NHL Fantasy Hockey: 8 Things You Need to Know Heading into This Season
NHL fantasy hockey is all about having an edge on the competition.
Maybe it's adding a young blueliner in the middle of a point streak that turns into a breakout season. Perhaps you check NHL.com just before heading to bed to find out that a starting goaltender has been injured for the long haul and that the backup is going to have the chance of a lifetime.
These kinds of happenings are typically the difference between winning and losing. What an owner does in the mid-to-late rounds of the draft, and getting in on the ground floor or surging players through the waiver wire or via trade brings the championship home to your laptop. Or iPad. Or whatever.
I am going to try and look ahead a bit at the season in front of us, and predict these things before they happen. I am one for one in my predictions so far—more than a week ago I said that I firmly believed that Teemu Selanne would return for another season, and was worth the late round pickup.
Those of you who listened are one step closer to winning it all.
I'm not saying I'll go 100 percent by any means, but after several weeks of mocks—and spending at least one week in four different fantasy leagues—I think I have a few ideas worth passing on to you.
Let me know what you think, if you're on the same page (or aren't), or think I missed something.
Sidney Crosby Is Still a First Round, Top Five Selection
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I mentioned this in a previous article and I feel it is worth mentioning again: I took part in a for-all-the-marbles real fantasy hockey draft and witnessed, with my own two eyes, the best fantasy player in existence slip to the fifth round.
The fifth round!
Some of you may be asking your screens, "Well, Mr. Fantasy Hockey smartypants, why didn't you take him if he was there?"
Watching Crosby slip was the equivalent of a fantasy sports train wreck for me. I just couldn't stop it or look away. He wasn't selected until his name came onto the screen in the pre-draft rankings, and only then did an owner say, "Oh yeah! That Crosby guy!"
I felt in that moment that had I learned a very important lesson about the mindsets of your average fantasy owners.
Don't be that guy, and don't be that average. Unless you have the top two or three picks, you can not go wrong with Crosby.
It may be tempting to select a (way) overvalued Corey Perry or Henrik Sedin, but don't. Even if Sid only plays through 55 games or so, he'll still net you around 60 or 70 points. All you need to do is pick up a guy like Jason Spezza—or whoever you think can net you 40 points while Crosby is on the mend—and you've got your 100-point player.
These 40-point centers are a dime a dozen, and you don't need a home run with that selection. You just need someone who'll score enough to tide you over until Crosby comes back off of the IR.
Alexander Ovechkin Is Still Your Number One Pick
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After having his worst offensive season to date, Alexander Ovechkin's fantasy stock has taken a bit of a hit.
I guess that is what 85 points, 367 shots, 241 hits, and a plus-24 rating will get you.
This is another case of average fantasy owners making average picks. They see one big (half) season from a guy like Perry, and draft him over AO. Which is absolutely insane.
I'm not saying that Perry isn't an outstanding fantasy asset—he is.
What I am saying is that there is no reason Ovechkin shouldn't be the unanimous first overall selection in any fantasy League. The perception is that Ovie slipped up a bit right out of the gate in Washington, but that just isn't the case.
He was a constant scoring threat, and it took some time for the entire Capitals squad to settle into the new, more defensive system that the team implemented. A look at every major player on the squad can tell you that.
But the year of the overhaul is over, and these players have settled in and won't have to deal with those adjustments on a nightly basis. Look for Ovechkin to top 100 points again this season and regain his goal-scoring-machine form.
How Quickly They Forget, Part I
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I spent a little bit of time as an economics major while in college, and I can't help but notice the similarities between the stock market and fantasy sports.
Go with me here.
While odds are you don't have your retirement wrapped up in your fantasy league, the same mental tendencies and relapses are present in both.
Namely, that owners have very, very short memories, and tend to make knee-jerk reactions in their ownership.
When good players are injured, they sink down the rankings a year later and out of the minds of those involved with fantasy hockey.
Evgeni Malkin is a prime example. The former Art Ross trophy winner has been falling to the middle or end of the first round, and privy owners are primed for an MVP steal.
This is a case of a mega-star getting injured in a way that doesn't represent a threat to his career or production, and he should still be a top-five pick.
How Quickly They Forget, Part II
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Ilya Kovalchuk has been one of the most prolific pure scorers in the NHL over the last decade. He had six straight seasons of more than 40 goals until last season, where his goal and point totals sunk considerably in his first full year as a New Jersey Devil.
