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Experts wade into the fantasy pool Add to ...

Every armchair fan in Canada figures they know the best players in the NHL. But we asked a blue-ribbon panel of experts, drawn from among a dozen members of the Toronto Media Hacks hockey pool, for their opinion. As will nearly three million other Canadians, they’ll gather this weekend to draft their teams. By The Globe and Mail’s Eric Duhatschek and David Shoalts, Pierre LeBrun, (ESPN, TSN), Elliotte Friedman (CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada) and Scott Burnside (ESPN).

Eric Duhatschek: Gentlemen, thank you for joining me to discuss fantasy sports, which is growing in leaps and bounds. I don’t completely understand the psychology behind it, but virtually every office across the country will assemble in the coming days, if they haven’t already, to draft their hockey pools. Some will be for large sums of money and others just for bragging rights. We five get to play together thanks to commissioner Pierre LeBrun, who runs the greatest pool in the history of fantasy sports ($150 entry and $2 per transaction). Let’s start with a basic question: Why do we do it?

I play for two reasons. There is still a little bit of the 14-year-old in me, who wants to win everything, and because I care about winning, or at least not embarrassing myself, I pay far greater attention to the minutiae that’s easy to overlook – scores, stats, up-and-comers, injuries, who’s hot, who isn’t, what games are on this week. It forces me to follow the NHL and its feeder leagues far more closely than I otherwise would.

Scott Burnside: My interest and participation in fantasy sports goes back far longer than my career as a sports writer. At various times I’ve been partnered with my younger brother and other colleagues including Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston. I feel bad for Chris because even though we are partners I run roughshod over him when making moves, which I feel compelled to do on an almost daily basis. I have no illusions about whether I’d make a good NHL general manager. In fact, I have no illusions about whether I’m a good fantasy owner but I figure if I’m in it I’m going to make moves. And I love the idea of competing against colleagues even though there’s nothing worse than hearing about someone else’s fantasy team. In the end, they all pale in comparison to my team’s trials and tribulations.

Pierre LeBrun: I think the day I stop being in a pool is the day I’ve lost my passion for the game. Like you said Eric, it’s the 14-year-old in you and I feel the same way. Plus, the way in which we run our fantasy league is like being an NHL GM in many ways, with a salary cap and player salaries affecting how we fill out our rosters on draft night. For the life of me, though, I can’t figure out why Scotty and Elliotte are still in our pool given their performance in it over the last few years. On behalf of Eric, David and myself, thanks for the donations, boys.

Elliotte Friedman: I agree. It’s fun and it keeps you up-to-date on what’s happening with individual players. The other thing is that – on a very minor level – it gives you some idea of how a GM must think. I really enjoy the drafting/auction part of it, finding a good free agent and making trades. I also like the challenge of finding “loopholes,” like trading for future considerations a couple of years ago. (Pierre might not agree, because it forces him to make rule changes.)

Of course, I’m bored by changing the lineup every day, which is why I never do as well as I should.

David Shoalts: I do this because I’m a seriously disturbed person who enjoys being overcome with impotent rage. Like the time three years ago, when I was a strong second in the pool and managed to land Martin Brodeur and Miikka Kiprusoff at the trade deadline. First place and all of your money wasted. Of course, that was the year both Brodeur and Kiprusoff played like Vesa Toskala in March and April, and I faded like MySpace. Not that I’m bitter. Also, as a basically lazy person, it forces me to keep up with the league in more detail.

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