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Trade Fever - Intro to Keeper Leagues and the Importance of Strategy

Playing the player is not just about playing rival managers, it is also about playing yourself. You can’t forget that you’re a player in the same league as everyone else and it’s sometimes easy to lose focus of that fact. If you want to be a better poolie, you have to understand which kind of player you are. You need to be able to see the big picture as you decide which direction to take your team in. Whichever route you take, it must align with your game plan and you must stick to it. Sure there will be many tough decisions, and definitely some you might not want to make but you need to stay committed to the strategy you laid out. By doing so, you’ll be able to take advantage of key situations that will not only better your team but yourself, the player, as well.  

We all start fantasy hockey somewhere, whether it’s an offline pool with friends and family or your average online public league. Just like an NHL entry draft, only a certain percentage of these participating managers “will be drafted” as they go on to challenge themselves against tougher opponents and learn new strategies along the way. Those who are to be left behind tend to stay at the same level and repeat the same mistakes year after year. Of course there are exceptions and some simply choose to stay where they are most comfortable. Yet when it’s all said and done, there are many opportunities to grow as poolie… you just have to look for them.


So the playoffs have ended in that H2H one year league you take part in seasonally.  By no surprise you finished 1st place for the second year running, of course. Without hesitation, you make the necessary adjustments needed to defend the championship in attempt of gaining the three-peat title. All while knowing you’re the favourite to win it... again.

While it’s easy to enjoy the pleasure of winning these kinds of pools and adding them to your fantasy resume, something eventually leaves you wanting more. It might happen while reading some fantasy ramblings, sitting out on the porch gazing at the night sky or most commonly, during a bubble bath with a beer by your side. At that particular moment, you finally realize that the feeling of emptiness that’s been following you around was simply the hunger of wanting a bigger and better challenge.    

There comes a time in many hockey poolie’s careers where after a certain point (or championship), they’ve outgrown and outlasted their stay in public one year leagues (like Yahoo!). They’ve learned the tricks of the trade and want to use it against tougher and more knowledgeable opponents. That can be accomplished by joining a keeper league. Once you’ve been in a keeper league against serious competition (maybe you can find one on the forums at, attempting to go back to regular public drafts will seem like a joke and quite frankly, a waste of time.  

While playing against the cream of the crop in terms of competition for one year leagues is definitely satisfying, there’s nothing like being in a keeper league. Just the idea of being able to build and manage a team from the ground up and seeing it develop is positively addicting. Keeper leagues tend to add more emotional ties to trading as you attempt to acquire (or send away) key players and favourites. Suddenly, Entry drafts become that much more interesting as you try to land that late round gem to gain some bragging rights. All of this is especially true if you can watch the progression from the farm team to the pros and eventually landing a spot on your roster.

There are many different variations to keeper leagues, usually as full keepers or limited ones. In limited keepers, each team gets to protect a set amount of players as they carry them over to the following season. In full keepers, each team essentially retain all players from their pro roster, farm team and/or prospects. Some dynasty keeper leagues go as far as mimicking the NHL with its number of teams, waiver rules, roster set up, salary cap and scoring scheme while others are customized to the commissioner’s mould - some are pretty creative while others can be downright confusing. In any case, know that whichever type of keeper league you may find yourself in, they will all share at least one thing in common; you’ll get to keep and manage some players in one form or another.

Stick to your game plan

When you enter your first keeper league, either by taking over a parted GM’s team or drafting from scratch, it is very crucial to understand specific league rules, values and especially depth. Twelve team limited keepers are much different than salary cap 30 team dynasties with depth ranging from 400 to 2000 (or more) players respectively. In some of the later leagues, even players like a team’s 6th defenseman can hold some sort of value. So remember, before doing anything with your new team, check out other teams in your league and the scoring breakdown to get a feel of where you stand and what your needs may be.

There are many different approaches a new keeper manager can take when building a competitive team, yet the best way to see any success is by making a game plan and sticking to it. Generally the three most common approaches (seen in the figure below) are the rebuild mode, the win now strategy, and the competitive limbo.  Whatever route you choose, remember to stay the course in any and all decisions you make for your team.

Usually most poolie’s first crack at keeper leagues will be by jumping into one to replace a GM-less team. If this is true, expect a bunch of offers for your star players. Most times, the team has been abandoned and rival managers have been aching to trade for certain players. In addition, expect lowball offers and learn from them. Hold your ground and wait it out, or throw a lowball counter the other way. Show the league that you’re a strong GM and that you mean business. Note that at first you might lose a trade or two, and if that’s the case, listen to the comments posted by veteran members. It helps when you show the reasoning behind making that particular deal as it will increase the suggestions and tips given by your peers. Don’t be pressured into making moves you don’t necessarily want to do and if you feel any doubt, stick to your cards.






