It’s time to prep for your fantasy draft, but you’re up against some of the best drafters in the world. If you want to catch up with them, you’d better be smarter than them.
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It seems like it was just a few weeks ago that we were seeing Steven Stamkos lift the Stanley Cup for the Tampa Bay Lightning, after an NHL season unlike any other. It was because it was. Nonetheless, here we are, gearing up for a presumably complete and uninterrupted – and, fingers crossed, healthy – 2021-22 season. That means it’s time to reassemble your fantasy team, or form a new one, and attempt to outwit and outmaneuver your immediate rivals. That is something we want to assist you with. Let’s start with the most crucial few hours of your fantasy season.
It’s far simpler to lose a season-long league on draft day than it is to win one, as the wisest of fantasy hockey gurus will tell you. A few ill-advised decisions may jeopardize your fantasy win prospects straight away. It’s not enjoyable. Which emphasizes the importance of that three-hour window on a random preseason evening. So, in the context of ESPN’s normal points redraft league, at least to begin, here’s some tips to assist you put together the best squad possible when it counts most.
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I’m all about choosing the best player available in the draft’s early stages as a dedicated student of Brian Burke’s real-life approach to building a squad. If Connor McDavid’s name isn’t mentioned, you go with Connor McDavid. In conventional scoring leagues, you’re choosing the greatest player on the world to optimize that roster slot, regardless of whether Brad Marchand is your favorite competition or your heart is set on getting a goalkeeper first-overall. McDavid is his name. Done. Following the Oilers’ center, fellow forwards Auston Matthews, Nathan MacKinnon, and Leon Draisaitl complete the four – or quintet, if you believe Nikita Kucherov’s hip is still healthy – of top fantasy players who are just more valuable than everyone else. Beyond those four (five?) fantasy performers, there’s a little drop down to the next, and bigger, swarm of potentially equal fantasy performers, which includes numerous forwards, the occasional important defender, and one outstanding goalie.
Getting the starting goaltender for the Tampa Bay Lightning isn’t a bad idea right now. In this tandem-friendly age, Andrei Vasilevskiy can be counted on to start the vast majority of games for the top club in the league, maximizing his fantasy production. Only Connor Hellebuyck and Jacob Markstrom started more games in 2020-21. In standard leagues, Vasilevskiy averaged 4.4 fantasy points per game, compared to 2.9 for Hellebuyck and 2.0 for Markstrom. There is no one better to serve you in that crucial role, and a very strong fantasy forward or defender will still be available in the following round.
In normal 10-team leagues, this leaves us with a plethora of extremely excellent fantasy assets to target in rounds two through five. In the second tier of performances, the difference in fantasy worth amongst forwards is very small, so acquiring a top defender and goaltender of choice is a smart approach. Even though their individual fantasy ratings are almost identical, I can almost promise that Toronto’s Mitchell Marner and Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin will be picked up far before Max Pacioretty of the Vegas Golden Knights in most drafts. So, go ahead and choose Rangers blueliner Adam Fox or goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury as Chicago’s new No. 1 goaltender, knowing that players like Pacioretty or underrated Hurricanes center Vincent Trocheck will still be available in later rounds. A defender like Alec Martinez, who also adds to the scoreboard, is a gold mine in leagues that award blocked shots.
Positional criteria need more consideration after you’ve reached the core of the text. If your league divides forwards into roles depending on their eligibility, this is the time to select for necessity while also considering possible value based on C, LW, and RW eligibility. When it comes to changing your lineup during the season, focusing on attractive centers while ignoring skaters on either side will certainly be irritating and fruitless. As a result, forwards who can play various positions may be your greatest fantasy allies. Otherwise, proceed to select the best projected player available in leagues that categorize all forwards similarly (F).
In any case, sifting through team previews and other preseason fantasy material to figure out who will be skating where and with whom may pay off big in fantasy. New faces in new positions, or players expected to rise up their respective lines or join elite power play units, have fresh appeal now that the more apparent fantasy stars have left the board. Forward As a rookie linemate to McDavid in Edmonton, Zach Hyman, who was a decent if mediocre fantasy contributor with the Maple Leafs in previous seasons, has regained his fantasy luster. This leads us to several additional under-the-radar players that may make the difference between fantasy success and failure.
Candidates who have made a comeback and those who have made a breakthrough
High-performing sleeper prospects, in addition to a solid foundation of star and otherwise established performers, may help spell the difference between success and loss at the conclusion of the fantasy season. Getting a later-round gem that exceeds expectations goes a long way toward competing for the ultimate title.
