The last weekend before the start of the NHL regular season means Fantasy Hockey draft time. Along with the anticipation for the coming season, however, comes the feeling that perhaps you're not quite as prepared as you should be, so I thought I'd offer up a few resources for the aspiring fantasy hockey manager to tap into...
When it comes to predicting as accurately as possible how every player in the NHL will fare, everyone, at some point, utilizes a pre-made list. Trying to assess individual scoring across 30 teams is simply too large a task for any one individual.
What you're looking for, then, is a site which can provide a downloadable listing (which you can then tailor as you see fit) which is regularly maintained; when you look at the projections available from most Fantasy Hockey sites, you don't know until you dig into the details that they've still got Dany Heatley still listed as an Ottawa Senator, or think Mathieu Schneider is going to play the entire season up in Vancouver.
One site I'd recommend is DobberHockey.com. Darryl Dobbs and his staff stay on top of developments around the league, and constantly update their downloadable projections based on recent roster transactions, injuries, and trends (better yet, they clearly label them with a "Last Update" value). So much of fantasy hockey has to do with an individual's opportunity, and if that winger you're thinking of drafting just got demoted off the power play, you may not be aware that you're choosing a rotten egg.
Another good source of information is FantasyHockeyScouts.com, whose Scouting Report breaks down each team in the league and lets you know how the depth chart is shaping up. The site also provides Injury Updates which you'll want to check, just so you're not the guy to draft Patrik Elias early on, only to hear the rest of your league chuckle at your misfortune.
All too often, Fantasy Hockey managers rely on rankings lists published in a magazine or on a site, with no thought of how well those rankings suit their actual league. The first thing you should look at before checking out a cheat sheet is the list of scoring categories for your league. Are goalies responsible for an overly-large portion of the totals? Then make sure you stack up on some good ones. Are power play points split out separately? Then you'll give added attention to those players who dominate the PP time on their team.
This aspect of fantasy hockey drafting is probably where I spend the most energy, but get the greatest results. The past two seasons I've participated in James Mirtle's uber-competitive Hockey Blogger Invitational pool; in 2008 I won the regular season title in a 20-team league by a wide margin, and last spring took 2nd in the regular season in an 18-team pool (late injuries resulted in playoff disappointments each time). Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, that 2007-8 Invitational was my very first fantasy hockey draft; but by taking a systematic approach to ranking players that matched the scoring categories of the league, I ended up with a great team.
The nice thing this year is that rather than walk you through the details of how I assemble my draft spreadsheet, there's a new website which allows you to input the scoring categories for your particular league, and have it generate customized rankings that fit the profile. It's called HockeyPoolGeek.com, and it's well worth your time.
After signing up (for free), you can begin with the Geek's own player projections, or upload your own from a spreadsheet. Either way, users can customize those projections however they wish, and generate rankings specifically to their league.
This is great stuff, but the serious black magic comes with the site's Draft Advisor. Based again on the nature of your league and the player projections you've customized, it lets you know which scoring category you should prioritize first with your next draft selection. For example, using the setttings for the Mirtle league (which, for skaters, values G, A, +/-, PIM, PPG, PPA, GWG, and SOG) it ranked Shots on Goal as the most important category.
Now, this is a keeper league, and I'm fortunate enough to bring back Alexander Ovechkin from last year's squad. So I told the Draft Advisor that Ovie was my first pick and hit Update...
The Advisor then came back with a new #1 priority (power play assists), because it knows that with Ovechkin and his likely 400+ SOG, I can give greater weight now to other portions of the draft.
Folks, this is dynamite stuff, and best of all, it's available with a free registration to the site. It's a bit of a work in progress so far (it doesn't cover goaltenders, and the user interface can be a bit of an issue at times), but HockeyPoolGeek.com has taken fantasy hockey analysis a healthy step further than any other site I've seen.
The frustrating thing for me is that I had thoughts over the summer of developing something similar, but never followed through! The whole idea of allowing people to upload and customize their own projections, and generate draft rankings specific to the league they're interested in fascinates me. Once they get enough users participating, they could generate projections based on all of that input, tapping into the "wisdom of the crowd". Kudos to the Fantasy Hockey Geek for a job well done, and best of luck to all of you as you assemble your teams this weekend.