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What I've Learned: H2H Leagues

What I’ve Learned playing in Head-to-Head Leagues by Brandon Nihmey

I have only played in H2H leagues for the past two seasons, however, I have learned a great deal in that time and have a solid grasp of how to play the game, and what strategies to use in specific situations.


My initial reason for creating this piece was to have something written down to help with my own H2H strategies.  But in doing so, I felt that this could be of use to others.  Please think of this as a guide, rather than a set of instructions.  You may not agree with all of my points; however, I am simply highlighting a variety of factors to consider that may help in your own leagues.


Without further ado, the following is what I have learned playing in head-to-head leagues:


When joining/creating a league, choose your categories wisely.


It’s best to avoid choosing categories that will likely cause more ties in your weekly matchup (e.g. SHP). How many shorthanded points will your team accumulate in a given week? Most weeks, you will likely have none.  Even if you or your opponent had 1 or 2 and wins the category, it is weighted too heavily on such small numbers.  I feel the same way about using shutouts.


Avoid choosing fluky categories that are hard to predict (e.g. GWG).  How would you like to lose a matchup by one GWG, which was actually scored in the first period?


Use an odd number of categories, in order to ensure fewer ties in your weekly matchups.  Furthermore, if you are in an active league with a lot of communication between managers, this would be even more beneficial.  You can’t trash talk after a tie.


This is a personal preference, but I suggest include face-offs won as a category to give more value to centres, who are usually the easiest players to fill.  How about this as food for thought: would adding face-offs make Backstrom more valuable than Malkin?  It also makes wingers who take face-offs even more valuable.


Don’t weigh goalie categories too heavily.  Standard Yahoo leagues have a ratio of 60% for skaters and 40% for goalies.  I feel this is too high, given that you will likely have no more than 2 starting goalie slots.  However, there isn’t an ideal ratio, but keep in the mind the number of roster slots and player depth when making that decision.


Have restrictions on the number of free agent/waiver moves.


It’s important to be in a league with a maximum number of free agent or waiver pickups, as it will prevent streaming (adding/dropping players regularly to maximise games played).


My preference is having a maximum number of moves per week rather than over a full season.  Things can change significantly over the course of the season (e.g. injuries, poor performances), so you shouldn’t have to manage your moves for some unknown situation in the future.


As well, by having a limited number of moves per week, it evens out the playing field as it takes away the advantage of using more moves against a specific opponent.


You don't need the best goaltenders to be successful, but you need the best goaltenders that fit your categories.


Most of us would love having both Brodeur and Luongo on our squads, however in H2H, you don’t necessarily need them to be successful.  By paying attention to the goalie categories used in your league, you could potentially have less sought after goalies that can help you as much as two top tier ones. 


Which goalies help you most if you only used wins and shutouts?  A combination of Anderson and Fleury might be enough. 


What if saves and save percentage were included?  Vokoun would be a worthwhile addition.


For example, last season, if you were in a league with categories of wins, goals against average, save percentage and shutouts, you could have done very well with having Quick (W), Rinne (SHO) and Rask (GAA, SV%) as your goalies.


Category balance is important.


On paper you may have a strong offence or goaltending, but don’t assume that you are going to win the majority of those categories every week.  If you are having an off week offensively, is your goaltending good enough to survive the week and/or potentially still win the matchup?


When managing your roster, it’s useful to have players who contribute in multiple categories.  You may be targeting those with the most points, but if those are primarily assists, that is only one category.  Do they shoot more or less than others at a similar level?  Do they get a fair amount of power play time?


Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with going after point getters, which could result in other category strengths.  However, keep in mind the possibility of someone with perhaps 10 less points but stronger in 3 or 4 categories could be more valuable in your league.


Do you want consistent or streaky players?


I am not going to suggest which type of player is better, as there are advantages to having both types of players on your squad.


Rarely does any one player win your weekly matchup on his own, so if may be preferable to focus on steady contributors throughout your line-up. Especially when you hit the playoffs, you can't afford to have an off week, so this would at least increase your odds of being successful.  As for these streaky players (e.g. Frolov, Huselius), they give you decent totals by season’s end, but they are very frustrating to own.


Other frustrating players are those who are prone to have slumps for periods of time during the season.  However, those same players could easily blow up with a 4-5 point night at any time (e.g. Eric Staal) or pick up the pace in the second half (e.g. Derek Roy), which is ideal when gearing up for the H2H playoffs.  What is usually comes down to risk, and how much of it are you willing to take on.


In deeper leagues, this consistency is really important among your core players, but don't hesitate to replace you fringe players for those free agents who are hot.  Obviously, this depends on your league settings with regards to move limits, but in H2H, you need guys that are producing.


If you have IR slots, use them.


If your league has injured reserve slots, then you will have the flexibility to stash injured players who are on their team’s injured reserve list.  In Yahoo, there will be a red ‘IR’ next to the player’s name, which means you can insert them into the IR slot.


Every year, there are injuries to quality players, some quite serious.  Many managers will drop the player outright if they are injured for a significant period of time, but that doesn’t necessarily need to be done.   In H2H, your main goal is to make the playoffs, so having a good player coming back from injury in February or March (e.g. Franzen in 2009/10) could be especially helpful down the stretch.


Another point about IR slots is to keep them full at all times.  There is no point of keeping an injured player on your bench when you can stash him in the IR slot, and pick up somebody from free agency or the waiver wire.


There is a fair amount of luck involved.


You can build a strong, balanced team throughout the season, however all it takes is one off week in the playoffs and you're done. That's the nature of the beast that is H2H - you have to accept what it is and hope you've done enough to be successful.


In a way, H2H more closely reflects the real NHL, as on a regular basis you see teams who peak or falter come playoff time.  This unpredictability is part of the excitement of H2H leagues.


Finally, be an active manager.


Active doesn’t only mean trades or free agent pickups. One thing I do enjoy about H2H leagues is the chat on the league message board (if there is one) and trash talk during a matchup. Of course, you don't always pick your managers and some prefer to keep quiet, but communication prevents it from being boring. If you have the opportunity to play against people you know, it definitely improves the experience.

I hope you will find “What I’ve Learned” instructive for your own H2H leagues.  Good luck!


I’ll be following this article up with more of What I’ve Learned for rotisserie leagues!

Published Thu, Sep 16th, 2010