NHL DFS Guide for the NBA Obsessed - Fantasy Hockey Tips
The NBA All-Star break is here. While the break is much needed for the players and generally enjoyed by the fans, it creates a void for NBA DFS players. Before you sink into a dark, dark place and begin your NBA withdrawal process, I recommend that you step into the light that is NHL DFS.
You might be thinking to yourself, “I know nothing about NHL, why would I want to give away my money?” Expect this thought from your brain. Feel the itch to play something in DFS every night slowly taking you over. Don’t ignore the itch, scratch it. The water is warm, come on in. Yes, I’ve used three different metaphors already. Deal with it.
TheTonyM has already written an excellent primer on the basics of NHL, which you should definitely check out before diving into NHL DFS. I’ll try not to duplicate his content, but instead compare NHL to other sports that you might be more familiar with and expand upon a few NHL DFS concepts that newcomers might not be familiar with.
Goalie is similar to a starting pitcher in baseball. They can wrack up points in a hurry, but can also lose them just as fast. Saves are equivalent to strikeouts, while getting a goalie win is similar to pitcher wins (duh). On DraftKings, due to the scoring changes (see below), seeing plenty of shot volume is as important as getting the win. This is due to the value of each save (0.7 points) as well as the potential for the 35+ SV bonus (3 points). Wins are still important on DK, but they aren’t as crucial to success as they are on FanDuel.
In the past, I would have recommended paying up for goalie in cash games, but I’m not sure that’s the case anymore due to the new scoring system on DK. You can still look at Vegas odds to find a “safe” goalie for cash games, but make sure they are expected to face a decent number of shots. In GPPs, you might need to take more chances and take a goalie that isn’t heavily favored or might be a slight underdog. Underdogs will generally face more shots, so if they can steal a win, they might have more upside than some of the heavy favorites. Make sure that your goalie is starting! This will normally be announced fairly early in the day, but make sure to double check before contests lock.
In real life, there are five skaters on the ice for each team (excluding power plays). Generally, there are three forwards (one center and two wings) and two defensemen. I’m not going to go into the level of detail breaking down forwards and defensemen for this particular article, but the premise behind all skaters is the same.
Like any DFS sport, it’s about finding guys in favorable situations at reasonable prices. In baseball, if someone that normally bats 9th is batting 2nd in a game versus a weak pitcher, they obviously receive a sizable boost in potential production. In hockey, we look for skaters that will get lots of ice time on the first line of the even-strength and powerplay units. Often times a player will get bumped from the 3rd/4th line to the first line and will be playing with far more talented players than usual, which creates opportunities for production. Check out our daily lineups page to see who is playing on each line to find values. If you are looking at game logs on DK or FD to see how many minutes they have been playing, look for your forwards to log at least 15 minutes a game, preferably closer to 18-20. For defensemen, look for at least 20+ minutes, while 25+ is preferred. Ice time (especially in favorable situations) equals production.
Note: Blowouts aren’t really an issue in hockey like they are in NBA. Although some of the lower level lines might get an extra shift or two in blowouts, the top lines will still get ice time even when the game is out of hand.
FanDuel vs. DraftKings
Most people will be playing on either FanDuel or DraftKings so we will focus on those two. DraftKings made significant changes to their scoring system this offseason, most notably adding several potential “bonuses”. Think of these as similar to the double-double or triple-double bonuses in that there isn’t anything magical or inherently valuable about these in real life, they are just made for fantasy enjoyment. The new bonuses are shown below:
1. 5+ Shots on Goal (SOG) Bonus
2. 3+ Blocked Shot (BS) Bonus
3. 3+ Point Bonus
4. 35+ Save Bonus (Goalies)
The 3+ point bonus isn’t really something we need to account for too much because you were already going to be targeting players that score more often, so there isn’t much to do here. The other three, however, can (and should) be accounted for in your decision making. The 5+ SOG bonus obviously favors high-volume shooters, who can be valuable even if they don’t find the back of the net. The 3+ blocked shot bonus is a big deal because it brings the “grinder” type player into play for fantasy purposes. These are generally defenseman who rarely find the scoresheet, but sacrifice their bodies to stop pucks from reaching the net. These types are often near min-price and can pay off their salaries by reaching this bonus. Last, the goalie bonus rewards netminders who face a high volume of shots during the game. There have been plenty of instances this year where a losing goalie outscores the winning goalie by a decent margin because they faced so many more shots and picked up the bonus (worth half as much as a win). There is also a hat trick bonus, but this was already in-place prior to the 2019 season.
