Going into a fantasy hockey pool completely unprepared is like Don Quixote tilting at windmills. An act of sheer futility.
Research and homework are absolutely imperative. Things change fast in the NHL these days, so your draft day cheat sheet had better reflect all the comings and goings of what was a very busy off-season.
There was a free agent frenzy in the early summer that saw dozens of good players change teams. If you don't know who's where by now, then you could find yourself near the bottom of the pool standings at the end of the season.
Strangely enough, the pool value for many top players switching jerseys didn't change a whole lot. Maybe Bill Guerin's value goes down slightly with the Islanders or Ladislav Nagy's value improves with the Kings, but prized picks like Michael Nylander, Ryan Smyth and Brian Rafalski will stay roughly the same.
Who's line is it?
The address change, however, does significantly boost the fortunes of some lesser players who have joined better teams. Out of Edmonton, Petr Sykora lands in Pittsburgh to play alongside Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin.
Viktor Kozlov will be similarly blessed with high-octane linemates in Washington, and is a cinch to improve on his 51-point season with the Islanders.
The impact incoming players might make on incumbents is also worth poolie attention. The signing of Jason Blake gives Toronto Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin a long-awaited sniper and a real chance to crack the NHL's top 20 in scoring.
Brad Boyes of the St. Louis Blues could finally fulfil his promise with Paul Kariya now on his line.
The teams that free agents and traded players left behind also offer opportunity for rising stars and their pool owners.
Buffalo is a perfect example. The Sabres lost Chris Drury and Daniel Briere, but still have a number of quality wingers lined up for assignments with new centres. Up the ranks climbs Derek Roy to become the No. 1 pivot and power-play leader. The big sleeper there is Tim Connolly who sat out all but two games with a concussion last year and is now centring the team's second line.
The puck stops here
Summertime shipments of goaltenders from city to city also produced a host of breakout candidates.
Chris Mason, now in goal for the Predators with Tomas Vokoun in Florida, proved himself quite capable last year and is poised for a stellar season.
Look for similar upsides from Peter Budaj in Colorado, Martin Biron in Philadelphia and Vesa Toskala in Toronto. Toskala is considered the backup but is a real threat to steal the starter's position from Andrew Raycroft.
With Manny Fernandez now in Boston, Niklas Backstrom inherits the top target job for the Wild, at least for the time being. Minnesota has a rookie goalie named Josh Harding waiting in the wings and he should at least be drafted in keeper leagues.
