Hockey is a relative newcomer to the world of fantasy sports – the first leagues to compete in a fantasy contest based on NHL statistics appeared in the early 1980s. By then, other sports had fantasy action available for some three decades.
What fantasy hockey lacks in history it more than makes up with variety – from traditional no-fee leagues (played just for fun) to hyperactive Daily Fantasy Sports based on the NHL, this sport with a growing fan base is fast-becoming one of the most popular fantasy sports in North America.
Fantasy sports are simple – players get to pretend to be owners, drafting a roster of players from existing NHL rosters and competing against other owners in their league based on their players’ performances. For the most part, fantasy hockey involves an identical setup in terms of the number of players.
Owners draft two centers, two left wings, two right wings, two goalies, four defensemen, and can fill up to four bench spots for heading off injury and other roster troubles early on.
As for scoring, fantasy points are scored based on real NHL performances. Because hockey is strong on both sides of the puck, offense and defense, most fantasy hockey leagues use what is known as a “six by four” setup, meaning points are scored in six offense-based categories as well as four categories based on goaltending and other defensive stats.
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Types of Fantasy Hockey Leagues
All fantasy hockey leagues can be categorized as one of three basic “types” – these are essentially scoring formats favored by different hockey fans and fantasy owners. Here’s a brief look at each of them.
Rotisserie (or “Roto”) Leagues
By far, roto leagues are the most common among fantasy hockey leagues. Under roto rules, teams in the same league are ranked first to last in all relevant categories of statistical accomplishment.
Teams then win points based on their ranking in those categories. These points are added up, and standings and rankings are established on a weekly basis. The champion is determined by total number of points.
Less common but still used in modern fantasy hockey leagues, Head-to-Head format is a more basic form of fantasy play in which rosters face off mano-a-mano on a weekly basis.
The difference is slight but important – teams only win points based on their categorical performance against their weekly opponent. Head-to-Head leagues use a playoff format, as opposed to establishing a total-points-scored winner.
Overall Points Leagues
In these rather uncommon leagues, fantasy hockey points are handed out based on how players perform in their stat categories. Each player’s points are added to produce the owner’s point total for a given day.
Under this format, assume a player scores a goal – under standard scoring, that goal rewards 3 points to the entire roster. Unlike roto leagues, points continue to accumulate over the course of a season.
Fantasy Hockey Drafts
The importance of a draft can’t really be overstated, at least for fantasy sports owners. The same is true for the NHL. Here is some info on NHL drafts as well as strategic advice for fantasy hockey players.
The three basic types of drafts for fantasy hockey are standard, snake-style, and auction. Standard draft format is not as common in the modern age as it was when fantasy hockey was born. Under standard draft rules, owners are assigned a draft position that doesn’t change – that means they pick at the same position every round.
More common is the modern fantasy draft style known as a “snake.” Under the snake format, owners are assigned a position, but their picking position reverses every other round, so that the motion of the draft resembles the slithering of a snake.
Under auction draft rules, fantasy owners face a salary cap, and have to bid on players using that pre-determined cap limit. During the draft, owners can buy any player, provided they bid high enough and get in under the salary cap.
Fantasy Hockey Draft Strategy
Because the fantasy hockey draft is so vital to success over the course of a long NHL season, it’s important to wrap your head around some draft necessities. Questions faced by newcomers to fantasy hockey run the gamut from “What round should I start picking goalies?” to “How important is defense?”
The answers to these and any other draft-related question is below. Consider this a fantasy hockey draft primer. The three strategies below are all successful means of securing a fantasy league championship.
Grab offensive players early.
The shape of the modern NHL means that fantasy owners pick up elite forwards in the first few rounds like they’re crack cocaine. NHL fantasy play rewards scoring and overall points production more than anything, so pick up elite forwards as early as possible. The first two rounds are a fantasy owner’s bread and butter.
Balance your “elites.”
It is vital to draft elite players, but they should exist on a fantasy hockey roster in balance to one another. It’s good strategy to pick elite players from different positions in early rounds. Once the first few rounds are over, and the shape of your roster is apparent, continue filling in by addressing existing needs. It’s really all about balance early on.
Go for the goalies.
Having said all that, an owner could do very well to begin drafting elite goalkeepers in the first two rounds, especially consider that most owners are going for big-scoring forwards. A winning fantasy roster can be built around elite goalkeeping – particularly if an owner can land two elite keepers in rounds one and two, much to the chagrin of the other owners hoping to sneak in and grab an elite goalie later.
Like centers in the NBA, there is a small number of truly blue-chip goalkeepers in a given season. Stealing them early not only creates distance in terms of your roster, it keeps your future opponents from signing the league’s best stops.