An Introduction to Daily Fantasy Hockey

For those of you that are new to daily fantasy hockey or have not yet made the jump and need a quick overview on the game and some basic strategy, this is the article for you.

The objective is to rack up the most fantasy points from your roster by having your skaters record points through shooting the puck, scoring goals and notching assists and also having your netminder earn a win and save as many pucks as possible and maybe record a shutout.

The Basics

The way to win may sound obvious, but actually accomplishing this goal is a difficult task. Of the major daily fantasy sports, your NHL games may be some of the lowest scoring contests that you play in and one shot may be the difference between cashing and not cashing. On FanDuel, you must compile a roster of eight skaters and one goalie. That is, staying under the given salary cap, you must select two LWs, two RWs, two Cs, two defensemen and one goaltender. On DraftKings, your roster consists of two centers, three wingers, two defensemen, a flex, and a goaltender.

If you want to cash on any particular night, you really must hit on the goaltender on a winning team, and you generally need to have at least three goal scorers. You can also win with depth players (who are often the ones who put the puck in the net with helpers from your stars) and with those who shoot the puck a ton and/or garner a lot of “live” statistics such as blocked shots.

Thus, make sure that you understand your site’s scoring system. I know that this mantra is pounded into your head with the start of every fantasy season, but it is worth me saying again. Each DFS site weighs goals and assists differently, just as they value goalie wins in a different manner. What this means is that it is in your best interests to pay up for a goalie on one site, or spend on that top sniper on an another site, because FanDuel and DraftKings, for example, each weigh those relative statistics amongst total projected winning scores differently. On FanDuel, a goalie win may account for much more than that same task counts on DK. Thus, when building your projections or your lineups, make sure you take the relative differences into account. Think about paying up for your goaltender on FanDuel similar to paying up for pitching on the site.

After you have digested this, it is time to look at my plan of attack and some advanced strategies that I have employed each night.

Strategy

The first thing I do on any given day is jot down some notes about the Vegas lines, whether it is the money-lines or over/unders, in order to help assess where the money is going. Some of the information I will write out is accessible to the public, but my information with respect to sharp money and betting trends stems from my own read that I attempt to convey in each piece that I will write for RotoGrinders. The thought here is that Vegas spends much more money and energy in setting accurate lines than we spend on any given day playing DFS hockey. As such, we can assume that the information that Vegas releases is as solid a base as any from which we may start our lineup building.

After taking these notes, you want to highlight for yourselves the teams that have the most lopsided moneyline (and use that to select a goalie as his team is more likely to win the game) as well as the games that have the highest over/under (and use that information to select your skaters as those teams are more likely to score the most goals on any given night).

Editor’s Note: RotoGrinders will be providing automated NHL lineups and much, much more on the site this season!

Goalies

The next thing I do is to take note of the lines that players are likely to play on that night. Then, I take a look at which goaltenders are set to start that night. Make sure you check the RotoGrinders Starting Goaltenders page to ensure that you are starting a goalie who is actually in net that night. Most NHL beat writers tweet out this information an hour before the game (if not earlier in the day after the team’s morning skate) after their team’s coach confirms the goalie. However, some coaches will not make this decision until right before the game while the Zamboni is cleaning the ice prior to puck drop. Knowing who the starting goalies are each night is really no different than ensuring in daily fantasy baseball that your players are actually in their respective team’s starting lineup.

rinne

Now that you have all of your data written down or scribed in some form, take a look at, for example, FanDuel, and note each players’ salary. Personally, I always start out selecting my goalie. I will take the cheapest goalie of the top tier netminders on the team that is likely (according to Vegas) to get a “W”. The thought here is that FanDuel weighs goalie wins heavily (comparable to a pitcher’s win in baseball) so you want to “pay up” for a goaltender, or at least pay up for the one of the elite netminders. This theory is true when building your cash-game lineups.

Remember that my strategy is just a suggestion and is one that I do not always follow. The critical point is that you should always commence your lineup on any given night with your goaltender. Each goalie on each team has a different floor and, necessarily, a different upside. One big mistake that you can make is to limit your goaltender selection by building around your skaters first. Another mistake that novice players make is to take an elite goalie (think, Carey Price), who may carry a $10K+ on FD price tag, when he is skating against a team with an offense so bad that they will not be able to shoot the puck enough. The reason is that because goalies earn points for saving shots, if an opposing team is unable to muster much firepower, then your elite goaltender will not be able to return his price tag even if he earns the win.

