10 Facts You Need to Know Before Your 2013 Fantasy Hockey Draft
The signs that another NHL fantasy hockey season is near surround us now.
It's the end of August and people are already talking about which Batman villain they want to be for Halloween this year. Yahoo! has reopened its leagues, and it won't be long until the fantasy machine is in full swing.
Before you get caught up in all the hoopla and draft 12 teams, there are some things you should know.
Keep in mind that this "guide" is more for beginners than established veterans. Bleacher Report will have more in-depth content as the draft day(s) near, but for now, we're going to take a few moments to give a few pointers to "newbs."
Pay Close Attention to Scoring Settings
Scoring settings are probably the most frequently neglected and overlooked area for fantasy hockey beginners. It's easy to make the assumption that the fantasy games reflect actual hockey in every regard but that just isn't the case.
For instance, I'm in a mess-around league with some buddies called "Smashmouth Hockey," and it is exactly what it sounds like. In that league, Chris Neil is every bit as valuable as Sidney Crosby.
While that isn't a reflection of real-world value, it's just how the league is set up. PIMs are valued at a very high level, and they come in a lot faster than goals. Needless to say, I ended up with a team of superstars in year one and thought I had it in the back.
That just wasn't the case, as players like David Backes and Ryan Getzlaf were far more valuable than I'd initially realized.
The moral of the story? Carefully read your league's scoring settings.
Roster Size and League Size Are Very Important
That is Ben Scrivens. He's going to be backing up the start-hogging Jonathan Quick for the Los Angeles Kings this season, making him waiver fodder in most eight-to-ten team leagues.
In a 20-team league with three goaltending slots though, Scrivens would see his value skyrocket. Not because he's necessarily the best backup in the league (or even an outstanding one) but because suddenly he's a rare commodity.
I'm in a 20-team/deep roster dynasty league (too), and goaltenders are the most sought after player type because there just aren't enough of them to go around. Starts are hard to come by and the bottom-feeding teams are the ones that just can't meet their minimum start target.
Take this kind of thing into consideration when drafting or taking over a team. Dealing Zdeno Chara and Ryan Getzlaf for a mid-range goaltender will kill a small part of your fantasy hockey soul. Or so I hear.
Establish Your Window for Dynasty Leagues
I'm a bit of a dynasty league addict, and I'll be the first person to admit it. Despite that, this will be the only dynasty-specific piece of advice I hand out in this slideshow.
For those of you who aren't sure what a dynasty league is, it's exactly what it sounds like. You begin with a starting group of players that you drafted and typically operate a farm team as well. Draft picks are valuable, and your roster carries over from year to year.
As such, it can be very tempting to put together a smattering of your favorite players both young and old. While that works in the NHL, it typically doesn't fly in dynasty leagues. While the presence of aging veterans is important, your team needs to have a specific win-by date to be successful.
All your players peaking at the same time is really what you're going for. Surrounding Pavel Datsyuk and Joe Thornton with a bunch of kids who have yet to hit their prime is going to end up a futile exercise.
Pick your window. Find the guys that will be peaking during this two or three year period, and get those players on your roster.
Don't Neglect Defense
In the first four or five rounds of your fantasy draft there are going to be some sexy names floating around. As tempting as it is to load up with the four best centers your can get your hands on, resist that urge.
You've got to get some stats from the blue line, and drafting a solid defender early is important. So while you may think that Bobby Ryan is going to crush with the Ottawa Senators this season, it may be a good idea to pass on him if a top-end defenseman is still available.
You don't want to be the guy who is selecting Stefan Elliot to be your No. 1 defenseman.
Be Aware of Handcuffs
Positional battles are a huge part of fantasy hockey, and being tuned in with them can put you over the top in your league.
A handcuff is basically a slang term for backup. The (thankfully) diffused situation between Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider is a perfect example. One wasn't particularly valuable without the other when they were splitting starts.
