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What I've Learned - Rotisserie Leagues

Strategy in rotisserie leagues is quite a bit different than in head-to-head leagues. It is much less dependent on short-term fluctuation like an H2H matchup and requires a more deliberate type of management that consists of more attention and care. If you have never played in a rotisserie league, the following will help you gain an advantage over your fellow managers.

The following is what I have learned playing in rotisserie leagues:

Pay close attention to the league settings and categories

This was highlighted in my article on head-to-head leagues, but it could be even more important if you want to compete in rotisserie leagues.
As your production is cumulative, you must understand how much each category can affect the overall standings. Each category is worth the same amount of ranking points; however keep in mind those categories that don’t occur as frequently. For example, if your team scores a short-handed point or two, it could have a significant effect on the standings, whereas an assist or two may not. In my league last season, the spread between first and last in the short handed point category was 14, whereas in the assist category it was 179.
This is a personal preference, but I prefer not to be in a league with these “infrequent” categories, such as short handed points and shutouts.  However, if you don’t have a choice, you need to understand the effect these categories have and strategize accordingly. That can be the difference between competing for a championship or battling for a top half finish. I’m also not a fan of fluky or random categories such as game winning goals or plus minus, as you cannot always plan or predict who will help you most, and at what time.
In general, the goal of having players on your squad is to play them, not bench them. So, for goalies especially, I don’t like categories that reward managers who bench them more frequently. For example, if you have only wins, losses, goals against average and save percentage as categories, then you risk having managers bench their goalies if they are already highly ranked in those percentage based ones. Whereas if you take away losses and include saves, then you are forced to play your goalies or you risk falling behind in two categories (W, SV), regardless of your strength in the others (GAA, SV%).
Categories I prefer to include: G, A, PPP, SOG, FOW, HIT, BLK, W, GAA, SV, SV%
Categories that I don’t have a strong opinion about: PIM (I can see the argument for and against)
Categories I prefer to avoid: GWG, SHP, +/-, SHO, L

Players who are solid in multiple categories tend to have more value.

Not only is it important to be aware of the categories used in your league and how it affects the standings, but it helps to know which players can help you most in those categories. Players who can contribute in multiple categories tend to be more valuable than those with higher point totals, but have limited strengths elsewhere. Furthermore, someone who is strong in the less frequent categories (e.g. SHP) may have even more value, as their production would have a greater effect on your standing, not only in that particular category but overall as well. 
Here is a comparison of two centres from last season:
Player A: 20G, 59A, 25PPP
Player B: 31G, 31A, 31PPP
Do you know who you would choose between them? Is player A’s big lead in assists enough to overcome slightly lower production in goals and power play points? Perhaps, but let’s include PIM, SOG, and SHP:
Player A: 20G, 59A, 50PIM, 25PPP, 199SOG, 0SHP
Player B: 31G, 31A, 79PIM, 31PPP, 237SOG, 2SHP
I think Player B is becoming more valuable due to his strength in more categories. However, let’s include face-offs won and see if that opinion remains or will change:
Player A: 20G, 59A, 50PIM, 25PPP, 199SOG, 0SHP, 851FOW
Player B: 31G, 31A, 79PIM, 31PPP, 237SOG, 2SHP, 696FOW
Now it’s more difficult due to Player A’s advantage in face-offs won. Finally, let’s add hits to see how they compare:
Player A: 20G, 59A, 50PIM, 25PPP, 199SOG, 0SHP, 851FOW, 42HIT
Player B: 31G, 31A, 79PIM, 31PPP, 237SOG, 2SHP, 696FOW, 145HIT
This might be too close to call, but the edge could go to Player B due to his advantage in more categories. Or you may feel that points and face-offs won are more important categories for centres. 
Regardless of your choice, you must consider these decisions throughout the season. The challenge is identifying those category needs that are most important to you, and figuring out how best to address them.

Keep an eye on producers, and don’t get stuck with underachievers.

We have all been there. We draft a team with guys whom we expect to do well since they’ve been fairly consistent in recent seasons. Our team looks pretty good, and we expect to compete for the title. So, during the first few weeks we notice that some of these guys are not producing at a rate we are expecting. “It’s just a slump”, we tell ourselves; “it’ll get better.” But it’s now late November, and we are still holding out hope that their performance will improve. It’s now December and Tanguay is still sucking.
You cannot explain why these guys are not having a good season. It has to improve, right? Wrong.  I learned this lesson last season. On paper, I thought I had a very good offense with Lecavalier, Vanek, Morrow, Doan, and Mr. Sucky himself, Tanguay.  As you can see, it didn't work out as well as I expected. I held out hope that, as the season progressed, they would pick up the slack.
In rotisserie leagues, this is a killer. You need to have guys that are producing in order to remain competitive. If you wait too long, you are bound to fall further behind in several categories, and by the time you cut bait or bench them for free agents, it’s too late. The further along in the season, the more difficult it is to catch the leaders.
However, you can benefit from a bit of patience. Some players are slow starters, and some are underachievers - it's a challenge and skill to determine which is which. As well, take advantage of hot starts (sell high) if you can, as the numbers (for the most part) will even out in the end.
Rotisserie league are marathons - you will not necessarily win or lose in November or December. However, you should be able to narrow down who will remain competitive and who will fall by the wayside. The challenge is finding any advantage to keep from falling behind these managers. One way is by looking at the games played for each team. I will touch on this later on. 

