Diving into a playoff pool

When I hear the word "fantasy," my mind goes racing -- as it always will -- to images of Carmen Electra, a vat of butterscotch pudding and a wrench. But that's a different column for a different Web site.

Here, fantasy means fantasy hockey. You might be in a fantasy playoff pool yourself. I am in one where you pick one player from each team until you have two goalies, four defensemen and 10 forwards. You will have at least two players all the way through the final. You get a certain number of points when your guy scores a goal, gets an assist, wins a game in net or posts a shutout. You also get bonus points if your guy achieves these things in overtime. The more overtimes, the more bonus points.

I wrote in this space two columns ago that if I won my playoff pool, I would buy two Pittsburgh Penguins season tickets for next year to show my support for the city where I was born. I love all 30 teams equally, but blood is thicker than Gatorade -- and maybe 4,000 more folks will follow my lead to help hockey stay in Pittsburgh. Well, for the love of Dave Burrows, I am in the hunt. So, as a public service to Mario Lemieux and the ownership group of the Penguins, I thought I would publish my playoff fantasy team so Mario, Edzo, Dick Tarnstrom, Ryan Whitney, Donnie Iris and all Penguins employees can root for some of the following players in order to gain two more season tickets.

Here's my team and what I was thinking when I chose it prior to the playoffs (along with my self-inflicted grade):

Ed Belfour, Toronto Maple Leafs: Having a goalie reach the final is vital to the success of this pool. They have the best chance at points, and I thought Belfour and the Leafs would have a strong playoff. I had a vibe similar to the Red Wings vibe I had in 2002. As I type this, the Leafs are down three games to two to the Flyers, and looking tired and worn down. Bryan McCabe has played the last two games with the mental sharpness of a Gwar mosh pit. The Leafs would have been better off with Brian Boitano. Eddie has carried my squad, and I need him to come up big in Game 6 and 7.

Grade: B+ (so far)

Marty Turco, Dallas Stars: Does he play too many games during the regular season? Is he fried during the playoffs? Dallas really let me down. They reverted to early-season Dallas at the wrong time. Losing a goalie in the first round is a killer. I would have benefited almost as much taking John Blue with my other goalie pick.

Grade: F

Chris Pronger, St. Louis Blues: Since defensemen don't score as much, the general consensus is to take four defensemen whose teams you expect to lose in the first round but who still can get you a couple of points before heading for the federally mandated Canadian-cottage-on-the-lake for the summer. I didn't think the Blues had a shot, so I took Pronger. He had one assist and 16 penalty minutes. PIMs is not a category.

Grade: C

Adrian Aucoin, New York Islanders: I liked Tampa Bay, so again, whatever I got was a bonus since I didn't expect any of my defensemen to play more than five to seven games. So, I took high-minute guys who might get hot. Aucoin was Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, hot. Zero points.

Grade: D

Marek Zidlicky, Nashville Predators: The 'ol Zidder played every game during the regular season and had 53 points, second on the Preds. Perfect guy to take as I anticipated a series loss to Detroit. Well, the 'ol Zidder gets hurt, plays one game and gets no points. Zilchlicky.

Grade: D

Kim Johnsson, Philadelphia Flyers: Whenever I type Johnsson, I always type Johnnson. I always think there are three n's. I know there are two, but not right next to each other and that's what I meant. But that's not important right now. A bad pick if Philly goes on to beat Toronto because I wasted my Flyers pick on a defenseman. But a good pick if the Leafs come back. Despite missing a couple of games, Johnsson has had a good, productive playoff. If the Flyers move on, I'll be rooting for Kim to get a sextuple-overtime winner against the Lightning. That's worth like five grillion points, and I'd be moving in with Ryan Malone in July.

Grade: B

Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings: Yeah, he's young and has a bit of a bum ankle, but he has been really disappointing. He's a small guy, and if small guys have an injury that is leg-related, they are hindered greatly. P-Datty didn't turn it around and kept me out of staying in first place and is keeping me out of Western Pennsylvania for the Penguins' home opener.

Grade: D

Richard Zednik, Montreal Canadiens: I thought Montreal would play about 12 playoff games. They played 11, and Zednik basically played to his regular-season averages. Saku Koivu or Alexei Kovalev would have been better picks.

Grade: B

Sergei Samsonov, Boston Bruins: I figured the Bruins would lose to the Canadiens, but the way Samsonov played his last couple of regular-season games, I thought he would play well. He did -- seven points in seven games. Samsonov had no injury issues his first five years in the league but has the last two. Those issues should be behind him, and let's hope so. Few players in the NHL are as exciting as No. 14 is with the puck.

Grade: A

Daniel Alfredsson, Ottawa Senators: I liked the Leafs to beat the Sens but thought Daniel would have a big series. He didn't. He's one of my favorite players, so my heart got in the way. One goal and two assists. Marian Hossa should have been the pick here.

Grade: D

Jamie Langenbrunner, New Jersey Devils: I am listening to AC/DC's "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" CD while I'm writing this. And at this moment track No. 3 is playing. "Big Balls." This was my track No. 3 pick. Zero goals and two assists. Can you say shrinkage?