Skaters

Once I have my goalie, from there I add a couple of core superstars and then add in the remaining puzzle pieces. At points during the season, especially in your cash-game lineups on short-slate nights, you will almost feel obligated to play, for example, Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin every night, because you know that even though they come with a high price tag, you do not want to be the one daily fantasy player without them in the lineup. This situation happened during the last NBA season when it was almost impossible to not roster Russell Westbrook despite his rising salary each night.

Ideally, you want to target your skaters on teams from games that have a high over/under. It’s also helpful to find situations where one team has a significantly better power play and is playing a team with a significantly poor penalty kill percentage. You should then attempt to select a netminder in a game with a lower than normal over/under where the moneyline is extremely in favor of the favored team. For NHL purposes, I like to have a goalie on a team with that is at least a -175 on the ML or higher. With respect to my skaters, I try to roster as many forwards and defensemen as possible that skate on the first line (or first defensive unit) as well as on their team’s top power play unit. Of course, this may not always be possible, so you must learn to dig deep to find “values”.

The hardest part about setting a daily fantasy hockey lineup is finding those value or bargain bin players. To do so, pay careful attention to a team’s lines, and note whether a value player (in other words, a player with a cheap price tag) is playing with the first line or second line. It is a bonus if this value player is expected to see power play time. Much like NFL, MLB or NBA DFS, pay particular attention to cheap players who are getting a significant bump in responsibility. That is, if a skater who typically sees third-line usage and is suddenly projected to skate with his team’s top line and first power-play unit, then to roster that player you will have to pay a fraction of what you would pay for another skater in a similar situation that usually sees the same usage.

For example, Jonathan Toews will see first line and first power-play unit time, but he is usually one of the most expensive players to buy each night. If a less talented player replaces Toews one night, you can roster him for much less cap space, and you know he’ll be skating with more talented linemates than he may be used to skating with. So, lock him in and then use that savings to spend elsewhere, say, on a more expensive goalie than you had planned on rostering before.

Lastly, on short-slate nights, be on the lookout for offensive-minded defensemen that log 22:30 minutes of ice time per game or more. You may be in a position in which you want to spend top dollar on that D-man. If you roster that one blueliner who notches a few assists or records a goal when there are three, four or five games on a night, you should usually cash in your double-up games. The thought is that a high-priced, offensive defenseman is more likely to at least reach his value when compared to a similarly priced forward that might get second power-play unit time in a poor matchup.

Game Wrap-Up/Analytics

In the end, succeeding in the daily fantasy hockey landscape is as much about following the game on a nightly basis as it is in making the right roster choices. If you become adept at finding and exploiting salary inefficiencies, then you will be able to maximize the firepower of your lineup each night. As you follow the NHL news, you will spend less time trying to find holes in players’ salaries and more time building optimal lineups. Remember that daily fantasy hockey is still a small (yet growing) world, in comparison to NFL, MLB and NBA, so if you learn the game, you should be highly profitable.

stamkos

Over the course of the season, I will be sure to include more advanced strategies in my pieces. One of the primary tools that the hockey world has been rapidly accepting are advanced analytics. While there is no perfect statistic that encapsulates a skater’s worth like say, xFIP, win shares or wRC+, us hockey analysts have been crunching numbers in an attempt to be the first to create that one metric that accurately measures a skater’s value. Until then, we must keep using Corsi, Fenwick and other analytics that are designed to track puck movement and puck possession.

One model that I have been working on over the last season and a half is what I call the “Nils Model”. Essentially, it is used to measure high-event hockey games and it is comparable to the pace statistic in NBA. The idea is to target games in which both teams a) are in the top third in the NHL in shooting the puck, b) are in the top third in the NHL in surrendering shots, c) are in the top third in the NHL in scoring goals and d) are in the top third in the NHL in giving up goals. Shooting and scoring are the “events” in a hockey game and the more shots taken and goals scored, the more fantasy points your skaters can record.

Thus, in taking skaters from not only games that Vegas projects will have high over/unders and also from games that project to be high-event games from the Nils Model, we can maximize the probability that our team has a chance at scoring more points than a team from a DFS player that did not do the same research.

We will be including more advanced statistics on RotoGrinders this year so please make sure you check back frequently and also feel free to contact me on Twitter @TheTonyM with any DFS NHL questions.

About the Author

  • Tony Mauriello (TheTonyM)

  • A 25-year fantasy sports veteran and a California and New York licensed corporate transactional attorney by day, Tony has been a part of the daily fantasy sports world for four years and joined the RotoGrinders team prior to the 2013-2014 NHL season. A Duke law graduate and Boston sports (and Eagles) fan, he is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and contributes to Rotoworld, FantasyPros, and ProjectRoto. Please feel free to contact him at any time on twitter @TheTonyM with your fantasy sports questions.

