Special to Yahoo Sports
The NHL is in better shape than ever before. The league has a pair of lucrative television contracts with Turner (TNT/TBS) and Disney (ABC/ESPN), countless superstars scattered all over the league, some of the best young talent in the history of the sport and plenty of teams that have struggled in recent years primed to take the next step (New Jersey, Buffalo, Detroit) in 2023-24.
Whether you’re a first-time player or returning after an absence, now is the time to play fantasy hockey. Here's a primer for the upcoming season.
What is Fantasy Hockey?
Basically, it's a fake game version of the real-life sport. Fantasy “drafts” are held prior to the start of the season in which current, real-life NHL players are divvied up among a group of people playing in the same “fantasy league” together. In short, the fantasy “manager” whose real-life NHL players play the best on the rink wins.
What positions can you draft?
In all Yahoo fantasy hockey leagues, regardless of format, a starting lineup consists of two centers, two left wings, two right wings, four defensemen and two goalies.
What fantasy formats can you play in?
There are three main types of fantasy formats.
This is the most popular format. Each week, each fantasy manager goes up against another manager in your fantasy league. At the end of the week, all categories are tallied. For skaters (forwards/defensemen), Yahoo H2H category leagues count goals, assists, plus-minus rating, power-play points, hits and shots on goal. For goalies, wins, shutouts, GAA (goals against average) and save percentage are counted. That’s 10 categories in total. If you beat your opponent in 6 of the 10 and tie in another, your record for the week would be 6-3-1. Records are kept for the entire season, with the teams that do the best record-wise advancing to the fantasy “playoffs” late in the year.
This format has become more popular in recent years. In Yahoo points formats, you again play one team in your league each week, but the scoring is different. Skaters earn six points for a goal, four points for an assist, two points for plus-minus rating, 0.9 points for a shot on goal and one point for a blocked shot. Goalies earn five points for a win, 0.6 points for every save, five points for every shutout and -3 points for a goal against. The points are added up at the end of the week and the fantasy managers with the most points earn a win for that week’s matchup. It’s as simple as that. It’s difficult to make up ground in a points league should you fall behind early on simply because you get one win or one loss (or very rarely, a tie) at the end of each week, like fantasy football.
Rotisserie (Roto) formats, although more popular in baseball, also work for hockey. In this type of format, you don’t have to worry about an individual opponent on a week-to-week basis. The 10 categories that are counted for skaters/goaltenders are the same as the ones listed in the H2H categories section above. If there are 12 teams in your fantasy league and at the end of the year you finish second in goals scored and third in assists, you would get 11 points in the goals scored category (the team that finished first would get 12, the team that finished last would get one) and eight points in the assists category. The same logic can be applied to the other eight categories. The standings change throughout the season, with the final results typically being finalized after the conclusion of the NHL regular season.
Tips and tricks to use on fantasy draft day
Leave your fandom at the door: This is probably the most important one for casual players or newcomers. In short, you can’t base your fantasy team around the team you root for in real life. If you’re a fan of the Flames, you can’t avoid guys on the Oilers. Same goes for the Maple Leafs and the Canadiens, the Rangers and the Islanders, etc. It’s fine to take a guy or two from your favorite real-life team if the circumstances are warranted, but you can’t comprise your entire fantasy squad of players you root for. If you’re fortunate enough to get the No. 1 pick on draft day, you take Connor McDavid, Calgary fan or not.
You get what you give: This one is straightforward. Look, everyone has stuff going on in their life. Whether it be work, school, kids, whatever. But generally speaking, the more you pay attention to your fantasy team, the better it will be. That doesn’t mean you have to spend every hour of every day obsessing over it, but donating five minutes every other day to managing your team instead of five minutes once a week can make a huge difference in the long run.
Prioritize goaltenders: There are almost always a good number of forwards and defensemen who come out of nowhere to have solid fantasy campaigns on a year-to-year basis. You won’t find Auston Matthews or Cale Makar on the waiver wire, but you can find guys who will help fill out your roster. Goaltenders? Not so much. There aren’t enough quality netminders to go around, and those guys almost never lose their jobs unless they get hurt. Making sure you have a high-end netminder to anchor your team is a key to success.
Shoot for upside: Take Phillip Danault of the Kings, for example. Danault has posted between 51-54 points in each of the past two seasons, and he’ll probably get there again in 2023-24. He’s a very good player who will help LA win hockey games this coming year, but his fantasy upside? It isn’t all that high. You’re better off rolling the dice on a guy like Seth Jarvis of Carolina or Wyatt Johnston of Dallas. You almost certainly won’t regret not picking Danault, while ending up with Jarvis or Johnston could make all the difference in the world if they break out.
Use the tools Yahoo provides: Yahoo provides plenty of useful tools on your league page to assist you. You can search for players by their rostered percentage (the percentage of Yahoo leagues in which a particular player is on a team’s roster), as well as sorting by all different types of statistics when searching for help in a particular category. If a player is rostered in 98% of Yahoo leagues, they should probably be rostered in yours, as well.
Have fun: The most obvious tip of all. Fantasy hockey, like all fantasy sports, is supposed to be enjoyable. Whether you’re in a casual format with friends and family or playing in a high-stakes league for big bucks, have fun while doing it!
Stay tuned for more fantasy hockey articles and analysis in the weeks ahead to help you get ready for the 2023-24 season!