Fantasy Hockey Advice: The 15 Best-Kept Secrets in Fantasy Hockey
The NHL lockout has caused some unfortunate openings in every hockey fan’s schedule—including those that play fantasy hockey. Regardless of when the hockey season starts, there are some secrets of fantasy hockey that you need to know before you draft your next league champion.
Fantasy hockey is a unique game. Teams have two players (goaltenders) that account for half of the scoring—based on Yahoo! head-to-head leagues. Meanwhile, there are four different positions all competing for the same statistics.
Here are some of the secrets of fantasy hockey—everything from obscure, but successful, drafting strategies to sleepers sprinkled with some humor.
There is no such thing as drafting a goaltender too high
Common thought says fantasy owners should draft the highest-scoring superstar available. Not advocating you pass up on Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin or Steven Stamkos, but don’t lose sleep over drafting a goaltender in the first round.
In Yahoo! leagues, there are six offensive categories and four goaltending categories. There are two of each forward position and four defensemen to just two goaltenders.
There are 10 offensive players fighting for six statistics and two goaltenders fighting for four statistics. It’s not hard to determine where some significant emphasis should be placed.
Whether it’s Henrik Lundqvist, Jonathan Quick or Pekka Rinne, don’t hesitate to look between the pipes early.
The “Position Scarcity” Strategy
Another strategy that is somewhat unknown is the position scarcity strategy. This one expands on the emphasis on goaltenders by adding defensemen to the mix.
Unfortunately for hard-hitting defensemen, hits are not a category in most default leagues—though it may be in a custom league. For most public leagues, it’s all about offense—even on defense.
That puts high-scoring defensemen like Erik Karlsson, Shea Weber and Alex Pietrangelo on every owner’s radar.
The basic premise of this strategy is to get production out of the positions that have fewer high scorers. Follow that up by filling in acceptable pieces on the front lines.
The “Up the Middle” Strategy
Expanding on the previous two slides is the “up the middle” strategy. This strategy simply places emphasis on drafting strong centers, a pair of defensemen and a goaltender in the first five rounds.
After that, you just fill in the rest of the roster. The top wingers like Claude Giroux, James Neal and Ilya Kovalchuk won’t be available.
However, if you have a team with Steven Stamkos, Ryan Miller, Shea Weber and Pavel Datsyuk, there shouldn’t be any complaints.
The Line Strategy
It’s fairly common knowledge that owners should draft as many good players from the good teams as possible. Loading up on the New York Rangers, Vancouver Canucks, St. Louis Blues and Pittsburgh Penguins provides a solid foundation for most teams.
One of the branches of that strategy is the line strategy. In this strategy—instead of drafting based on productive teams—you draft on productive lines.
Here are a few examples:
Tampa Bay Lightning (finished 10th in the Eastern Conference)
Ryan Malone-Steven Stamkos-Martin St. Louis
Anaheim Ducks (finished 13th in the Western Conference)
Bobby Ryan-Ryan Getzlaf-Corey Perry
Don’t let team standings influence your drafting of some of the best lines in the NHL.
Don’t Let Specialists Slip Away
In Yahoo! head-to-head leagues, power-play points can be the difference between a 6-to-4 win and a 4-to-6 loss. There is more to the statistic than thought—power-play time means more opportunity for goals, assists and minimal chance for a decrease in plus/minus-rating.
Some of the best specialists are the superstars like Claude Giroux, Evgeni Malkin and Ilya Kovalchuk. And there are some that don’t garner as much attention.
Some of the notable names that won’t be picked in the early rounds:
Jason Pominville (BUF)- 26 PPP, tied for 10th in the NHL
Brian Campbell (FLA)- 31 PPP, third in the NHL
Thomas Vanek (BUF)- 24 PPP, tied for 18th
John Tavares (NYI)- 25 PPP, tied for 13th
If short-handed goals are counted in the league, Adam Henrique (NJD), Ilya Kovalchuk (NJD), Jordan Staal (CAR) and Daniel Alfredsson (OTT) are some of the best in the league.
Avoid Defensemen on Teams That Won’t Be Contenders
If the team isn’t winning games, chances are the defensemen aren’t going to be on the ice for a significant amount of goals. That hurts one of the better stats for defensemen in fantasy hockey—plus/minus-rating.
Some of the worst teams in the league last year in goal differential were the Columbus Blue Jackets, Minnesota Wild, New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning.
The best rating for a defenseman on the Wild was Clayton Stoner at plus-3. If the defensemen played in 50 games or more for Tampa, the highest rating was Bruno Gervais at minus-4.
Use caution when drafting defensemen from poor defensive teams and non-contenders.
Finding Deeper Value in Superstars
Steven Stamkos will probably be drafted first in all of your leagues. That’s a given with his point production, but he won’t provide some of the other statistics that owners need. Instead, find deeper value in superstars.
