I know I posted this last year on TJRSports.com about tips on playing fantasy hockey. However, I feel the need to post it again.
We’re getting ready for the start of training camp and the NHL season, and the start of fantasy season. I did post an article last year on why you should play it. If you do decide to play, read this guide to get you ready.
Last year, I talked about what is fantasy hockey and it got a little bit of interest from fellow Hockey Sentinel columnist Anthony Weigel. (follow him on Twitter @weigel_a) He said that fantasy hockey looks like a lot of fun, but he would have a hard time and probably not do so well.
I agree with him that there can be a steep learning curve, but it’s not as hard as it looks. Fantasy hockey novices can start by getting draft guides like the ones Yahoo (you do have to buy it) and CBS Sports (that’s a free one). There are also a bunch of other places you can find rankings and starter kits just by typing “fantasy hockey” into your favorite search engine.
Guys that are beginners can also get thorough guides that help new fantasy hockey players from places such as Puck Drunk Love and Slideshare. They do a good job of telling you some background information on what to do in a draft. If you don’t have time to spend hours on a guide, then go to your favorite sports site and click on the NHL section and go through the headlines. The main headlines usually tell you if a player is hurt, getting traded or any other news. You will have to put a little time if you do want to make a good showing, (Trust me, I know from experience.) but every good fantasy sports player knows that.
It’s important to know the ins-and-outs of the league. Is this a keeper league? How many starters are there and what positions do they play? Are the forward positions separated by centers, left and rights wings or can you load up on centers? Does the league have a category for penalty minutes and faceoff wins? Do they have Corsi and Fenwick stats now that advanced stats are a big deal?
Also run a mock draft or two. If this is your first time playing, then a mock draft is important, so you can practice for when the big day arrives. I’ve played fantasy hockey for over a decade and I still make it a point to do a mock draft. Yahoo does a lot of mock drafts at all hours of the day so you can get your practice in at any time you’d like.
Now that you’ve made it to draft day, here’s a few things you want to remember. Try to remember to go after top line players on the highest scoring teams. (The Penguins, Capitals, Lightning, Blackhawks and Canadiens) These teams play at a faster pace put up some numbers. Guys like Sidney Crosby (the top overall player according to NHL.com and other places), Steven Stamkos, Corey Perry, Evgeni Malkin, and Alex Ovechkin are among the top five.
What you want to do is draft centers because the offense filters through them. Crosby may not put up the goals that Ovechkin does, but he distributes it to teammates like Chris Kunitz, Pascal Duspuis and other linemates. Points are points and count just the same in head-to-head or total points leagues.
The thing that gets most people from novices to veterans in trouble is when to take a goalie. Yahoo’s Puck Daddy blog looks at when to take a shot at these goalies. (Some of the rankings are from last year. Here is an updated list.) The position takes up less than 10 percent of the roster, but it can generate half of a team’s points. If a guy like a Henrik Lundqvist, Jonathan Quick, Tuuka Rask, Pekka Rinne or Antii Niemi are available and the top five scorers like Crosby, Malkin, Ovechkin, Stamkos and the Islanders’ John Tavares aren’t around, then I don’t mind taking a few of these top goalies with your first pick. However, you have to be careful if these guys are gone. Don’t reach too early for a guy like a Ryan Miller or a Corey Crawford. You can probably get them a few rounds later after filling some offensive holes.
Picking defenseman can also be a tricky thing to do. It should be done in later rounds after your offensive needs are addressed, but sometimes drafting a blueliner above a forward deep in the draft will help. High-scoring defensemen are a premium and more of a commodity than a second or third tier forward. Keith Yandle of Phoenix may not score as many points as a Patrick Sharp, but having a point-scoring D-man gives you flexibility. Guys like PK Subban, Kris Letang and Erik Karlsson are people to look for.
Also, don’t be a slave to your team. Sure, you may hate the Red Wings, but they have players that can win you titles. I had a couple of Flyers on my roster the year I won the title so be open to picking some guys you hate.
After the draft
Once you finish the draft, stay on top of your team. There are plenty of good sites like ESPN, Yahoo, Dobber Hockey, Fake Hockey, Fantasy Hocky Fanatic, Razzball and others. They usually have the latest news and can give you advice on whom to start or sit on certain days. They’ve been doing this for years and have helped people win championships. The most important thing is to set aside time and check your lineup. Yahoo has a great mobile app for when you want to check your lineup or have forgotten to do so at any time.
The most important thing is to not get discouraged and have fun. I’ve been guilty of getting discouraged and disheartened. Just go out there and have fun with your buddies. You’ll definitely learn something about hockey and gain a new appreciation for it.
Dan Mount is the editor for Hockey Sentinel and he also covers the Rangers, Islanders and Devils for NYSportScene.com.