While the NHL may be slow to change, the world of fantasy hockey has been evolving quickly. Just a few years back it seemed your only option was a rotisserie based league, which grew into head to head, auction drafts, etc. Just recently, I’ve started to get hooked on a new way of playing fantasy hockey: Daily Leagues. While it’s no replacement for the grind, planning, trash talking, and ultimate reward of a season-long league, it does offer a great alternative with immediate benefit.
Here’s how it tends to work: you go head to head with one opponent, or a room of opponents and draft a salary-based roster for one night’s action. At the end of the day, stats are totaled and winner takes all. That’s it. Immediate gratification.
There are a number of sites popping up that offer Daily Fantasy games. Some are cap based, while others have an automated draft system that I’m not particularly fond of. (I don’t like a computer randomly making decisions for me.) Fanduel, DraftZone, and FantasySportsLive are a few of the more popular ones to come on in the past year or so.
Most of these sites offer a few different options for hockey, along with NFL, NBA, and MLB – not that I care… It’s all hockey for me). Perhaps the best part of sites like Fanduel is that you can actually win cash every night, or play for free. When you sign up for a game, you pick what level you want to play at and who you want to play against.
As daily fantasy hockey continues to grow in popularity, fantasy players will have to change their mindset a bit when it comes to strategy. With this format, you no longer need to concern yourself with particulars, like whether Marty Turco will lose his starting job by February. All that matters is that you know who’s starting tonight and who is likely to get hot.
The first strategy you need to master is identifying value in players. With a salary-based budget, it’s critical to identify players who are undervalued, so you can free up cap space to spend on a guy like Malkin or Stamkos. In this format, defensemen are of little relative value, so your best bet is to spend the absolute minimum possible on this position. To start the season, guys like John Carlsson and P.K. Subban were very cheap. Their price tag is starting to rise, so you have to be watching for new cheaper options to pop up. On the forward end, some of the Flyer forwards will give a lot of value for little cost. Guys like Leino, Giroux, and Van Riemsdyk are currently undervalued.
Rosters for most sites play 1 goalie and 2 each at LW,RW,C, and D. When setting your lineup, start at the goalie position. Remember, it’s just for 1 night, so it’s critical you identify who’s starting. Several websites offer starting goalie information that is fairly reliable. For the best information, go to the local sources for that team, as they’ll often post it on a blogger site, twitter, or even on the team’s homepage. If you can find value at this position, go for it. Often times, NHL teams will start a backup against a weaker opponent. Backups tend to come at a lower cost, so you can make out if you play this right. For example, on Fanduel, a top goalie like Miller or Luongo may cost 8K of your 55K cap. You might get a starting backup on a good team for 3 or 4K, which obviously leaves room to add better options on offense.
Next, identify the 2 cheapest defensemen that have any hope of getting you points. In general, defensemen produce 1/2 as much in points as forwards, so you’re wasting your money buy placing a mid to top level defenseman on your roster. One thing to look for at defense is penalty minutes. While points from the D are hard to predict, penalty minutes are more predictable.
After filling your crease and blueline, it’s time to spend your money where it matters most, on offense. Start from the bottom up and identify one or two players you can tolerate at a lower pricetag. Next, add a couple of top end forwards to the mix. Finally, play around with the last couple of spots with what you have left. Once you’ve filled your roster, check how much cap space you have remaining. Take a look at your cheaper options one by one and see how much of an upgrade you make with what you have left.
The Future of Daily Fantasy Sports
While it will never completely replace tradition full-season fantasy leagues, daily leagues are growing in popularity and offer a completely different approach to the game. If you like the idea of playing for money, I recommend starting out in one of the free leagues for a couple of games until you get the feel for it. You’ll find yourself watching the out of town scoreboard a lot more closely once your in the daily game.