The Forechecker's Fantasy Hockey Tips

This year I was fortunate enough to receive an invitation to James Mirtle's fantasy hockey league, with the opportunity to knock heads with James, Spector, David Johnson from HockeyAnalysis.com, Earl Sleek from Battle of California, and many more from around the online hockey world. In all, twenty managers drafted twenty players, making this a deep dive into the ranks of the NHL. Today I thought I'd not only introduce you to the 2007-8 Fab Forecheckers, but share my thoughts on Fantasy Hockey drafting strategy.
First of all, my lineup. The starting positions on each team are C (3), LW (2), RW (2), F (2), D (4), G (2), and Utility, and the scoring categories are G, A, +/-, PIM, PPG, PPA, GWG, SOG, W, GAA, SV, SV%, and SHO. Thus, while goalies only take two spots on the active roster (12.5%), they determine five of the thirteen categories (38.5%), making them extremely important.

The Fab Forecheckers

Round Pick Player Position
1. (12) Tomas Vokoun G
2. (29) Olli Jokinen C
3. (52) Sergei Gonchar D
4. (69) Rick DiPietro G
5. (92) Zdeno Chara D
6. (109) Markus Naslund RW
7. (132) Jason Arnott C
8. (149) Dustin Penner RW
9. (172) Marek Zidlicky D
10. (189) Cory Stillman LW
11. (212) Mattias Ohlund D
12. (229) Vaclav Prospal C
13. (252) Bryan Smolinski C
14. (269) Ryan Malone LW
15. (292) Jose Theodore G
16. (309) Colby Armstrong RW
17. (332) Pavel Kubina D
18. (349) Vernon Fiddler C
19.* (372) Richard Zednik LW
20.* (389) Jarkko Ruutu LW
*autodrafted in absentia
Rather than give a blow-by-blow of why each player made the cut, I'll briefly say that I wanted to snare two above-average starting goalies (check) and look for overall value everywhere else. It basically broke down as follows:
Preparation
Step One: Grab a projection spreadsheet covering all the players. I found this most easily at Sportsline.com, but there may be other outlets as well. Split this into various sheets by positions (C, LW, RW, D, G).
Step Two: Make minor revisions to said spreadsheet based on personal assessments, such as whether certain players are injured and likely to miss significant time, or whether other players are going to get a bigger opportunity than is widely presumed. NOTE - I generally only make about 20 changes to the basic projections spreadsheet. My goal in fantasy drafting isn't to out-predict the opposition, but rather to do a better job on draft day in obtaining value.
Step Three: Where projections exist for various categories (I didn't bother with PP assists or Game-Winning goals, for example), I ranked the players in each of those categories. Simply sort the list by that column, add a new column to record the rankings, and repeat for each column where you have projections (in my case, I did it for G, A, +/-, PIM, PPG, and SOG for the skaters).
Step Four: Now that you have ranking columns for each of those stats, add yet another column which includes the sum of those rankings. Resort the spreadsheet by that new column, smallest-to-largest value, and you now have a ranking list that reflects anticipated performance across all the scoring categories.
Draft Time
The trick with each choice you make from here on in is to look at each of your positional sheets, and determine where the biggest difference-maker resides across all of them. For example, by the time I picked Tomas Vokoun at #12, there were a number of other top-flight goalies gone, and while there were forwards on the board likely to up more overall points, the dropoff between taking Vokoun at that point and whatever goalie was likely to be available at my next pick was too large to pass up. This is also why it can be worth it to pick a top defenseman relatively early on - generally at each position there are two or maybe three players who perform well above the rest of the pack, and you want one of those guys on your team.
The key factor is balancing the talent available vs. how long you wait until your next pick. For example, let's say there are some three LW's available, you have that spot open, it's your turn, and you're going to pick again six spots down the road. At that point, it may be worth snagging the top guy at another position, expecting that one of those left wings will probably still be hanging on the vine for you to snag later on.
The hard part is keeping up with the pace of the draft, by updating your spreadsheet to highlight players already off the board (don't delete those rows, as that could throw off the ranking numbers). Also, of course, you have to keep in mind your positional needs after the first few rounds. You don't want to add a backup player in one spot if you've got key starting slots still open.
The one other thing I like to do is use a late-round pick on a flyer of your own personal choice - in my case, Vern Fiddler of the Nashville Predators. If, as appears from preseason action, he opens the season on a line with Jason Arnott and J.P. Dumont, he may post some decent numbers until Steve Sullivan returns in a few months. There's nothing wrong with a little homerism in making your selections, as long as you don't let it overrule the process above in filling out your starting slots.
This is a general approach that has proven successful for me in fantasy football drafts over the last ten years, so we'll see how it translates to the world of fantasy hockey. I'm pretty satisfied with my team, but the true verdict will come next spring...


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