Grade: F

Peter Forsberg, Colorado Avalanche: With Joe Sakic's overtime heroics, he is obviously the Av of choice at this moment, but that could change. Peter is having a solid postseason. But solid doesn't get you a season of Dick Tarnstrom, OK, Sparky?

Grade: B

Markus Naslund, Vancouver Canucks: Well, I thought the Canucks would get by the Flames and Markus would play at least 11-14 playoff games. He played seven and got nine points, which is solid. The problem with players like Naslund is that so many people take them that they kind of cancel everyone out. That was the thinking with taking Langenbrunner. A surprise pick to make up ground when needed.

Grade: B

Patrick Marleau, San Jose Sharks: Obviously not a difficult choice. He led the Sharks in scoring. But no one expected seven goals in his first 10 playoff games of this postseason. Of course, six of those came in two games. The Sharks need something out of Patrick to prevent a historic Avalanche comeback this week. Do you realize he has played just 22 fewer regular-season games than Forsberg in his NHL career?

Grade: A

Jarome Iginla, Calgary Flames: Do you realize 26-year-old Jarome Iginla has played in 46 more regular-season games than Forsberg? Jarome has been a stud this postseason. Scoring, fighting, and leading. He has vaulted into my top five favorite NHL players. Six goals and 12 points through his first 13 games. Just about a mirror of his regular season.

Grade: A

Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay Lightning: He has improved upon his regular-season numbers, slightly fortifying his MVP status. Four goals and 11 assists through nine playoff games. The Lightning's efficiency has hurt me. I expected Marty to play about 12 games through two rounds, not nine. Sleeping in his own bed, eating well, and training for nine days in Florida will do him a world of good while the Bolts wait for the Flyers-Maple Leafs winner. St. Louis' batteries will be recharged for the Eastern Conference final.

Grade: A

Fixing short-sightedness
Two quick things come to mind when the visor debate arises as it has again with Steve Yzerman's season-, and perhaps, because of his age, career-ending eye injury.

1. The disingenuousness of the players' union
If a union truly cared about its constituency, it would advocate, above all, safety for its workers. But safety is not a union's top concern. Money is. The more money the union collectively makes, the more representatives make. Bryan Berard, Al MacInnis, Philippe Boucher, Steve Yzerman, Jeremy Roenick -- the list is growing. Someone is going to get killed here. It's one thing taking a fastball from 57 feet (the rubber is 60 feet, 6 inches, but the pitcher lets go of the ball about three feet in front of the rubber), it's another taking a slapshot from maybe 10 feet away, a skate across the face in a pileup, a stick in the eye in a scrum -- you know, if the situation is right. Every player who enters the NHL has played with facial protection his entire life, and a significant portion of them played with full facial protection. Why do you think they violently stick check so much? There never have been repercussions, whether a penalty or a bothered conscience. I played street hockey and pond hockey my whole life growing up without head or facial protection and never remember anyone suffering any kind of stick-to-the-head injury. But that kind of hockey is gone. There is no honor with the stick anymore. Grandfather a mandatory visor rule starting next year.

2. How can the owners not demand that a mandatory, grandfathered visor rule be a part of the next CBA?
You are an owner and you shell out millions of dollars in salary and you're losing players to injuries that could be prevented with a $50 piece of plastic. While some of this money is recouped through insurance, the team suffers and, as a result, costs you playoff revenue. Players are taught to face the point man as he winds up for a 90 mile an hour slapshot. With no facial protection. A visor wouldn't have protected Jeremy Roenick's jaw getting fractured, yes. Teeth can be replaced. Eyes can't. A visor would have protected Steve Yzerman, and he still would have been playing. If I'm an owner with a $100 million plus investment in a hockey team, that would be important to me. Players and the union can't expect guaranteed contracts when they won't even negotiate a way to keep players on the ice as much as possible. The game has always been dangerous. But dangerous and unsafe are two different things.

Heya Bucci --
The latest Sports Illustrated gives us the following worrisome side note: "This Week's Sign of the Apocalypse: The Dartmouth crew team had to cancel practice after the coaches were attacked by an otter." Perhaps he is a Dallas or Boston fan -- distraught over an unseemly first-round exit? I know you're a busy man, John, but if you can't keep an eye on the otter, you have to find someone who can. Perhaps it was not Ken at all, but an evil relative. At any rate, we've all been warned.

Judy Stack Nelson

Ken the Otter was, is and always will be a Harvard guy.

Thanks for the nice piece on Brent Peterson in your weekly column. As a role player throughout his playing career and now as an associate/assistant coach with the Predators, Brent is seldom in the limelight in comparison to the stars and head coaches. I've known Brent for more than 20 years (I started my career with the Sabres in 1979 and we acquired Brent in 1981) and he's one of the finest individuals I've dealt with in the business. When you work for a team, while you appreciate the great on-ice performances, you come to value the off-ice contributions of athletes equally as much. No player was better to deal with or had a better understanding of the off-ice issues and needs (community relations, dealing with the media, etc.) than Brent. He'll deal with Parkinson's in much the same way he has dealt with everything else ... with class and professionalism.