So if you ended up drafting one, you needed to make landing the other a top priority. There are worse things than having all 82 games covered for a solid team like Vancouver.
Handcuffs also come into play when dealing with oft-injured players. While Patrick Wiercioch wasn't at the top of anybodies draft radar when teams were being put together last year, his value hit the ceiling as soon as Erik Karlsson went down with a long-term injury.
In the later rounds, keep positional battles and possible injuries in mind. You can hedge your own bets or roll the dice on, say, the No. 3 center for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Guess who suddenly has a extremely valuable player if Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin goes down?
Don't Be Scared of Rookies, but Don't Reach Either
Drafting young players can be one of the most challenging and rewarding aspects of fantasy hockey.
Last year I thought Sven Baertschi was going to erupt for the Calgary Flames. Was a 15-goal (in 48 games) season out of the realm of possibility? Not at all, but drafting him ahead of a player with a track record of similar production can be risky.
Had I taken the young sniper ahead of a proven player it would have damaged my ability to compete significantly, since Baertschi only put up 10 points—with seven of those coming over his final seven games.
Be bullish where it makes sense. Nathan MacKinnon could be a solid pickup in the mid-rounds, but don't take him ahead of a proven top-end player. This is a situation where drafting your favorite team's first-round pick just might not make sense.
Avoid "Band-Aid Boys" in the Early Rounds
Nothing can derail a successful campaign like the injury bug. You'll probably be hard pressed to find a team that finished first in 2010-11 if they took Sidney Crosby first overall.
While that first injury was truly out of nowhere, it's important to take injury history into consideration when picking guys, especially early on. Remaining on track for a top-three finish when any of your top four or five goes down can be tough.
I'm not advising against picking players like Crosby and Taylor Hall. Just don't select a bunch of guys who haven't played more than 70 games over the last two or three years.
Pay Attention to Shooting Percentage
Shooting percentage isn't a perfect stat, but it can be incredibly useful when trying to figure out if a player is really a 60-point option or just had a hot streak. A great example from last season is Nazem Kadri, who erupted for 44 points in 48 games after being an unreliable asset at best since 2010.
Is he truly a star worth drafting along with 80-point forwards like Patrick Kane? The raw goal and assist totals suggest that he is.
Taking a peek at his shooting percentage should give you a much better idea of what should be expected from Kadri. While he's an excellent player, is he truly capable of maintaining a higher shooting percentage than Alexander Ovechkin?
There was a point last season where Kadri was shooting at over 40%. He settled in at 16.8% by the end of the year, but that still may be a bit high.
While it's not the end-all-be-all, shooting percentage can be used to determine if a player is really elevating his game to another level or just on a hot streak.
Statistics courtesy of Hockey-Reference.com
Take Advantage of Fanboys, and Don't Be One
It can be tempting to just draft your favorite players come draft day, and that's not a problem as long as your colored glasses don't taint the true value of the guys you're picking up. Where you'll run into trouble is overvaluation because of the jersey a player wears.
I'm not going to lie, if I'm in a league with another manager named TorontoMapleLeafs4ever1153, I'm going to try to dupe him to take on one of his favorite players.
Sometimes that works. Sometimes that doesn't. Regardless, don't be the sucker that is trading a legitimate top-end defender for Dion Phaneuf just because you like to watch him play. This is strictly a numbers game, and a player is only worth to you what he can manage statistically.
Determine Your Goaltending Strategy and Stick with It
Outside of the truly elite goaltending options like Henrik Lundqvist, the rest of the starters tend to go in "runs." Sometimes they happen in the second round, and sometimes they don't go until a bit later, but once netminders begin to get picked up, they'll be gone before you know it.
After two or three managers draft goalies, it's almost certain that everyone is going to go ahead and get the best available option. As tempting as it may be to grab a forward here—and there will be some tantalizing options—fight the urge and secure your net.
You won't win a Championship with Ryan Getzlaf as your No. 2 center while Semyon Varlamov is your go-to guy in net.