The one-year slump aside, Kovie is one of the most consistent and known commodities to fantasy owners.
And again, owners have seemingly forgotten this fact without so much as a second thought towards why this player had an off season. They see sinking numbers for 60 games and bail.
Again (and this is my mantra), don't be that owner.
Seriously consider what was at the center of the off year and perhaps you'll see why Kovalchuk is undervalued at this point. It was his first full year in a new city, with new teammates, and with a shiny new $100 million contract.
Talk about pressure.
Kovie started his tenure as a Devil rather slowly—ten points in his first 23 games, and only four goals. Not exactly what owners or New Jersey had in mind. All told, before the All Star break, he only put up 29 points in 48 games.
But, just like the Devils as a whole, Kovalchuk's year was a tale of two seasons.
He put up 33 points (17 goals) in 33 games.
Ah, now that's more like it.
How Quickly They Forget, Part III
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Kyle Okposo was considered one of the top sleepers in fantasy circles last season. But the injury bug swept through the Islanders and their top players in a hurry, derailing a breakout party for both the team and Okposo.
He only played in 38 games last year—not nearly enough to keep him on the sleeper list of most owners. I just don't understand why people suddenly aren't high on the guy as a sleeper after one injury-shortened season.
If it was a head issue, or maybe even a knee, then I could see his stock plunging like it has. But it was just a shoulder. Sure, those injuries are awful, and require surgery and a lot of rehab. But these issues aren't always plagues. At least, not to the point that his sub-200 ranking justifies.
This is a young player with explosive potential that is way undervalued.
How Quickly They Forget, Conclusion: Always Ask Why
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The last three slides have been mostly dedicated to particular players, but they are also examples of fallacies in logic and reasoning that seemingly grip the fantasy community on a yearly basis.
There are lessons to be learned in all three cases, as they are not particularly unique.
The biggest question you have to ask as an owner is why. There is nothing more important.
Forget the pre-draft rankings and trends and really look at how things are shaking down. Asking questions about players and why they are where they are in the eyes of the fantasy hockey community will do you a world of good.
Why is Evgeni Malkin ranked so low?
Why is Sidney Crosby falling so far?
How permanent is player X's injury?
Was the team changing systems, did they have a new coach...
There are a million different things that can influence the way a player performs on the ice. Being aware of the game outside of the numbers is what fantasy hockey championships are all about.
Circumstances make or break seasons.
Goalies Are Not in This Year
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For whatever reason, goaltenders are hanging around longer than they have in the last few years. Roberto Luongo and Henrik Lundqvist seem to be going pretty quickly, but after that the netminders seem to bleed together a little.
The difference between a guy you select in round two and round four or five may not be that big. There are two or three top-notch goaltenders (Luongo, Lundqvist, and arguably Tim Thomas, but even he has been sinking), and a lot of solid starters after that.
As long as you don't end up with Steve Mason as your leading man in the net, you should be OK—as long as you don't neglect the position for five or six rounds.
For the most part, there is a two- or three-rounds-long run on forwards and defenders. You can take part in that and secure your left wing skaters as soon as possible or, if you are feeling gutsy, you can overdraft goaltenders before anybody knows what hit them.
Finding a netminder for starts and wins off of the waiver wire is a lot more difficult than finding anything else. And that only becomes more important as the season continues.
I don't know if this strategy works in the long term, across an entire season. But I am in one League where I secured Tomas Vokoun, Tim Thomas, and Marc-Andre Fleury in three of the first four rounds.
I don't have the offensive firepower of the other squads, but it will be hard to knock me off in the goaltending categories.
Whatever you decide to do, know that netminders typically haven't been quite the hot commodity that they have been in seasons gone by.
There Are a Lot of Centers, so Pick Something Else (Like a Left Wing)
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That isn't to say that the center position isn't important to the success of your team.
They are, and several of the biggest point producers in the league occupy center ice on a nightly basis. But a lot more centers produce big points than, say, left wings.
If you pick the 20th-best available center, you have a player that is comparable to the tenth-best guy available.
That just is not the case for left wings. You have maybe ten or 15 sure-fire hits on the left side, and after that you're looking at sleepers or youngsters.
Which is alright for your second or third guy in any slot. Just make sure you lock up a good left winger before they are gone.
There are plenty of comparable centers, right wingers, and even blueliners.