Comments

  • kunah

    Thanks for the refresher. Can’t believe the season is starting already.

  • stooge72

    3 days. Can hardly wait

  • tlonghorns07

    Woo-hoo

  • kunah

    Drop the puck!!!!!!

  • beerad30

    thanks for the advice and looking forward to the season

  • grimlock

    Will the ROTOGRINDERS site have consensus rankings each night for NHL?

  • mrkeeps

    What is the points target for draftkings cash games? What about for placing in a GPP?

  • jgallagher80

    Good refresher, Tony. Can you offer an details on where you get the data for your Nils Model?

  • yh4j

    Is there going to be NHL grind down?

  • kunah

    Is it my imagination,,,,, or am I seeing NHL incentive features on RG? Dont remember there being any last year.

  • r311music

    Just what I needed to motivated for the upcoming NHL DFS season!

  • natroslezka

    Oh boy, time for everyone to do endless and mindless stacking.

  • VChair23

    Solid article

  • jjadamietz

    Well written article. The only thing I can take exception with is your use of vegas totals. The totals on regular season NHL games is almost always 5 or 5.5. The rare 6 might occur. I don’t know how much can be extracted from totals. Its not as useful as in baseball. Just my two cents.

  • fantasybullybusters

    Hey tony.. Looking forward to another year of hockey and reading your insight. How is your kid doing? Hope all is well…

  • beauvanlaanen

    great work man!

  • rsd79

    I am finding nhl to be more unpredictable than nfl so I am gonna wait for some more games to be played before putting more bankroll in

  • triad9980

    Love hockey but I simply can’t play DFS hockey anymore. It irks me because I always want to play. However I lost a ton of money playing in tournaments last year (my 1st year of DFS). On a day to day basis it’s just so unpredictable. You pay up for Gaborik and Carter and Toffoli and Carter accumulate all the stats at similar prices on that night. Just no way to predict it. People cover every inch of just about every line in stacks. The Panthers 3rd line has a random big game and somebody’s got it covered. You need a lot more luck to win in this sport than any of the others. All the interchangeable players in an NHL game and low event scoring make it really tough. If there’s people raking in tons of cash consistently in DFS hockey tournaments I frankly have no idea how they do it. You can pay up for Ovechkin against the worst team in the league and get nothing from him when that game ends 2-1 with the 2 goals scored by the Caps 3rd line. It’s just brutal trying to figure out where the goals are going to come from.

  • jm748227

    @triad9980 said...

    Love hockey but I simply can’t play DFS hockey anymore. It irks me because I always want to play. However I lost a ton of money playing in tournaments last year (my 1st year of DFS). On a day to day basis it’s just so unpredictable. You pay up for Gaborik and Carter and Toffoli and Carter accumulate all the stats at similar prices on that night. Just no way to predict it. People cover every inch of just about every line in stacks. The Panthers 3rd line has a random big game and somebody’s got it covered. You need a lot more luck to win in this sport than any of the others. All the interchangeable players in an NHL game and low event scoring make it really tough. If there’s people raking in tons of cash consistently in DFS hockey tournaments I frankly have no idea how they do it. You can pay up for Ovechkin against the worst team in the league and get nothing from him when that game ends 2-1 with the 2 goals scored by the Caps 3rd line. It’s just brutal trying to figure out where the goals are going to come from.

    It may be brutal because you may be overlooking certain stats that help people ID the lines they should be targeting in GPPs. Yes, even if you ID good lines they still need to go off. However in NHL GPPs its all about IDing those lines that people are overlooking (the non obv ones), they win GPPs night in and out.

  • yeahthisiscuddy

    @jm748227 said...

    It may be brutal because you may be overlooking certain stats that help people ID the lines they should be targeting in GPPs. Yes, even if you ID good lines they still need to go off. However in NHL GPPs its all about IDing those lines that people are overlooking (the non obv ones), they win GPPs night in and out.

    Why is it the guys that say stuff like this are also the ones that multienter tons of lineups. If you’re so good at iding the line that goes off, why do you need so many entries?

  • Eberry68

    Very helpful information. First time NHL player. I’m excited to play, and excited to use rotogrinders.

  • Dookiehogue

    Great read thanks

  • northdallasforty

    I know this is a few months old, but it’s a super read for us NBA guys that have a week away from our game. Playing a few NHL games and lovin it!

  • mwangle

    What are the best 3 front lines and/or PP lines? Use those lines every night they are on the ice.

    If you use different lines all the time and not targeting on consistant scoring lines it’s like shooting a moving target blindfolded. At least this way the target isn’t moving every night.

  • msr427

    Cha Ching! Thank u. Come again.

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