Thursday, January 17, 2013

2013 Fantasy Hockey Strategy Guide

tim thomas crazy boston bruins
Make sure you know which players are now crazy.
There are plenty of ways to make money on the internet. You can try your hand gambling by playing online poker; you could sell your vintage NHL jersey collection to the hipsters of the world on eBay; or you can dominate your friends in fantasy hockey. Yahoo! has even made it possible for people without friends to win money playing fantasy hockey.

But you can't just waltz into the online arena and expect to win money without a plan. You'll be eaten alive like the fresh fish you are.

Fret not, for I am here to help with a trusty battle guide to help you navigate the treacherous waters of draft day and beyond.

Before the Draft

Make a list of sleepers

Look around and determine which players are poised for a big increase in points. That could be because they are coming off an injury-plagued down year, but were previously a consistent 70-point threat or because they struggled in their second year but are still a promising youngster who looked dominant as a rookie. These players will be ranked far lower than they will be by season's end (if everything goes right).

Other times a player can be poised for a big uptick in points because of a trade to a new team (think Jordan Staal moving to Carolina and getting a bigger offensive role) or a trade of a teammate to a new team, which may open up an expanded role for the sleeper (think whoever gets to replace Jaromir Jagr on Claude Giroux's wing).

Always lean towards players that are going to get ample power play time and those that are playing with other high-scoring teammates.

If you are having trouble picking your own sleepers, don't worry, I have already done the leg work for you and created my own list of fantasy hockey sleepers.

Check for injuries/retirements

While you don't need to worry too much about minor injuries (e.g., a bruised foot), you do need to be aware of serious injuries that could keep a player out long term. Often times these injuries will be reflected in a player's ranking (e.g., Ryan Kesler, who Yahoo! ranks 140th out of 150 players due to off-season shoulder and wrist surgeries), but sometimes injuries happen too quickly for rankings to adequately reflect the news. If you're determined to draft Sidney Crosby first overall you better be damn sure he didn't suffer a concussion earlier in the morning.

Likewise, you better keep an eye on retirements and hold outs, which could make you the punch line of a joke if you aren't careful. Don't be the guy drafting Tim Thomas. Know your whack-jobs.

Positional scarcity

Centres are the most abundant in the league. Seven of the top 10 scorers last season were centres (or at least centre-eligible) and more centres broke 70 points than both right and left wingers combined. Plus, many good point-producing centres are still available late in the draft, meaning that unless you have the chance to take one of the elite centres (e.g., Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Steven Stamkos), you are better off taking a winger early.

Point-producing defencemen are even harder to find than a good winger. Last year only Erik Karlsson surpassed 65 points, and only four others broke 50 points. In fact, the 65-point plateau has only been surpassed 14 times by a defenceman over the last seven years, while the same mark has been equalled or bettered by 331 forwards. Each year, on average, there are approximately 50 forwards that score 65 or more points compared to only two defencemen. That scarcity may lead you to believe drafting a defenceman quick is essential, but in reality, high-scoring defencemen are so rare that you're better off taking a bunch of forwards before even thinking about a defenceman.


If your league only requires one goalie you're in luck (but also probably in a two-bit league), because 16 goalies who played more than 42 games last year produced an above-average save percentage and 11 won more than 30 games. Accordingly, you can afford to wait until the later rounds to take a goalie because there will still be quality starting netminders late (ones that wouldn't even be considered sleepers).

If you're in a two-goalie league, however, you might want to invest in a goalie early. With 30 spots to fill league-wide and goaltending worth multiple categories (wins, GAA, SV%, SO at a minimum), it's imperative you get a good goalie before you're left scrounging to plug in Sergei Bobrovsky and Ondrej Pavelec. In a standard 12-team league, you should probably spend two of your first five picks on goalies.

Thankfully, every year features certain goalies who come out of nowhere and set the league on fire. Last year it was Mike Smith and Brian Elliott, two goalies who weren't even likely to have been picked in fantasy drafts. So although you really should get at least one high-quality goalie early in the draft, there are elite talents waiting to be plundered in the later rounds—it's just that unless you're Rain Man you won't be able to identify them prior to the season.

Mock draft

Practice your draft strategy to get a feel of where you want to take players and to find out where sleepers might end up being taken. Everyone has sleepers, so in many cases the super secret sleeper you have lined up will go much earlier than he is ranked.

Do multiple mock drafts from different spots to get a feel of how you might draft differently depending on where your draft pick lies.

Be careful not to take the mock drafts as gospel, however. The knowledge and commitment level of participants differs wildly and your mock draft results are likely to vary from your actual results, sometimes considerably depending on who you are playing with.

Recognize who your opponents are

One of the most important things is to know who you're up against. You don't need to know that your friend Fred was famous for consistently peeing himself in the second grade, but you do need to know what team Fred likes. If Fred likes the Philadelphia Flyers, you can be sure his heart will influence some of his picks and some players that you could normally get later in the draft (like, say, Jakub Voracek) might go earlier than most rankings suggested.

If you're in a league full of Freds (people who like the Flyers, not those who pee their pants, although I'm not sure those two categories are mutually exclusive) you can bet it will be a whole lot harder to get Flyers players. A potential benefit might be that this blind homerism may make your opponents less apt to take secondary players (not the stars, everyone knows they're good) of teams they hate, mainly on principle. Sure, that might not be smart, but we're talking about Flyers fans here.

Don't draft BizNasty just so you can tweet him

That joke is so old it was already retired with five grandchildren by the time it left your mouth.

After the Draft

Be active on the waiver wire

As I said under the goalie tips, there will be plenty of good players who weren't originally drafted and who are just sitting on the waiver wire, waiting for a nice, caring home.

Last year, Ray Whitney was selected in only 7% of drafts, yet finished 12th in league scoring with 77 points. So for people quick enough, there was an elite fantasy talent on the waiver wire and it didn't cost them anything.

Don't get trigger happy

If your first-round pick is taking his sweet time to start the season don't panic trade him at the first chance you get, because you'll probably regret it by season's end.

Do, however, offer up panic trades to other owners who might be getting antsy to move a slow-starting all-star. If you've got a couple of players who have started out hot you might be able to package them for a more established player who hasn't yet performed up to his name.

Of course, these trade offers will get the door slammed in your face plenty of times (and might earn you a reputation as a "trade spammer"), but it only takes one jittery owner to make a deal. These trade offers aren't without risk, however. It could be that the players you're trading never cool down like you might have hoped, and your name-brand superstar might never get it going, leaving you on the wrong side of a lopsided trade.

Have fun

If you aren't having fun, you are going to lose interest, which is an easy way to finish in last place, lose your entry fee, and find your telephone silent when invites are going around next year.

Plus, if you aren't having fun there are better, less nerdy things to do with your time than play fantasy sports.

Have any rules you live by? Some wacky theories (e.g., take all the goaliezzzz!!1!)? Share them in the comments.


Anonymous said...

Don't be afraid to draft players you hate if they're a logical fit for your team. Not only is it dumb to follow your heart over your head, but also they're much easier to drop when they shit the bed.

Matt Horner said...

That's a really good point. For a long time I would avoid Habs/Sens out of spite, and it really hurt me, especially during those immediate post-lockout Sens powerhouse teams.

Now, this year, I have Carey Price in net and Tyler Seguin at centre. I'm trolling myself!

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