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Fantasy Fundamentals - Draft Strategy

In this next article in the Fantasy Fundamentals series, we look at typical draft strategies in a standard Rotisserie or Head-to-Head league, and how it will affect your team.

The most popular fantasy hockey site on the web and official partner of the NHL, Yahoo, has a standard category totals 12-team league setup:
Rosters: 2 centres, 2 left wing, 2 right wing, 4 defense, 2 goalies, 2 bench
Scoring Categories: G, A, +/-, PIM, PPP, SOG, W, SV%, GAA, SO
Since it’s so common, we’ll use that setup as a basis for this article. The truth of the matter is that in simpler leagues that just count points and don’t make distinctions between the positions, most inexperienced fantasy hockey GMs think “more points = better” and leave it at that. The standard Yahoo league is considerably more complicated than that, having positional constraints and more scoring categories!
Of course, you also have to figure out a way to compare apples (skaters) and oranges (goalies). Most poolies don’t do that – they just go with their gut. That’s great if you gut has a stats degree…
As discussed in the Position article, you need a common point of comparison in order to make sense of real player value. We’ll use averages for each position, based on the stats for last year’s NHL season:
Down the Middle
If you look at the top 20 scoring in the NHL since the lockout ended, you’ll notice that 11 of them are centres, 5 are right wings, and 4 are left wings. If you load up on centres without considering the other positions, it will likely mean that your team ends up with more centres than you can use effectively (both bench spots too!) and that your SOG will be weaker.
There is also a considerable drop-off in talent at the wing positions compared to centre – so don’t pick centres early unless they are exceptional players (Crosby, Malkin) or have great peripheral stats (Datsyuk, Getzlaf, Lecavalier, etc).
From the Wings
Considerably better than building Down the Middle, picking up elite wingers early is a good strategy. Since RW is considerably weaker than LW in the G and SOG categories, targeting a stud RW goalscorer early is a good way to go – guys like Iginla, Perry, Hossa (watch out for the injury!), Doan, Gaborik (if you’ve got the stomach for the injury risk) are solid bets here.
Because of a few very strong goalscoring left wingers -- Ovechkin, Kovalchuk, Heatley (watch for a bounce back!) -- the whole position needs to achieve more in order to stack up. If you can get one of these guys to do with a solid RW, you will have an edge on 90% of your league.
A Strong Back End
Defensemen are chronically undervalued in Yahoo leagues. Based on the table above, a defender only needs 11 goals to have the same real value as a 33-goal left wing! 33 assists from the D are the same as 51 from centre! It can be hard to wrap your head around this, but once you do, you’ll clobber your fantasy hockey leagues for a good long time. 
This all comes with a word of caution: take a hard look at that table of averages, and notice that (in simple terms) a 79 point centre has the same real value as a 44 point defenseman… that’s more-or-less a swap of Henrik Sedin for Ryan Suter. That doesn’t jive with our intuitive perception of what defencemen are worth, which also means it won’t jive with the other GMs’ perception of what defencemen are worth. If you’re trading Henrik Sedin, you can probably expect a lot more than Ryan Suter to come back to you – you’ll win the trade. If you’re trading Ryan Suter, you’re going to come up short in terms of real value.
From the Net Out
We purposely haven’t touched on goaltending much in this article, because it’s a whole different beast. With 40% of the scoring categories being decided by two goalies, if you’re not solid in net, you’re absolutely screwed in these leagues. Repeat: bad goaltending = no hope of winning.
In a rotisserie league, if you somehow manage to clean up in every skater statistical category, you’ll have 6 categories x 12 roto points = 72 roto points. With bad goaltending (say 2nd last in each goalie cat), you add 4 categories x 2 roto points = 8 roto points for a total of 80. Typically, to win a league like this you need upwards of 95.
What if you have good goaltending? Say your team is good enough to come in 3rd in each goaltending category: 4 categories x 10 roto points = 40 roto points. From there, you need to be a few spots better than average in the rest of the categories (4th out of 12 – 6 categories x 9 roto points = 54 roto points) to get a total of 94. If you can dominate those goaltending categories and pick up 12 roto points in each one (48 roto points), you can probably win with only 5th and 6th place finishes in the rest of the scoring categories.
Based on all this, it’s obvious that goaltending is a special case that needs special attention. In short, nail down your goalies unless you have a shot at one of the Big 4 (Ovechkin, Malkin, Crosby, Green). Big 4? Stay tuned, we’ll get to that in the future. If you’re lucky enough to be drafting one of them, you’d better have a plan in place to lock up your goaltending stats!
Putting it All Together
We're not going to give you a rigid draft strategy, because there are lots of very effective ones, and we think it's foolish to stubbornly follow a given strategy despite how a draft might be unfolding.  You’ve got a better feel for how your draft will go than we do – you might even know some of the tendencies of the other GMs in the league!
Here’s the rub: it’s not about always picking the best real value to your team at each pick – it’s about picking the best real value to your team as late as possible in the draft. If you’ve figured out that Zdeno Chara is worth a top-10 pick (in terms of real value), but you know he’ll be around in the third round, you would be a moron to take him with your top-10 pick. 
Which players have the highest value in your league? What scoring categories should you focus on as your draft unfolds? Check out the features on to find out!

Published Wed, Sep 16th, 2009