* Young breakout stars
* On the cusp prospects
* Vets used as plugs and bait

* Stocks up on picks / prospects
* Sells their vets, but keeps an active roster to avoid obvious tanking.

1 to 3
seasons max.

Win Now

* Blend of producing players
* Excellent team depth
* Vets (Bench) for push

* Takes risks for the push by…
* Selling prospects and picks
for older but productive vets.

Now or for playoff push.

Competitive Limbo

* Has star power but…
* Lacks team depth and…
* Chases unneeded  prospects
* Often a victim of Trade Fever  favourites and preferences

* One good trade blended with a few sideways and backwards deals keep this squad in the middle of the pack, every year.

Always changing, hence limbo.

Rebuilds done right should all have a set timeline and expectations cannot be more than three seasons which means if you wish to start a rebuild following the 2010-2011 season, make sure all your prospects and picks fall in place before the 2012-2013 season in order to start competing in 2013-2014. Anything more than that is going to lead your ship into the dreaded Bermuda rebuild limbo and you definitely do not want that title.

Most GMs tend to approach a rebuild by having a fire sale and trading their still very valuable players for prospects and picks. Generally it’s what you expect from a rebuild, but often times managers take it too far, usually destroying their team in the process. It’s important to know that even in a rebuild, certain players (those in their prime) should be used as key guys to build around. Remember, it’s a keeper league. Meaning if you own a guy like Mike Richards or Jason Spezza, build around them instead of trading for prospect and picks, unless it’s a deal you can’t refuse (ie:  Jordan Eberle , Chris Stewart and a 1st Round pick for Spezza or something along those lines – again depending on your pool settings).   

On the other side of the rink, if you feel like you have a good chance at the title, you have to take the necessary steps to try and win it. Just like in the real NHL, teams have a certain window of opportunity, especially if your fantasy team gets sidelined by a nasty injury like the teams who have lost Craig Anderson this year, a huge blow to their projected finish. Depending on the league setup, stocking up vets for the bench in the event of a long playoff ride betters your chances in the long run. The same can be said about picking up (or trading for) a player on a hot streak or one that can boost a specific category with the intent dropping them at season’s end… even at the expense of a good prospect. It sucks to do, but those are the moves that will help a team win a championship.

Note that star power alone won’t win you the championship; depth does. That’s the difference between a winning team and one in competitive limbo. Owning Crosby won’t do you any good if you don’t have a supporting cast, but still GMs will go out of their way and gut their team, simply to have a star player on their roster.  Sometimes there will be managers who are completely content with finishing in the middle third of the league standings year in and out. But for the serious poolies, the teams that finish just out of the playoffs every year, much like the real NHL, have nothing to build off of in terms of draft picks due to bad positioning. In fantasy, these teams tend to do a lot more trading in order to make up for the lack of draft selections. Thing is, it’s easy to get carried away in regards to your game plan when in trade mode. Teams in limbo know that all too well as they are often seen doing sideways and / or backwards trades after a beneficial transaction.

To better explain the last statement, imagine a team that has decent depth and is in the middle of the pack. They acquire Ed Jovanovski and Brandon Dubinsky from a rebuilding team for Cody Hodgson and Matt Gilroy.  Looking at this trade, it might look like they are going into compete mode and a playoff push. All of a sudden they follow up that trade by sending Alexandre Burrows for James Van Riemsdyk and a draft pick as well as Andrew Brunette for Nick Foligno and another pick. What...why? This GM clearly doesn’t have a game plan. A manager needs to follow their strategy guide in all trades in order to move forward properly. While each deal taken separately could be good depending on team needs, it doesn’t make sense for a competing team because they’ve basically cancelled the transactions out. As you can see, the first deal can be seen as a Win Now trade while the other two are viewed as sideways or backwards (towards rebuild mode).  Like mentioned earlier, it’s so easy to get carried away in trades because sometimes you forget to look at the bigger picture and its long term impact to your team.

So whether it’s your first keeper league or your third time around, sit down and take time to assess your team.  Ask yourself where your team currently stands and which direction you want to go in. Quit going around in circles and make yourself a game plan. Stick to it in every decision made, it will only benefit you in the end. Remember, playing the player is not just about playing rival managers, it is also about playing yourself.

And that concludes this keeper edition of Trade Fever. Good luck!

GMG signing off

As always, If you have any questions or feedback on what was discussed as well as suggestions for future editions feel free to email me at, by Twitter (@GM_Gates), or by clicking on the contact tab above. Simply direct it to GMGates by making Trade Fever the subject / title.

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Next Edition: To be Announced 


Published Mon, Nov 01st, 2010