1. Sidney Crosby, C, Penguins - Not much doubt about this top pick in every pool.
2. Alex Ovechkin, LW, Capitals - Nylander's passing skills give him a shot at 60 goals.
3. Jason Spezza, C, Senators - It's arrived: the year Spezza finally tops the century mark.
4. Joe Thornton, C, Sharks - The gritty and skilled forward is a lock for 100 points.
5. Vincent Lecavalier, C, Lightning - He's skilled, confident and a leader. Who knew?
6. Marian Hossa, RW, Thrashers - Consistently impressive yet somehow underrated.
7. Pavel Datsyuk, C, Red Wings - He takes his rightful place among the game's elite.
8. Dany Heatley, RW, Senators - Fifty goals is pretty much a given for this top gunner.
9. Evgeni Malkin, C, Penguins - Blessed with and surrounded by incredible talent.
10. Jarome Iginla, RW, Flames - He'll take a serious shot at the Rocket Richard Trophy.
11. Ilya Kovalchuk, LW, Thrashers - Mighty Russian returns to form after an off year.
12. Martin St. Louis, RW, Lightning - Monster talent in a tiny package is scary good.
13. Jaromir Jagr, RW, Rangers - Breaking in newcomers will make stats dip slightly.
14. Michael Nylander, C, Capitals - Game plan is simple: feed the puck to Ovechkin.
15. Michael Cammalleri, C, Kings - The main man on a vastly improved L.A. offence.
16. Olli Jokinen, C, Panthers - Any doubting his prowess now after a 91-point season?
17. Joe Sakic, C, Avalanche - Showing no signs of slowing down in his 19th season.
18. Alex Tanguay, LW, Flames - Should top a career-best 81 points with Iggy healthy.
19. Daniel Briere, C, Flyers - He's explosive but his new team's not quite as powerful.
20. Mats Sundin, C, Maple Leafs - A gunner on his wing and a captain returns to form.
21. Daniel Sedin, Canucks - The scoring twin gets his brother's play-making attention.
22. Patrice Bergeron, C, Bruins - Expect point-per-game production from this rising star.
23. Marian Gaborik, RW, Wild - He and Demitra will turn goaltenders inside out.
24. Henrik Zetterberg, LW, Red Wings - Cross your fingers and hope he breaks out.
25. Martin Havlat, LW, Blackhawks - Injury risk is big, but pool potential is enormous.
Top 10 Goaltenders
1. Miikka Kiprusoff, Flames
2. Roberto Luongo, Canucks
3. Marc-Andre Fleury, Penguins
4. Martin Brodeur, Devils
5. Evgeni Nabokov, Sharks
6. Tomas Vokoun, Panthers
7. Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Ducks
8. Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers
9. Ryan Miller, Sabres
10. Chris Mason, Predators
Top 10 Defencemen
1. Nicklas Lidstrom, Red Wings
2. Tomas Kaberle, Maple Leafs
3. Lubomir Visnovsky, Kings
4. Sergei Gonchar, Penguins
5. Brian Rafalski, Red Wings
6. Chris Pronger, Ducks
7. Ryan Whitney, Penguins
8. Shea Weber, Predators
9. Sheldon Souray, Oilers
10. Brian Campbell, Sabres
Going Up: 10 Players to Watch
1. Mikko Koivu, C, Wild
2. Brad Boyes, C, Blues
3. Tim Connolly, C, Sabres
4. Alexander Radulov, RW, Predators
5. Petr Sykora, RW, Penguins
6. Ryan Getzlaf, C, Ducks
7. Johan Franzen, C, Red Wings
8. Nicklas Backstrom, C, Capitals
9. Matthew Lombardi, C, Flames
10. Viktor Kozlov, C, Capitals
Going Down: 10 Players to Avoid
1. Todd Bertuzzi, RW, Ducks
2. Robert Lang, C, Blackhawks
3. Milan Hejduk, RW, Avalanche
4. Andrew Raycroft, G, Maple Leafs
5. Jeremy Roenick, C, Sharks
6. Rick Nash, LW, Blue Jackets
7. Mike Modano, C, Stars
8. Sami Salo, D, Canucks
9. Kristian Huselius, LW, Flames
10. Owen Nolan, RW, Coyotes
Do Your Homework. Have a cheat sheet of your top 100 or more picks. Know which teams are most improved, who's playing on what lines and what the power plays will look like.
Create A Game Plan. Trust your instincts and stick to your pre-draft strategy. Target certain stars and go after them. Determine when to take your goaltenders and defencemen.
Avoid Injury Risks. Injuries happen, but stay away from the risky picks. You can't whine about injuries killing your pool team if you draft guys like Martin Havlat and Ed Jovanovski.
Rope a Rising Star. Circle the dozen or so players with breakout potential and haul a couple in with shrewd latter-round picks. Those sleepers with great upside can put you over the top.
Enjoy Yourself. Hey, it's only a pool. There will be winners; there will be losers. But on draft day everyone is tied for first, so laugh and poke fun at your opponents - while you still can.
Poolies should beware of rookie mistakes ... Continued from page C1
Of the incoming rookie crop this year, another Nicklas Backstrom - this one with a 'c' in his first name and a Capitals centre - might be the best of the bunch.
The Chicago Blackhawks duo of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane has potential, and Jack Johnson of the Los Angeles Kings heads a very impressive class of rookie defencemen.
Still, the uncertainty of the untested is why rookies should be drafted very late, if at all. As so often happens, many freshmen expected to make an immediate impact show instead they need more seasoning.
On the other hand, others not counted on to contribute in the first year rise up remarkably fast, like Paul Stastny and Jordan Staal did last year. The advice here is to stay far away on draft day and let the season determine which rookie will merit a waiver pick later.
Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes, the creator of the whimsical Don Quixote character, never had the pleasure of participating in fantasy hockey, of course.
But poolies would be wise to heed his words: "to be prepared is half the victory" and take them all the way to the bank.