The other scoring differences between FanDuel and DraftKings are minimal. Check out the rules on each site for a complete rundown.
Roster construction is nearly identical between the two sites as well. If you already play on both sites, then the difference will be familiar to you. DraftKings offers a “Utility” position for any skater (non-goalie) while FanDuel does not. They both allow two Centers, three Wings, two Defensemen, and a Goalie. There isn’t really a preferred position to use the Utility on, and it will primarily depend on the values available on a given slate.
To Stack or Not to Stack?
“Stacking” is commonly referred to in all DFS sports, but what does it mean in hockey? Technically, it can just mean to stack a certain team, but generally stacking refers to stacking a particular line (group of forwards or defensemen who play together at the same time). In the past, plus/minus factored in to scoring on FD, which increased the need to stack linemates on FanDuel, especially in GPPs. This is no longer factored into scoring, but you should still strongly consider it. Players on the same line will often assist each other’s goals, so a goal from a particular line could result in a flurry of points for your roster.
Note #1: Forward Lines and Defense Pairings can and will change throughout the game. In the same way that NBA coaches will change up their rotations based on injuries, the flow of the game, and other factors, lines will ebb and flow as well. Also, line changes don’t always occur at the same time every time. So one player from a forward line might get caught on the ice and be playing with two forwards who he doesn’t normally play with for a shift. I say all of that to say, the lines published by beat writers or from the team’s Twitter account should be considered heavily in your decision making, but there is no guarantee they will stick throughout the course of the game.
Note #2: You’ll hear lines referred to as “even-strength” or “power-play” lines. Even-strength lines are the ones deployed when both teams are at 5-on-5 (not the power play). These will be the ones utilized for 90% of the game. Power plan lines are the ones rolled out when a team has the man advantage due to a penalty. While the overall time on the power play is low comparatively speaking, this time is lucrative and is a great opportunity for shots and goals. The league’s best power play operates at a 30% rate, while the league average is close to 20%. Newcomers are often hesitant to stack power play lines, but it’s a great opportunity for some leverage.
Note #3: In hockey, there can be two assists on a goal, which is unlike any other sport. There are few better feelings in DFS than having a goal scored and assisted by two players and you own them all. It’s like having your QB throw an 80 yd TD to your receiver, except that another player someone gets in on the action too! In cash games, stacking is a riskier proposition because if the line that you stacked bombs, you’re likely done for the night. In cash games, it’s often better to try and mix and match players across different teams and lines to mitigate some of the risk.
1) In the same way that it’s not a good idea to roster hitters versus the starting pitcher that you are also playing, it’s not smart to play skaters that are facing your goalie. You are minimizing your upside from the start because if your skater has a good day, then your goalie likely did not, and vice versa.
2) Similar to NBA, look at who is playing on the second of a back-to-back (B2B). You shouldn’t always avoid players in the back end of a B2B, but you should consider it since they might have slightly more tired legs. This is especially true for road teams.
3) Target skaters against backup goalies in poor situations and target backup goalies in good ones. Huh? Yes, it’s confusing. Depending on the circumstances, backup goalies should be both targeted and targeted against. Vegas lines and the pricing of players involved will help you out in determining which side of the fence to be on.
4) Late scratches in hockey are extremely rare. Unlike the NBA where players are frequently given the night off, this almost never happens in the NHL. Goalies are the exception to the rest rule, but you’re already checking who the starting goalies are, remember? All that to say, you can essentially set your lineup and relax after the first games lock, even on a late-swap site like DraftKings.
5) Have fun with it! Don’t go crazy and throw a ton of money in NHL contests on the first night, but dip your toes in the water a little bit. As you get more comfortable, you can expand your $ in play. (Note: I don’t actually believe this, I just felt obligated to write it. Go all-in on the first night and reload the next night if needed!)
Good luck and feel free to leave any questions or comments or reach out to me on Twitter.