making them seem one sided in their favor, when actually you are just strengthening them in categories that they cannot gain any more ground in. For example: You are in second place and you notice that you can gain up to five points in the assists category. You also notice the current leader is leading the goals category and therefore cannot gain any ground. Offering him say Cheechoo and Semin for Bergeron and Erat would seem like a no-brainer to most poolies, however if he does indeed accept the trade, you have just made great strides towards gaining in your assists category while unbeknownst to him, he has gained no advantage from the trade.
4) Watch your goaltending statistics carefully and avoid match-ups that would appear to be not in your favor. Sure it feels great when you start Raycroft against Ottawa and he shuts them out, but play the odds and keep him benched. The last thing you want is to lose precious points in your Save Percentage and Goals Against Average categories because you gambled on Raycroft and he got his doors blown off.
5) Get on the bottom end manager’s asses and stay on them until the end of the season to stay active with their lineups. There is nothing worse than your closest competition gaining five or six points on you because the last place teams didn’t bother to set their lineups for the last two months. Trust me, it happens more than you think and the impact it has on the top teams is much more than you would ever realize.
I just realized that this portion is longer than I expected, so I’ll give a few more pointers for those of you in contention, and those of you who are getting your arse’s kicked will have to wait until next week for your cheat sheet.
6) I don’t care if you are the funniest and most brilliant person to ever use a message board; I insist that you shut your cake hole for the remainder of the season. Don’t talk smack, don’t talk shit, and don’t even spray compliments. The best thing that can happen is that the rest of the league forgets you exist. The reason I say this is that why give anyone a reason to try harder against you. Spoilers are called spoilers for a reason. All it takes is one post from you that pisses off a competitor and then perhaps he makes a trade that hurts you, or perhaps declines any trade action with you, or simply tanks certain areas of his lineup to aid your competition. Bottom line is that you can talk all the shiznit you want after you win.
7) Stay on top of the daily news in the hockey world, and be the first to act on NHL roster moves that have a potential impact. Things like the sudden signing of Sean Burke or the potential trade of either Nagy or Doan can have huge implications on not only your team, but your opponents as well. For arguments sake let’s say that Burke would have a much bigger impact this year fantasy wise, and that your nearest competition is in dire need of a goaltender. If you are on top of things, you can pick him up regardless if you need him or not, even just to avoid the possibility of your opponent getting him. This is why tuning into sites like this one is a must. Get the news first, act on it first, finish first. I like how that sounds.
Next week I’ll give you the second half of this article, and by then I hope that those of you in contention have put some of these practices to use. Oh, by the way, if Ryan Clowe is available in your pool, grab him. The kid looks for real and also plays with a chip on his shoulder. He has also earned his way to some quality minutes in San Jose and is certain to remain there with Bernier’s injury.