You usually need strong goaltending to have a chance at winning.

In order to determine the importance of goaltending in your league, you must go back to my first and most basic rule, understanding your league settings, and answer the following questions:
-       How many teams are there in your league? 
-       What is the ratio of goalie categories to skater categories?
-       How many goalie slots are there in your starting roster?
-       What is the ratio of goalie slots to skater slots?
Depending on the answers to these questions, you could be in a league where goalies are of moderate importance, to being vital if you want to remain competitive. If most of the answers are on the higher side, I would strongly consider acquiring two solid goalies very early in your draft, to ensure you aren’t playing catch-up as the season progresses. If the other managers are as clued in as you are, they will be well aware of the importance of goalies, and it makes it much more difficult to acquire them during the season. Especially for the 2010/11 season, there appears to be more 1A/1B situations, which limits the number of clear-cut starters for you to choose.

Balance is important.

One question that I have seen asked many times is whether you can sacrifice one or two categories, and focusing all your attention on the rest? In my experience, the answer is no. Depending on the size of the league, if you finish near or at the bottom of at least one category, it is unlikely that you will be able to win the league. You will need to especially strong in most of the other categories, which is a challenge as there are always fluctuations over the course of a season.
This also goes back to my point about ensuring you have players that are producing, not hanging onto underachievers. On paper, it may appear that you have a very strong team, which should dominate most if not all of the offensive categories. So, you might pay less attention to your goalies and focus all your efforts towards dominating offensively. What if your offense unexpectedly struggles? Is your goaltending good enough to keep you competitive?
It’s better to be relatively strong in most categories, than be dominant in a few and weak in others.

Make trades to improve your squad, not to win the deal.

“Who wins this deal?”
How often do you see this question asked while you browse through a message board? The answer is too many to count. What I don’t like about this question is that people assume that if you ‘win’ a deal, then it automatically helps your team. More often than not, it probably is a correct assumption. However, you can ‘lose’ a deal and still help your squad in the process.
This is especially important in rotisserie leagues. By paying attention to your weak categories, don't be afraid to try to make a deal to improve in a certain area without sacrificing too much in another. This could also improve your chances against direct competition, especially if the deal helps your squad and could help you catch your trading partner in the process.
If you can meet a need, then it doesn’t matter if the deal appears to favour your trading partner. Your goal should be to win the league, not just the deal.

If you have max games, use them all but not too early.

This is most relevant if your league has a limit on the number of games played at each starting position. If your maximum is set at 82 games, then you have to be extra careful not to use your bench players too often or you risk running out early.
However, if you carefully manage your games played, either by sticking with your starting lineup most of the time, or use matchups, then you can be confident of not overplaying your games, while at the same time maximising your team’s production.
Last season, one team used his bench players on a regular basis, and he took a commanding lead by Christmas. However, I could predict when he would run out if he didn’t change his strategy. It was only late in the season did he start benching players but it was too late. He still ended up in second place, but only because he had a very good team. Unless your team is dominant and the other managers are sleeping, it's almost impossible to max out early and still win the league.
I won’t go into a situation where a league does not have maximum games, as I feel it takes away much of the strategy and challenge that makes rotisserie leagues enjoyable. In these leagues, the most active (not necessarily the best) manager will likely win, unless his team is quite poor.

Take advantage of the rule that allows you to overplay your games at the end of the season.

This is an official rule (at least in Yahoo), and it appears that many people are still unaware of it. By managing your games played throughout the season, you could be a position to use this useful strategy that could help you win your league (if it’s close), or at least move up in the final standings. If you have one game remaining in a specific position (in Yahoo you will see a minus-1 in red), you can start the maximum number of players into your lineup the following day and receive points for all of them.
For example, last season with a couple weeks remaining I started paying attention closely to my games played and the final weekend’s schedule. With the season finishing on a Sunday, I knew that it would be a light schedule. So, I managed my games played so that I would be minus-1 for all of my skater positions heading into Sunday. So, on the Friday or Saturday before, I was able to drop several of my players to pick up those playing on the Sunday. Fortunately, I was able to fill my starting lineup to its entirety. By doing so, I moved from 5th to 3rd place in one day.
However, don’t just pick any player, as you must closely monitor your categories and determine which (if any) you can make a move on with these moves. At this point of the season, it’s possible that you will be too far behind or ahead of your nearest competition that it may not be worth it. If there is an opportunity though, make sure you take advantage of it.

Stay active and play until the very end.

This seems obvious but it’s especially important in rotisserie leagues. It can be a long and gruelling season, especially if you are working hard on managing your games, your players, being active in free agency and making trades. At some point, you may decide to give up as you feel like you have no chance to win. We’ve all been there. However, I would keep going because you might find yourself in a position to make a move at any time. Injuries, slumps, managers overplaying their games; these are common occurrences and things can quickly change.
Such was the case in my league last season, where I was able to manage my roster well and make some timely moves to improve my position at the end.  Even though I didn't win, it felt more respectable. At the very least, it makes playing the game much more enjoyable.
This is “What I’ve Learned” hopefully it’s instructive for your own Rotisserie leagues. Good luck!

Published Mon, Sep 27th, 2010