DFS Hockey Primer: What You Need to Know
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 idea is to rack up the most fantasy points from your roster by having your skaters score goals, earn assists, log pluses (or minuses), and get penalty minutes.
That may sound obvious, but actually accomplishing this goal is a very tricky task. 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.
If you want to cash on any particular night, you really must hit on the goaltender on a winning team, and you need to have at least three goal scorers. On FanDuel and DraftKings, you can win with depth players (who are often the ones who put the puck in the net with helpers from your stars) that have a high +/- rating (for FanDuel, but not DraftKings) for the night, who shoot the puck a ton, or who are troublemakers (as most sites reward players with points for penalty minutes (PIMs) and for “live” statistics such as hits and 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 matter. 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 or DraftDay. Thus, when building your projections or your lineups, make sure you take the relative differences into account.
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.
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 is sort of my own read that I attempt to convey in each daily piece that I write. 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.
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. I usually tweet out the starting netminders each day about an hour before the first puck drops. 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.
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 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 top tier 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.
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 this baseball season when it was almost impossible to not play Clayton Kershaw.
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 or MLB 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, Steven Stamkos 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 Stamkos 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 22:00 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 3, 4 or 5 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 world, in comparison to NFL, MLB and NBA, so if you learn the game, you will be able to make your lasting mark in the DFS world.
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 (yet, somehow slowly) 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, which I will explain in the coming months.
Good luck Grinders!