How to Play and Win at NHL DFS

Daily fantasy hockey attracts a vast pool of players from around the globe and is very fun and potentially quite profitable. This article is a brief primer on how to play and win at NHL DFS (Daily Fantasy Sports).

DFS involves creating a virtual team of players and earning points based on their real-world performance. The objective is to outscore your opponents and finish at the top of the leaderboard.

In this article, we’ll walk you through the basics of NHL DFS, from scoring mechanics to contest selection, and everything in between.

How to Score Points on DraftKings NHL and FanDuel NHL

The two largest U.S. sites for DFS are called DraftKings and FanDuel. Both sites use similar scoring mechanics in NHL DFS. Players earn points based on their real-world performance, such as goals, assists, saves, etc.

Here’s a breakdown of the DraftKings scoring system:

Skater Scoring

Stat Score
Goal 8.5 Pts
Assist 5 Pts
Shot on Goal 1.5 Pts
Blocked Shot 1.3 Pts
Short Handed Point bonus 2 Pts
Shootout Goal 1.5 Pts
Hat Trick Bonus 3 Pts
5+ Shots Bonus 3 Pts
3+ Blocked Shots Bonus 3 Pts
3+ Points Bonus 3 Pts

Goalie Scoring

Stat Score
Win 6 Pts
Save 0.7 Pts
Goal Against -3.5 Pts
Shutout Bonus 4 Pts
Overtime Loss 2 Pts
35+ Saves Bonus 3 Pts

NHL DFS involves selecting a team of players while staying under a predetermined salary cap. You must select nine players to create a lineup, with each player having a salary attached to them. These players will include 2 centers, 3 wingers, 2 defensemen, a utility spot, which can be a center, winger or a defensemen, and a goalie. The goal is to score as many points as possible with your team’s performance. The salary cap typically prevents simply picking all the top players on a single entry, which introduces skill and strategy to the game.

The most successful DFS players understand the importance of leveraging player data to identify value picks. A winning strategy involves identifying undervalued players that could perform well beyond their price tag. As we’ll see in the following sections, this requires understanding key stats and analytics, projections, and probability distributions.

The Importance of Projections and Probability Distributions

Since we don’t know the future, we use data and other information to estimate a player’s entire range of possibilities. We can use this calculation to make decisions on player price tags and determine who to select. When we refer to a projection in DFS, we are usually speaking about a players most likely fantasy points outcome for the event based on a predictive model.

Three key things to remember:

— All of the top DFS players use player projections to guide their decision making in one way or another.
— Projections add context to a player’s salary based on their most likely performance.
— Most DFS players use tools to help make decisions using projections, such as our LineupHQ optimizer.

Hockey performance can be subject to fairly high levels of variance. Players can go on a hot or cold streak, and their performance can be heavily influenced by factors like their role, opposing goaltending, whether or not they or their line-mates hit a post, and their physical and mental state. Predictions of central tendency like median projections are a reasonable guide post to take all of that into account and more and the best tool available to begin formulating a strategy based on past data.

RotoGrinders provides projections and probability of success metrics, enabling players to understand a player’s likelihood of success.

NHL Lineups

Finding players with an improved role on his team is a great way to find value plays for your lineup. A forward being moved up to a team’s top line should not only get more playing time, but also play with better players. A defenseman getting increased powerplay time, due to a teammate’s injury or trade, will have much improved projected output, etc. Powerplay usage is often overlooked, but is extremely important to producing in daily fantasy with powerplay goals happening at a per-minute rate of about 2.9x more often than at even strength.

Projected lineups and role will oftentimes change throughout the day. Initially, they will be based on the previous game, assuming no injury news. On gameday, typically around 11 AM local time, we will get morning skate practices from the teams, where line rushes showing projected lines will normally take place, projected starting goalies will typically be in the goal designated for that day’s starter and powerplay units will sometimes practice together as well. Then, 30 minutes before the start of the game, the team’s starting goalies will lead the team out on the ice, and around 10 minutes later, the skaters will take line rushes confirming where they will play in the lineup. This information will be updated throughout the day on both LineupHQ and on the Rotogrinders NHL Lineups page.

Stacking

Stacking is a popular large-field tournament strategy in which you play multiple players from the same team in your lineup. In hockey these stacks are typically multiple players on the same line, or players on the same powerplay unit. Stacks where you get 3 forwards who play with each other during both even strength and powerplay are especially powerful.

Stacking is a successful strategy because it focuses on forcing positive correlation into your lineup, which allows you to capitalize when a team or player has an outlier performance (i.e. scores a bunch of goals). Skaters on the same team are positively correlated for one big reason. For every goal there is an average of about 1.7 assists. To win a large-field tournament you will very likely need a player who will get 3+ points in the game, and when that happens, that player’s linemates are going to have a strong chance to have multiple points, the defensemen on that team are going to be more likely to have points, and the players he shares powerplay time with will be more likely to score points.

Goaltending is a notoriously hard position to predict in hockey, and playing the starting goalie for a team who you have multiple skaters for is a nice stacking idea, too, because of the positive correlation that comes with a skaters scoring increasing the odds that their goalie picks up a win.

LineupHQ makes stacking easy. You can customize which kinds of stacks you would like, from which lines or powerplay units on which teams, and you have the option of adding defensemen or goalies from the same team.

Game Theory and Ownership

The goal of DFS is to defeat our opponents. Estimating the players and strategy our opponents will deploy should be a necessary part of formulating our own strategy.

The popularity of a player on DFS sites is measured by ownership percentage.

Ownership refers to the percentage of DFS players that select a particular player for their lineup. Comparing ownership projections (an estimate of their popularity) to a player’s probability of success is essential to gaining an edge in tournaments. Identifying low-ownership players that have a high probability of success can lead to significant advantages in scoring.

