Five Reasons to Play Fantasy Hockey

Sean StebnerContributor IOctober 12, 2009

PHILADELPHIA - OCTOBER 06: Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals breaks his stick on a slap shot against the Phildelphia Flyers at the Wachovia Center on October 6, 2009 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

As I sit here eating my blueberry waffle with boysenberry jelly (I like experimentation. This one, a success) I'm checking my fantasy hockey scores on my iPhone. MyFanTeams free, by the way, is a solid app for keeping track of your teams across multiple sports. No add/drop though, gotta pay for that.

I'm flicking through Wu Wu Wu Kenny Wu's week one stats. Outstanding assist numbers from Nicklas Backstrom, a predictably strong week in net from Henrik Lundqvist and three goals from my waiver-wire pick up, Danny Briere. Yet, it all equals a 7-4 loss. Brutal. Especially considering I'm league commissioner. There's not much worse than losing week one when you created the whole thing.

So it's time to hit the proverbial drawing board. Look into trades for a top-flight scorer, get defense help off waivers, change my team name to Jesse Hall. (Brandon Quintin Adams, Jesse Hall in the "Mighty Ducks" movies, also did voice work for the video game "Kingdom Hearts II," and was in "Sister, Sister" and "Moesha." IMDB is a wonderful thing.) Now listen, if most of that sounded like gibberish, I'm here to provide five reasons why you and your friends need to start up a fantasy hockey league. 

It's educational

The NHL was losing steam in the beginning of the 2000s. The nineties had been a revelation for the league, coming off the heat of some legendary players (much like the NBA). The addition of a successful Colorado Avalanche team provided some flair and modernity to the league. Even Fox picked up coverage for a few years.

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But all that success started to fade as the legends retired and it all led to the 2004 lockout. This crushed the NHL. Teams lost money, players went to play abroad, fans stopped caring. Even with its return the following year, the NHL seemed doomed. And then two spectacular things happened.

First, Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby were drafted. These two super-talents resuscitated a dying league. They were young, charismatic, and made immediate impacts on the ice. Ovechkin is the first rock-star celebrity the NHL has seen in, well, maybe ever. Players returned from overseas, and the league was back on its feet. Secondly, the original six are all competitive. For the hockey-challenged, that's the Rangers, Blackhawks, Maple Leafs, Canadiens, Bruins and Red Wings. Five of those teams made the playoffs in 2009, three advanced to their conference's semi-finals and one, the Red Wings, to the Stanley Cup Finals.

So now that the NHL is becoming relevant again, it's time for true sports fans to get their learn on. And what better way to start than by learning who's who? 

If you haven't heard of the three players I mentioned in my intro, you need to. Nicklas Backstrom is the center on Alex Ovechkin's line. You can think of that as being a receiver on the Colts. Peyton's going to make you look good. Same with Ovi.

Henrik Lundqvist is the best goalie to grace New York since Mike Richter won them a Cup, and Danny Briere is a superbly-talented, oft-injured center playing in Philly. There, you just got lesson one for free.

Fantasy hockey will give you a solid base of info when your friend who's obsessed with the NHL (I think everyone has one of these) starts talking about plus/minus and short-handed points. And believe me, you and your boys (or girls) will start by watching your home-town team once a week, and next thing you know someone's ordering NHL Center Ice on DirecTV and you're all having a weekly last-one-here-brings-the-beer hockey night. I'm copyrighting that last-one-here-brings-the-beer. LOHBTB. Beautiful. 

Alexander Ovechkin is the most dominant fantasy player in any sport

My friends and I are a little fantasy crazy. We were (half)joking around about starting up a serious fantasy golf league. The only stipulation: if you get first pick, you have to forfeit your second and third round picks. Why? Because the first pick is obviously, under any circumstances, Tiger Woods. And since Tiger wins something like oh, every tournament, it's incredibly unfair to have him in your lineup. This is much like Alexander the Great. My friend Stryker (That's his last name. I know, it's awesome.) knows next to nothing about hockey, so obviously the fantasy gods blessed him with the first pick. He immediately selected Ovechkin and this is what he received in week one: five goals, five assists, +5, four penalty minutes, four power play points, one game winning goal, and 35 shots on goal.

Now allow me to put that into context for you. Our teams consist of two centers, four wingers and four defensemen. Ten skaters. His team posted 11 goals, twenty five assists, +/-0, 20 penalty minutes, 17 power play points, one short-handed point, two game winning goals and 129 shots on goal. Therefore Ovechkin had approximately half his goals, a fifth of his assists, a plus/minus more than twice as high as anyone else on his team, a fifth of his penalty minutes, half of his game-winning goals and just under a fourth of his shots on goal.