John, thanks again for telling some of his story. There should be more Brent Petersons!

Gerry Helper
Nashville Predators

John --
Pittsburgh at Philadelphia, the last bench-clearing brawl to date. I was 6. Twelve years later, hockey carries far more importance than studying for AP tests, and my voice is hoarse from yelling at referees during game one of the Sharks/Avs series. I'm hooked for life, and, like a Mormon, I'm now converting people to fandom of the NHL.

Lee Gerston
San Jose, Calif.

Way to go, Lee! NHL 2Night ratings are way up, people are talking about hockey, rinks are rocking, and the drama is bubbling over. And ignoramuses are saying hockey is a dying, unhealthy sport. Whatever, dude.

Editor's note: The last bench-clearing brawl was during a Boston Bruins-Quebec Nordiques game on Feb. 26, 1987.

You mentioned last week you missed the old McDonald's apple pies. You have to get to KFC. They have apple turnovers that are EXACTLY like the old McDonald's pies in all their deep fried wonder. But I wonder if all KFC's have them, as they are not listed on their Web site.

Forest Hills, Pa.

Mike, I am now running to my local KFC. While there, I will devour 37 drumsticks before ordering my retro pie. Nothing brings me more carnivore joy than eating KFC drumsticks. I could easily eat 20 right now.

I thought your comment at the end of last night's broadcast that the Avs will never win a Stanley Cup because they traded Chris Drury was selfish and insensitive at best and unprofessional at worst. To say that after a tough loss (and quite possibly the end of an era at that) for their fans served no one's purpose but your own. Many Avs fans hated that trade, but still believed that they could win a Cup with the talent on hand. Obviously, you have a personal relationship with Chris, which is fine. But to say that the Avs will "never" win another Cup is silly. Your responsibility to your viewers is to remain unbiased, even as you get to know the players you write and speak about. It's my opinion that you didn't in this case.

Mark Whelan

I'll stand by my unbiased "The Curse of the Hockey God" statement.


Please tell Mr. Robert M. Blondin (who has the daughter who loves Bobby Orr) that he needs the book "Z is for Zamboni." I gave that to my nephew for his first birthday. He doesn't really understand it of course (he's now 18 months), but he likes the pictures. It's a great book with a lot of hockey history. For example, the letter B: B is for two Bobbys, Hull and Orr. It goes on to describe them as players. It's a must-have for every little future hockey fan.

Erica B.
Richmond, Va.

Dear Mr. Buccigross:
Why does Barry Melrose hate the Sharks so much? You don't, Parm doesn't, but Melrose acts like they killed his dog or something.

San Mateo, Calif.

Josh, for the 487th time, Barry doesn't care who wins and loses. He really doesn't. I've probably received e-mails from fans of all 30 teams claiming Barry hates their squads. Barry loves one team: The UHL team he bought in Adirondack, N.Y. Fans can vote on the team's new nickname in May. My sources tell me the Adirondack Mulletmen will likely be one of the choices. Please, for the love of Al Iafrate, vote for the Mulletmen. We need this nickname and merchandising in the rich landscape of hockey.

Do you think Tony Granato was put into a head coaching position too soon? I know that Pierre Lacroix doesn't like to admit being wrong, but don't you think a change is necessary?
Thanks for your insight,

Robert Norick

As I write this, the Avs trail the series 3-2 and are two wins away from a miracle comeback. If they don't come back, Tony Granato likely will be fired and that is asinine. Granato took over for a fired Bob Hartley, and the Avs won their division and led the Wild 3-1 before losing in seven, as an obviously injured Patrick Roy couldn't quite move as he once did with his bad hips. This year, the Avs were ravaged with injuries and the GM made trade after trade in an attempt to make up for the bad Chris Drury trade and the questionable free-agent signings. Maybe other coaching moves should be considered, but Tony Granato is not one of them. His veterans play for him, and young players, such as Alex Tanguay and David Aebischer, have thrived under him. Pierre Lacroix has had a bad couple of years, and it would be bad form to take it out on Tony Granato.

Hey John,
I was able to lure my fiancée into watching an episode of NHL2Night last week with you and Melrose. Her first question: Does Barry drive a Trans-Am?

Plymouth Duster with an Allman Brothers bumper sticker, brutha.

William Anderson, Jr.
San Francisco, Calif.

Hey John,
How much wood could Konowalchuk chuck if Konowalchuk could chuck wood?

Tomy Ames
Wright City, Mo.

As much as Greg Hawgood could, if Greg Hawgood could chuck wood.

My girlfriend and I are going to her cousin's wedding this weekend where I'll meet much of her family for the first time. The only problem is, she wants me to shave my playoff beard. Knowing that could spell disaster for my Flyers, what should I do?

Bowmansville, Pa.

Tell her you'll compromise and shave your back -- but only if she shaves hers.

John Buccigross is the host of NHL 2Night, which airs on ESPN2. His e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is john.buccigross@espn.com.