RotoGrinders provides ownership projections and probability of success metrics, enabling players to gain insights into player ownership trends and adjust their lineups accordingly.

Key Stats and Analytics

To build a successful NHL DFS lineup, many top players incorporate key stats and analytics when making player selections.

Here are some of the most important factors to consider:

Shots on Goal: Hockey in a random game, and players can play well and still end up with no goals or assists to show for it, because of poor shooting luck or great opposing goaltending. On the other hand, a line can score 2 weak goals on the only 2 shots they have all game. Over the long haul, players and lines that are getting shots on net will typically start turning some of those shots into goals and checking to see how many shots a player has taken in recent games is likely going to be more productive than looking for recent goals. Shots also provide a nice floor for any player’s performance.

Team Implied Total: This is simply how many goals the sportsbook oddsmakers expect a team to score that night. Goals drive DFS performance, and the expected team total will account for many things you would want to consider like opponent quality, home/away, opponent expected goaltender etc.

Corsi: Corsi is an advanced statistic used in the game of ice hockey to measure shot attempt differential while at even strength play. There are other stats that attempt to measure similar things, but Corsi is the original and still works pretty well. This stat works as a way to look at the quality of an individual player, it works for looking at lines to see how well they have been playing together, and it works when considering matchups against specific lines or players on the opposing team.

Using the Optimizer in NHL DFS

The LineupHQ optimizer is a tool that can help you build lineups based on your criteria. These tools allow you to set specific parameters, such as budget, number of lineups, and player exposure, to build a lineup that fits your needs.

It can be a lot to learn if you are new or aren’t a natural “numbers” person. Don’t worry, we’ve got tips for all types of users to get what they need from LUHQ.

Building one to three lineups tonight? Here is a beginner’s guide to building a quick and competitive team using picks and DFS data in LineupHQ:

1. Check out any of expert identified “core” players and see if they have linemates that would make a good line stack. Oftentimes these line-mates will often be identified as “core”, “tournament”, or “salary saver” themselves.

2. Choose another stack, this time one with lower ownership. Preferably one that has solid even-strength and powerplay correlation.

3. Choose a defenseman that correlates with one of your line stacks. Ideally, a defensemen that shares powerplay duty with players on the line, but if that is not available, any defensemen who plays on the same team would qualify.

4. Choose a goalie that shares the same team as one of your stacks or choose a goalie with a projected low ownership. Choosing a lower-owned goalie is one of the best ways to get leverage on the field due to the very high variance nature of goaltending in NHL DFS.

5. Choose a lower-owned defensemen with a solid projection to fill out your last spot in your lineup. This basic construction would be called a 4-3-1 or 4-3 stack, with 4 skaters from one team, 3 from another, with a spare skater from a 3rd team to meet the lineup requirements on Draftkings.

For building any number of lineups, but especially more than three lineups, the Rotogrinders stack tool is great. There, you can specify which kinds of stacks, which lines, and which teams you want to target, and you can also include settings to stack goalies or defensemen with your stacks. Under Build Rules it is also very useful to use the setting to include 0 opposing skaters vs your goalie. Your goaltender is going to be very negatively correlated with the skaters he is opposing and this setting is a great one to use to avoid that.

While using an optimizer can be helpful, it’s important to remember that it’s only a tool and should be used in conjunction with your own research and analysis. Additionally, optimizing for unique lineups in GPPs can be a key strategy for differentiating yourself from other players and increasing your chances of success.

Contest Selection and Knowing Your Goals

When playing NHL DFS, it is important to select the right type of contest and understand your goals. There are two main types of contests: cash games and guaranteed prize pool (GPP) tournaments.

Cash games require stability and optimal median outcomes. These contests include head-to-heads, 50/50s, and double-ups. In these contests, a safe and consistent lineup that scores well but does not necessarily take the top spot is often the best strategy. For these types of contests, stacking is not important, and it is fine to play opposing skaters vs your chosen goaltender. The vast majority of your energy should be focused on finding the lineup with the highest median outcome.

GPPs (Guaranteed Prize Pools), on the other hand, need to capture upper percentile outcomes to win. These contests offer larger payouts for the top finishers but can be more volatile due to the larger fields and top-heavy prize pools. To be successful in GPPs, it is important to identify high-upside players that have the potential to score big and differentiate your lineup from the rest of the field.

It is important to play within a bankroll limit and gamble responsibly. DFS is a form of gambling, and it is crucial to manage your bankroll effectively to avoid significant losses. It is also important to understand that DFS is a game of skill, and long-term success requires diligent research and strategy.

Examining payout structures and understanding top-heavy payouts increase volatility in results can also help guide contest selection. Larger top prizes often lead to more variance in outcomes and can require a more high-risk, high-reward approach to player selection.

In summary, playing and winning at NHL DFS requires a comprehensive approach to player analysis, game theory, and contest selection. By understanding the scoring mechanics, analyzing player data, and utilizing tools such as an optimizer, you can build winning lineups and achieve success in DFS tournaments. Just remember to always play within your bankroll, gamble responsibly, and have fun!

Image Credit: Getty Images

About the Author

  • Dana Forden (Moneyball16)

  • Dana Forden (aka Moneyball16) is a longtime professional gambler who studied Economics in university before becoming a professional poker player and later moving to DFS. This gambling history, along with being a longtime student of sports analytics, has led to an excellent breadth of knowledge on the intersection between gambling, statistics, and sports. Dana helps lead the NHL content and projections at RotoGrinders, and he is also amongst the top handicappers on our sister site, ScoresAndOdds. In the summer of 2023, Dana was brought on full time with the RotoGrinders Network as an Associate Projections Analyst. Follow Dana on Twitter – @Moneyball16

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