Fantasy Hockey 101

Almost 60 million people in the United States have participated in fantasy sports this year already.  You’re probably reading this because you’re already part of that demographic, or are about to add yourself to it.  For those of us who may have a failing favorite team in real life, fantasy sports can sometimes be the only reason we continue to watch as the season continues.  It can be a natural escape.  You get to be the boss.  You get to make your own team.  And for once, after yelling at your favorite team’s GM, you can pull off the trades to make your team better.  For others, it gives an avenue for the casual fan to learn more about players on other teams, and possibly become invested in watching games without their favorite team.  With the hockey season approaching us, let’s take a closer look at different fantasy hockey leagues and how to be successful in them.

Fantasy Hockey League Types

The first thing to consider when entering a league is what type of league you want to play in.  Rotisserie leagues are leagues in which each team receives a rank in each category that is being scored.  Based on their rank, they receive a certain amount of points, and the total of those points is how standings are calculated.  In rotisserie leagues, you aren’t against any specific player each week, you are against them all, every week.  When drafting, there will be statistical categories that you will need to sacrifice, in order to be betters at others.  Look for players who are either top 5 or 10 in one category, or can deliver in multiple categories to help your team.

Head-to-Head (H2H) is another type of league, but it can have many variables.  H2H can be done by category.  If you are in a 10 category league, each week you face up against another fantasy player, and you get wins or losses for those categories.  At the end of the week, you could be 6-3-1.  These leagues are cumulative, so at the end of the year, you can be 100-50-14.  Teams are ranked based on this record, not particularly how well you do against them (however this may be a tiebreaker option).  The other H2H category ends up looking more like a fantasy football league.  Rather than getting wins and losses for categories, you get a win or loss for the week, based off if you won more overall categories than your opponent.  Some H2H leagues also use points rather than category totals (for example, a goal may be 3 points, an assist may be 2 points, and some leagues use hits and blocked shots).  Go after players who succeed at high point categories.  In leagues like this, big bruising defensemen or players like Matt Martin may actually have value and players like Joe Thornton who are high in assists but low in goals may have less value.

Lastly, there are super complicated GM style leagues, where you have an NHL team, an AHL team and a salary cap.  You can call players up, send them down and trade draft picks for an amateur and a pro draft as well as for cash.  I’m not going to dive into the strategies of these leagues, as that could be an article in itself, however you can still use the information in this article to succeed.

Fantasy Hockey Draft Strategies

My number one rule, which is probably the toughest, is to cut all emotional ties you have to players and teams, good or bad.  As Avalanche fans, you may have a tough time drafting a player from the Red Wings, Wild, Blues, Stars or more.  I personally can’t stand the Penguins, Flyers, Oilers and Wild, but if a player can help me, they can help me.  This also stands true for players of your favorite team.  Sometimes, we are all full of the Burgundy Rainbow spirit, and think Nathan MacKinnon will score forty this year, but when drafting try to have realistic expectations based off of the previous two or three year’s performance.

Context is important when drafting players to be part of your team.  Sometimes the better hockey player, isn’t the better fantasy player.  I can, without a doubt, say that Taylor Hall is a better hockey player than Sebastian Aho.  Hall, when with Edmonton, scored at a 28 goal per 82 game pace.  With New Jersey, he only had twenty.  Aho is a young up-and-comer, and is player on the better team, with better offensive tools to help him put up points.  In the case of a fantasy league, he may be better than Taylor Hall, because Hall is one of the only offensive threats that the basement Devils have.  Leftwinglock.com is a fantastic site, that offers premium services, however part of the free services available is a tool that allows you to look at line combinations.  Although players may not always play with the same line combinations as they did last year, this can give you a good idea of where they may be on the depth chart.

Context is also very important when thinking about goaltenders.  The win category is almost always a statistic used, and as we know, sometimes the best goaltenders aren’t on the best team.  Try to avoid goalies from 1A/1B types of set-ups, unless you already have two established starters.  Most leagues have less goaltending than skater categories, so take this into consideration when selecting goaltenders.  Great goaltending, may only get you 3 out of 10 wins in your fantasy week, but can make or break your week in points based leagues, where you get points for a win, a shutout and all of the saves that the goaltender made and negative points for goals against.

The last piece of advice I can give you is do your research.  The early rounds are easy.  Draft the big names that you know already.  The later rounds are where leagues are won and your value picks come into play.  Look at other teams’ rosters, check out fan websites and try to find who their breakout players may be.  Take a risk or two with a late round pick and it could pay off.  If it doesn’t then you drop them and find someone else who wasn’t drafted to replace them.

Quick Bits

  • Draft to the strengths of your league
  • Every league is different
  • Take off the burgundy glasses
  • Check your context
  • Do your research

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