A Guide to Fantasy Hockey

In the United States, fantasy football is wildly popular. Fantasy football players will check the rankings, draft their teams and get incredibly competitive in their leagues.

If you’re Canadian, you might be more interested in fantasy hockey. While it’s less commonly played than football, it’s still popular, as is the case for all fantasy sports.

So what should you know if you’re new to fantasy hockey or you’re just starting to think about playing?

The following is a guide to all the most important things you need to know.

What Are Fantasy Sports?

If you’re completely new to it, fantasy sports are like an online game of prediction. When people play any fantasy sport, they put together virtual teams based on real players. Then, they earn points based on actual statistics, which are converted into fantasy points. The better someone’s players perform in real-life games, the higher a fantasy player’s points are.

You compete against other managers and the teams they put together.

Everyone in your league will manage their own roster, and this includes adding, trading, dropping, and selling players.

The players come from existing leagues, including the NFL, MLB, NBA, or college teams.

In the United States, baseball and football are the two most often played fantasy sports.

Once a player chooses their team, they go head-to-head. There’s an option to play daily fantasy, which is more similar to sports betting and isn’t always legal everywhere, or season-long fantasy.

The points compete with one another in private leagues or in a public league where you’re competing against strangers with the fantasy sports operator.

Recently, DraftKings started to launch sports betting in Ontario, but before doing so, it blocked Canadian customers in the province from competing in daily fantasy. DraftKings, based in Boston, got approval from an Ontario regulator in the spring of this year. The company said in online messages to Ontario users that it was launching its online sports betting products in the province, but before doing so, the message said players were restricted from both free and paid daily fantasy contests.

Fantasy sports, including hockey, have been around since the mid-90s, despite just getting extremely popular in the past decade. Hockey was actually the first fantasy format to go online, so it led the way.

The first company that, in the technical sense, introduced a fantasy hockey site was a Canadian brewing company. They launched ads in 1995 as part of a campaign. Since then, fantasy hockey has become its own entity.

In fantasy hockey, your goal is to assemble the best player collection, and you assemble them through a draft most often. Most fantasy hockey leagues have teams with nine forwards, six defensemen, a utility player, two goalies, and anywhere from five to seven bench spots. A utility player can be either a forward or defenseman, it’s up to you.

League Types

Roster management is time-consuming, and this is especially true for daily leagues because you have to change your roster before the start of each game every day.

A weekly league will usually set a roster on a Monday, and it lasts for seven days. If your player gets hurt, you can’t do anything about it until the next week.

A seasonal league is rarer, and it’s often done in a box format. That means you pick a guy from each box, and then you have that player the rest of the year. You can do this format digitally, but it’s not easy to find.

Another way that your league might vary is based on your draft approach. You might have a snake or linear draft.

In a standard draft, teams are assigned a draft position, and then players are selected in the same order throughout the whole thing. In a snake draft, teams are assigned a draft position, and then they choose players in order in the initial round. The order reverses after that in the second round. Then, it’s reversed again every round that follows.

In an auction draft, the team owners will use a preset budget to bid. Then you can buy any player at any point in the draft if you’re the highest bidder.

More specifically, league formats can include:

  • Rotisserie league: This is the most common league in fantasy hockey. The teams are ranked from first to last in every statistical category. The points are awarded to the top-ranking team in each individual category. Those points are then added to determine the league standings. The team with the most points at the end of the season wins their league.
  • Head-to-head-league: in this format, league members face off against each other week-to-week. Every statistical category counts as a game. The team that wins the category on the week is credited with a single win. Wins and losses are totaled up weekly and added to a final season record. The teams that did the best compete in a playoff, which determines the league champion.
  • Points league: The points in this league format are awarded based on your players’ performance in every statistical category. Each NHL stat will have point values, and the player’s points are used to produce a total for the day. The team with the most points at the end of the year wins their league. As an example, if you have a player who scores a goal, then your team is awarded three points. If your player gets an assist, your team gets two points. This varies from a rotisserie league because the points add up throughout the season.

Positional Eligibility

Most leagues require that you have a specific number of each type of player on your active roster—center, defenseman, left wing, and so on. An owner who’s good at fantasy hockey will often get flexibility through the drafting of players who might be eligible in multiple positions.

Injured Players

If one of your players is injured and you’re new to fantasy, you may wonder what you should do. This is where the waiver wire can become relevant.

Throughout the season, players underperform or are injured. That can impact your ability to have a lineup that’s useful. You can fix the issue by adding players through waivers.

The waiver pool, on the flip side, is that it's players that no one felt were good enough to initially draft. The only time you’re likely to find good players is they’re returning mid-season from an injury, have been promoted from the minors or were accidentally cut.

That doesn’t mean you have to avoid the waiver wire, but you have to be smart and strategic. You want to make sure that you’re doing a careful consideration of the potential value of a player against the possibility that you’ll get an opportunity for a better player.

General Tips

The following are some things that fantasy owners might want to know about hockey.

  • You can’t draft a goaltender too high. There are ten offensive players typically who are fighting to get six statistics, and there are two goaltenders who fight for four, highlighting why you might want to put emphasis on the goaltender.
  • With the position scarcity strategy, you are going beyond the emphasis on goaltenders through the addition of defensemen. Hits aren’t categories in most default leagues, and they’re usually only seen in custom leagues. For a public league, it’s about the offense, even for the defense. That means that a high-scoring defenseman is on everyone’s list. You want to get production from the positions with a fewer number of high scorers, and then you can follow up with filling in your pieces on the front lines.
  • In an up-the-middle strategy, you’re putting emphasis on your centers. You want to draft the strongest possible centers, a pair of defensemen, and then a goaltender in your first five rounds, and you fill in the rest from there.
  • In a line strategy, you’re drafting based on productive lines instead of productive teams.
  • Look for deeper value. Even if someone is drafted first in all of your leagues, you may not get all the statistics you need from certain star players. Look deeper here to see where you can get all the statistics you need. You want well-rounded producers.
  • If you’re doing an auction draft, don’t overspend on younger players. Rookies have upside, but there can also be a real risk they’re a bust too.
  • As is true in fantasy football, some of your best weapons are sleepers.
  • Only a handful of performers are responsible for the weight of several key categories, so again, you need consistency in the goal.

Finally, most of the above tips apply to redraft leagues, but if you’re doing dynasty or keeper leagues, you want to have foresight. You have only a limited number of draft picks every season, so think about getting a future star. Here’s a good place to go younger because you’re building a long-term foundation. You want to get the most promising players you can, even though they might not reach their projected potential. That’s always a risk in fantasy.