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Understanding your League: Part I

We have all been asked this kind of question before:  After Ovechkin/Malkin/Crosby/Stamkos, who are the top 3 players in fantasy hockey? 

If you answered that question with the name of any current NHL players, then you need to read this article.  I am a huge Chara fan, guys like Backes are usually great, Tavares is stepping up, but the correct answer to the question is actually: “Well that all depends on what your league format and what categories you measure”.

It is a really boring (and kind of lame) answer to the question but it is the absolute truth.  How can I tell you which player is the most valuable if I don’t know what your league values?  I have been in leagues where the answer would be Lundqvist, Quick, Rinne.  I have been in leagues where the answer would be Letang, Byfuglien, Weber.  In some leagues, the answer might be Kovalchuk, Sedin, Backstrom.  It’s an obvious point that we all know (but sometimes forget); the value of a player depends greatly on the set-up of the league.  It is absolutely crucial to have a complete understanding of your league settings and the impact it has on the players in the pool heading into the draft.

There are many factors that are important to understand heading into your draft and all of them have an impact on the value of the players in the league.   If your league happens to carry eight defensemen per team but only two centers then Jack Johnson is probably looking a whole lot better than Mike Ribeiro.  If your league counts hits then Dustin Brown and Ryan Callahan are both suddenly worth more than Jordan Eberle (see my earlier article on Eberle). 

All of this seems self-explanatory -and you may be thinking:  “Thanks buddy.  Yeah if my league counts hits, then guys who hit are worth more.  Duh” - but quantifying the concept is much harder than generally understanding the concept itself.  The hardest (but most important) thing to do in fantasy hockey is to distinguish between players who have different position eligibility and different category strengths.  What’s worth more in a league that counts hits: a 35point defenseman who gets 150hits a year or a 70 point winger who gets 20 hits?  My league is adding two D slots this year – what does that mean for Dion Phaneuf?  I am going to show you how you can use the tools at Fantasy Hockey Geek to answer questions like these.  In a two-part series, I am going to help you understand the impact of the two most important variables in your fantasy hockey league:  Position and Scoring Categories.

(All of my analysis below is based on category total leagues as opposed to fantasy point leagues.  The concepts are very similar though, particularly when it comes to position scarcity.  FHG also has the ability to generate rankings for fantasy point leagues, so if you are in such a league the tools will work for you as well).


A Yahoo! standard league carries 2C, 2LW, 2RW, 4D and 2G.  The standard league already places a bit of an emphasis on D since there are double the roster spots of any other position.  In a 12 team league of this setting 48D will be on active rosters while only 24 of each other position will be active.

If that league happened to change to a roster of 6D then intuitively we would all understand that high-end defensemen would become even more valuable.  Conversely if the league went to two D slots, defensemen would become less valuable.   The hard thing to do as a GM is to quantify exactly how big of a difference that makes.  If my league goes from holding four defense slots to carrying six defense slots, what effect would that have on each player?  This is why the custom rankings at Fantasy Hockey Geek is such an invaluable tool.  It takes these variables into account, does the math and calculates the exact value for each player.

The chart below shows the FHG player rankings for three players in three different scenarios.  In each scenario, we are talking about a Yahoo! standard 12 team league (G, A, +/-, SOG, PPP, PIM).  The only variable I have changed is the number of defensemen you are required to roster

(Player’s overall value ranking as calculated by FHG for a Yahoo! standard H2H league using 2011-2012 actual stats)

You can see that the largest impact of the changing variable (number of D-men) is to a middle tier defenseman.  In a league that is required to roster only two defensemen, Jack Johnson was only the 123rd most valuable player last year.  If your league happened to roster six defensemen though, Johnson’s value jumps way up to 57th.  He goes from being a guy who offers 10th round value to a guy who offers 6th round value, simply by changing the number of defensemen that your league requires you to have.

Looking at Chara you can see that it also affects the top tier defensemen.  In a league of this format that carries six defensemen per team, Chara was the second most valuable player in the entire league last year!

Changing the number of defensemen that you are required to own also changes the value of forwards.  Brad Richards for example was the 47th most valuable player last year in a league that rosters only two defensemen but in a league that rosters six Richards value dropped to 70.  Richard’s value drops 23 slots even though his projected output is the exact same!  The reason for this is that as more D are required to be rostered, they become more scarce (thus more valuable) and they pass Richards in the rankings.

Some people may find it hard to believe that adding some extra D slots to a league without changing any categories could have such a huge impact on a guy like Jack Johnson, so let me try to explain why the math works.

Johnson was the 26th most valuable defensemen in a Yahoo! standard league of the above format last year.  If the league only had two defense slots per team, there are only 24 d-men on an active roster.   Jack Johnson would have been easily replaced in that league with a Kronwall/Hamhuis/Giordano who would likely be available as a FA.  There would likely be about 30 defensemen owned in the league and the drop off from the 26th most valuable (Johnson) to the 30th most valuable simply wouldn’t be that big.

If that same league happened to roster six defensemen per team then it would be a completely different story because now there are 72 defensemen on active rosters.  The difference between Jack Johnson and the 72nd most valuable defenseman is huge.  You can see in the scenario above with six defense roster spots, JJ is actually ranked higher than Brad Richards.  The reason for this is because there are 72 active D in this scenario and only 24 active C. 

Oversimplifying the math a little bit, what the FHG ranking is telling us is that the drop off between JJ and the 73rd ranked D is larger than the drop off between Brad Richards and the 25th ranked C.  As a point of reference the d-men ranked in the 70s were guys like Martin, Stuart, Beauchemin while the Cs that were ranked in the mid to late 20s for their position were guys like Kesler, Benn and Ribeiro.  FHG does the work for you and essentially tells you that the drop off from Brad Richards to Jamie Benn is much smaller than the drop off from Jack Johnson to Francois Beauchemin.  JJ is more valuable in a league of this format because he is much harder to replace. 

The 2D/4D/6D example I gave above is a pretty simple one and there probably aren’t a ton of leagues out there with two C slots and 6 D slots but I just wanted to use a simple example to illustrate my point.  There are a multitude of roster formats out there that will differ from the Yahoo! standard settings.  The key is that you need to understand how your individual league differs from the standard and project how these differences affect players’ value.

Understanding the positional slots of your own league is incredibly crucial and an absolute advantage if you understand it better than the other GMs going into the draft.  Fantasy Hockey Geek  is a great tool that can help you to do the math work behind the scenes to understand the impact of your league’s settings.

In Part II of this article, I will show you how much of an impact a small change in your league’s scoring categories can have on the value of the various players in the league.

Published Thu, Jan 10th, 2013