NHL Fantasy Hockey: 7 Tips for Picking a Winning Team

Travis FlemingContributor IIISeptember 24, 2011

NHL Fantasy Hockey: 7 Tips for Picking a Winning Team

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    So, you've signed up for your office hockey pool, you've put in your money and now all that's left to do is draft your team.

    Of course, you can't just go by last year's scoring leaders. If it was that easy, any average hockey fan could turn on their computer and become the next Ken Holland.

    So what does it take to draft a winning team? What do you have to look for?

    There's no exact formula. Sports are unpredictable, but there are a few key strategies you can use to better your odds.

    Here are seven fantasy hockey tips to use on draft day to improve your chances of winning your pool and make you look like a genius amongst your fellow wannabe general managers.

Be Wary of Breakout Seasons

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    Don't be so fast to snatch up players who just had a big jump in offensive output.

    Remember Jonathan Cheechoo? Hockey poolies were all fighting over him when he broke out with a 56-goal, 93-point season, after previously only posting 47 points the year before. The next year his point total plummeted to 69 points, leaving many fantasy GMs cursing his name.

    The same can be said, to a lesser extent, for Corey Perry this season. Although it's highly unlikely he'll have a fall from grace quite like Cheechoo did, his 50-goal, 98-point season was a pretty substantial jump from his previous two seasons where he registered in the 70-point range.

    Those kinds of numbers will be hard to match, and it's likely he'll experience a 15- to 20-point drop in production this season.

    There are no guarantees in fantasy sports, but when faced with the decision between picking a player who just had his first 40-goal season and another who's done it the last three years in a row, take the latter.

    A proven track record is the best way to ensure you get the kind of point totals you're expecting when you pick a player on draft day.

Remember: Good Players Usually Bounce Back

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    Just like you should be wary of players coming off breakout seasons, you should also never count out players with proven track records who are coming off bad seasons.

    Many people are counting out Ilya Kovalchuk this year after he had the lowest offensive output of his NHL career. Obviously he shouldn't be picked as high as he was a year ago, but don't let him slip too low in the draft either.

    Think of it this way: If you get to a point in the draft where you have a choice between taking Patrick Sharp, a player who has never gotten more than the 71 points he recorded last season, or Kovalchuk, who, despite only finishing with 60 points last year, has had two 50-goal seasons and two seasons over 90 points, it may be worth it to take the risk and select Kovalchuk.

    Keep an eye on these players throughout the draft. If they can return to their previous heights it may give you a big edge during the season. 

Make Sure to Factor in Injuries

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    You always have to be prepared going into a draft.

    You never want to be the GM who thinks he's made a steal with his first-round pick, only to be laughed at by the rest of the pool when they tell him that player is injured for the first two months of the season. So, make sure you know the injury status of everyone on your draft list before you start picking.

    You also want to watch out for injury-prone players. Tim Connolly is a good example of this. The man hasn't played a complete season in nearly 10 years and is exactly the type of player you want to be wary of.

    This doesn't mean you should never take an injury-prone player, but if you have a choice between someone who's riding an iron-man streak, and someone who was out for 30 games last year, best to take the guy who's likely to play the entire season.

Don't Worry Too Much About Injuries

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    Yes, this point kind of contradicts the last one, but it's important not to get too carried away with injuries.

    Take Sidney Crosby for example. Every fantasy GM is aware of his current issue with concussions, and it's probably safe to say he will be passed over during the first two or three picks because of it. However, if you're in the No. 4 or 5 position, and Crosby is still available, it's probably worth the risk to take him.

    Think about it: If Crosby plays even 60 or 70 games, he will likely be among the league's top-10 scorers—if he does play the full season there's a good chance he captures the league scoring title once again.

    The point here is that, depending on the situation, a player's upside may outweigh his downside, in which case your best move might be to forget about injuries and just take him.

The Team They Play for Is Important

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    Good players will be good players not matter where they play, but their environment can dictate exactly how good they can be.

    Here's a good example to think about: Stephen Weiss and Dan Cleary finished the season with similar point totals, however, there's a big difference in where they play.

    Cleary plays on an ultra deep Detroit team where he will likely receive second- or third-line minutes. Weiss, on the other hand, is arguably Florida's best offensive player and will receive first-line minutes and a good deal of powerplay time.

    Who would you rather have?

    Here's another situation to ponder over: Eric Staal and Jonathan Toews both recorded 76 points last season, but Toews plays with Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp, where as Staal doesn't have nearly as strong of a supporting cast.

    Who has the better chance to put up big points?

    These are some things to think about before making your picks.

Pick Players on an Upswing

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    You don't win your pool on the backs of players who matched their point totals from last year, you win on the backs of players who exceeded expectations.

    So how do you find these players?

    Review a player's production over the last few seasons. If they've been gradually improving over that time, there's a good chance that they could improve on their production once again.

    Take a look at a couple of players who had a large jump in point production this year: In Claude Giroux's first NHL season he recorded 27 points, then the next season he improved to 47 points. This season he bumped up his point totals again to 76.

    Cory Perry's last three seasons have also featured constant improvement. Three years ago he finished with 54 points, then the next season it was 72 points, then 76 points and, finally, this season it was a whopping 98 points.

    There's no proven formula for finding players on the verge of a big season, but selecting ones who have been consistently improving is your best bet.

Avoid Players on a Downswing

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    This point may seem self explanatory after the last tip, but it's an important one that needs to be reiterated.

    When you select a player on draft day, you're usually counting on them to at least match their point totals from last season. So, if one of your players has a big drop in production it can really hurt your plans of winning it all.

    Players can sometimes have a dramatic downturn in production unexpectedly (see Ilya Kovalchuk), but generally, a gradual decline is usually a good sign that a player has hit his peak and will slowly see his point totals decrease for the rest of his career.

    Ryan Smyth is a good example of this. His best seasons are clearly behind him and his last three point totals (59, 53, 47) have been trending downward. It's quite likely his point total will take a dip next season once again.

    Of course there are exceptions to the rule, but for the most part, avoiding players on a downswing is a good rule to follow.