For example, Scott Hartnell is a power-play stud, a point scorer and a penalty minute producer. He will provide your team with points (67), PIMs (136), a plus-19 rating and six game-winning goals.
Other superstar producers include Corey Perry with 60 points, 127 PIMs, 14 power-play goals and 277 shots.
David Backes is another solid player with a wide range of value. He had 54 points, over 100 PIMs, a plus-15 rating and two short-handed goals.
If Stammer and Henrik Lundqvist are taken, don’t hesitate to pick up some of the well-rounded fantasy producers in the league.
The St. Louis Blues were one of the best teams in the NHL last season led by the best goaltending tandem in the league. But, it takes some serious scrolling down the available-players list to find either one of their goaltenders.
Jaroslav Halak is the 58th-rated player in fantasy and Brian Elliott comes in at an astonishing 98th. Elliott finished second in the league in shutouts (9) and went 23-10-4 with a 1.56 goals-against average in 38 starts.
Is there a better goaltender No. 2 in the league?
Other top shutout goaltenders that may surprise fantasy owners are Antti Niemi (6), Cam Ward (5), Mikka Kiprusoff (4) and Semyon Varlamov (4).
Don’t Let Injuries Scare You (Especially This Season)
Some hockey leagues have already drafted, but if you haven’t, the stock for some of the recovering players is rising. Among the notables that are recovering from injury include the Vancouver Canucks Ryan Kesler and the Dallas Stars Derek Roy.
Kesler was rated 101st by NHL.com. Roy is 144th.
Injury was supposed to keep these players out for a couple months of the season, but the prolonged strike could mean they don’t miss any time at all.
The highest-rated injured player is Marian Gaborik of the New York Rangers. He is rated 35th, but is recovering from a shoulder injury. Initial surgery notes from early June predicted a five-month recovery. He may not miss any time if the season doesn’t start until December.
Don’t Overspend on Young Guns
Consistency makes drafting easy on owners. Most owners aren’t going to be upset about when they pick up Martin St. Louis. The 37-year-old has scored 70 points or more in every season since 2002-03 except for one.
It would be easy to jump in early on the Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Gabriel Landeskog or Carl Hagelin train. In the NHL mock draft, Nugent-Hopkins wasn’t picked until the seventh round.
The league’s best rookies last season have tremendous upside, but they could burn owners if a sophomore slump occurs.
Sleeper: Jeff Skinner (CAR)
Some of the better-kept secrets in fantasy hockey are the sleeper picks. Starting off the sleeper segment is Carolina Hurricanes' right wing Jeff Skinner.
Skinner enters his third season in the NHL with 107 points in 146 games. He missed 18 games last season, but is a former first-round pick with a ton of talent.
NHL.com ranks him 96th in fantasy hockey. If he went at that pick, he would be taken late in the ninth round in 10-team leagues. At that point, he can be classified a sleeper.
Look for Skinner to be available in the late rounds and provide some quality production for your team.
Sleeper: Adam Henrique (NJD)
After a stellar rookie campaign, Adam Henrique has big shoes to fill. He will be looked at to shoulder the load left behind by Zach Parise.
Henrique notched 51 points in 74 games, but turned heads in the postseason. He notched 13 points in 24 games, including a plus-12 rating.
The rookie could have easily been the Devils' most valuable player. Ranked 134th by NHL.com, he could go undrafted in 10-team leagues.
Sleeper- Teddy Purcell (TBL)
Another sleeper pick coming off a solid season, Tampa Bay's Teddy Purcell is often overlooked with all of the offensive weapons for the Lightning.
Purcell is rated just one spot higher than Henrique by NHL.com and could be easily be undrafted. If he can see time with experienced veterans in Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier, it could be a season that turns Purcell into a household name.
He is the 26th-rated right wing in a class led by Corey Perry and Tyler Seguin. Purcell may be the guy you steal on the free-agent wire to save your season.
Sleeper: Valterri Filppula (DET)
Valtteri Filppula is going to be one of the best forwards in the Western Conference. He is the top left wing in Detroit and will play alongside two talented scorers in Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.
Coming off a career-high 66 points, the Finland native should see extended minutes next season. After a disappointing series in the playoffs, look for Filppula to be hungry for points.
Playing under the tutelage of one of the league’s best puck handlers in Datsyuk should make Filppula a tasty option late in the draft.
As fans anxiously wait for the start of the 2012-13 campaign, fantasy owners are watching international hockey, the American Hockey League or wherever NHL players are displaying their talents.
Some players are off to strong starts in other leagues. Others aren’t. Some are just waiting and training and others are recovering from injury.
There are a ton of resources out there for owners preparing for the upcoming season.
Here is the greatest advice you will get:
Drafting Gary Bettman or Donald Fehr will not earn you a shutout in fantasy hockey—too soon?