That's preposterous. That's equivalent to an outfielder scoring seven runs, amassing 18 hits, hitting five home runs, driving in 16 runs, having three stolen bases, drawing eight walks, and hitting around .550. It's that serious. And he did this all in week one, which admittedly is a bit longer than an average week, but still. He's incredible. I mean look at the picture. He shoots so hard the front end of his stick disappears. 

Penalty minutes are a good thing

Hockey is the only sport (in America at least) that promotes the idea of having thugs on your team. They're called enforcers. Donald Brashear of the Rangers for example. Essentially his job is to intimidate the other team to the point that they change their style of play or to protect a star player.

This is a real and important part of hockey, so how do you represent it in fantasy? You make penalty minutes a positive stat. Not only is the idea completely ridiculous and comical, but it makes for an interesting angle when forming a line-up strategy. Are you willing to give up a spot where you could use a defensive scorer for a guy who won't give you anything but a dump-truck full of penalties? It doesn't translate to other sports because while a fight or a boarding can change momentum in hockey, a false start or offensive pass interference can never help in the NFL.

If it did work the same way though, Flozell Adams might be a second round pick. Well, if you drafted offensive linemen. Which my fantasy league seriously considered. I told you we're a bit nutty. 

Here's a fun example. Daniel Carcillo is a left winger for the Philadelphia Flyers. In 2008-2009 he scored three goals, had 11 assists, held a -15, three power play points, took 130 shots and amassed TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY FOUR PENALTY MINUTES. HE SPENT NEARLY AN HOUR MORE TIME IN THE BOX THAN ANYONE ELSE IN THE LEAGUE. 

Again, some context: I did the math (with a calculator, I don't do numbers) and Carcillo spent five percent of the season in the penalty box. Now, I didn't try to figure out his exact ice-time, but has him listed as the Flyers fourth left winger. This means he spends no more than approximately 25 percent of the game on the ice. Okay back to the calculator. Fifteen minutes per game (and that's being generous) times 82 games is 1230 minutes. He spent 254 of those in the box. So to recap all this, Dan Carcillo spent about 20-25 percent of his ice-time in the penalty box. No wonder he only scored three goals. 

Here's the best part. This guy is actually worth having on your fantasy team! Our Yahoo fantasy hockey league has 25 weeks. That makes Carcillo's average from last season ten penalty minutes per week. Our league looks to average around 30 penalty minutes per team, per week. That means Carcillo gives you nearly a third of your minutes every week by himself. It's more effective than playing Michael Bourn or Joey Gathright just for stolen bases. 

Your team, your schedule

What I mean by this is the time you need to put into a fantasy hockey team is entirely up to you. The draft is important because you need to take in a lot of information and you need to fill very specific needs, but once the draft is over, your commitment is on your terms. 

One of the things I never liked about fantasy baseball is the hours of research and the amount of tinkering needed. Some people love this, and understandably, it really takes a certain amount of "skill" to win a fantasy baseball league. Well, that or having Albert Pujols.

When it comes to fantasy football it's nearly the opposite. Only needing to set your lineup once in a week is nice, but winning the league is almost entirely luck. Sure, you can have a better team than your opponent, but who's to say Drew Brees doesn't wake up with a sore back and can't play, leaving you with David Garrard as your starting quarterback. That's practically a guaranteed loss and one-seventeenth of your season gone. Or you get excited because your opponent has Adrian Peterson on a bye-week. He ends up starting Knoshon Moreno. He took Moreno in the tenth round as a possible keeper, but never really intended to play him. Then Correll Buckhalter ends up tweaking a hamstring, Moreno gets 28 carries for 196 yards and three TDs. You end up losing in a landslide. Really? 

Hockey sits comfortably in the middle. You can be successful with a single set-for-the-week-ahead lineup change. You may not be able to win your league that way, but there's no need for the obsessive-compulsive "Tulowitzki's facing Carpenter tonight and he's 0-for-6 in his last six ABs against him, someone throw me my iPhone so I can put in Elvis Andrus!" type psychosis. The only thing that needs extra-careful attention to be successful is your goalies. A typical goalie plays around 75 percent of the games and a high goals against average can cripple your team. Sitting your starter against the Capitals is always advised. 

It's not too late to start up a league

Finally, and most obviously, the season is only one week deep. Right now the only thing you know about this season is what you knew before the season started. Nothing is set in stone, nothing is predetermined. Both Yahoo and ESPN have great set-ups for their fantasy hockey and I'm sure there are other strong sites out there as well. Get a group of friends together and get drafting.

And as always, follow my number one fantasy rule: Have faith in thy favorite teams players, and the fantasy gods shall reward thee. 

For example, I sit David Harris (NYJ LB) and he scores 20 on my bench. But I keep Henrik Lundqvist in against Ovechkin and the Capitals and he has a 90-plus percent save percentage and gets the win. 

It's easy as that. Now get out on the fantasy ice.