Conor Garland is an under-the-radar performer in his new Vancouver digs, and I like him as a taste of direction ahead of our more extensive preseason sleeper coverage. Whether he skates alongside Elias Pettersson or Bo Horvat, Garland, a former Coyote, is on the verge of hitting his prime scoring stride at the age of 25. After an improved sophomore season, New Jersey center Jack Hughes looks ready to take the next step forward. With the expansion Seattle Kraken, defenseman Vince Dunn (24 years old) has underappreciated fantasy potential as a power-play asset. And there’s no way Philadelphia’s Carter Hart will play as badly as he did last season. He’s much too good a goaltender to make the same mistake again. These four players are only a sampling, but they may be mid-to-late-round steals in many drafts.
Carter Hart (L) is hoping to rekindle his old magic, while Jack Hughes (R) is eager to take the next step forward. USA TODAY Sports’ Eric Hartline
The Letter “D”
Those on the decline are on the other end of the spectrum from prized sleepers. Players become older, switch teams/lines, or just find it difficult to recreate a previously explosive, out-of-character campaign. For the first time in his 14-year career, Blues winger David Perron averaged more than a point per game in 2020-21. What are the odds that the now 33-year-old can repeat such performance for the second year in a row? With the less-productive New Jersey Devils, ex-Hurricane Dougie Hamilton is unlikely to finish in the top-seven in blue-line scoring. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t pick up Perron or Hamilton; it just means you should keep your expectations in check and draft appropriately.
Goalkeepers are discussed further.
This is much too significant a position to dismiss hastily. Your fantasy team need consistent performance from between the pipes since just a few players are accountable for bearing the weight of many categories. In traditional H2H points leagues, where three to four goalies are shuffled in and out of your active roster, at least one standout, go-to goalie — Vasilevskiy, Hellebuyck, Juuse Saros, and so on — should be on your fantasy roster, along with a solid second-tier fantasy netminder like Ben Bishop or Cam Talbot. Focus on bolstering your goalie corps with excellent tandem-team players — particularly those who have the ability to run with the number one job — and/or an outlier sleeper candidate after you’ve secured that one-two G1/G2 punch.
Frederik Andersen, who was shuffled out of Toronto, may be in for a hectic, bounce-back season as Antti Raanta’s tandem partner. Furthermore, the Hurricanes are a solid team, which adds to any netminder’s fantasy worth. John Gibson, on the other hand, is an outstanding goaltender, but his worth may be tempered if the Anaheim Ducks play as badly as most anticipate.
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Save your G3/G4 reserve picks for later rounds of your draft unless there’s an unusually early rush on goalies or your lineup needs more than two active goalies. Even yet, it’s worth repeating: this isn’t a position to take lightly. A small group of people is in charge of putting up winning numbers in three, four, or more fantasy categories. They must deliver.
D-men: A More In-Depth Look
Your blue-line drafting approach is strongly influenced by the size of your roster and the ratio of allowed slots divided between forwards and defenders. For example, if your daily or weekly lineup necessitates double (or more) the number of total C, LW, and RW as defenders, the latter position should be given less consideration in your selection. In traditional scoring drafts, it makes sense to concentrate on the larger number of fantasy strong hitters up front. One top-tier D-man, of whom there are few, should be selected early in the draft, with subsequent selections used to build out a respectable supporting cast. Only 12 defensemen, including John Carlson, Cal Makar, Jakob Chychrun, and Roman Josi, averaged more than 2.0 fantasy points per game in ESPN’s default game last season, with all but three of them being prolific contributors with their respective team’s No. 1 power play.
Beyond that top dozen, there are 35 players in the next tier, who average between 1.7 and 2.0 fantasy points each game. Following that, a slew of defensemen racked up 1.5 to 1.6 points. When the blue line’s best of the best are gone — and they deserve to be targeted as soon as possible — there’s little reason to use up early to mid-round draft picks when a larger number of productive forwards contribute more on a game-by-game basis and you need to fill those C, LW, and RW lineup spots. Particularly in fantasy leagues where blocked shots are valued, increasing the number of quality D-men is advantageous. David Savard of Montreal may have only had six points this season, but he blocked 80 shots. And there’s a decent possibility Savard (and/or many of his ilk) will still be alive and well in the latter rounds of your selection.
It’s Important to Use Categories
They certainly do! As previously stated, the overhead draft method is most applicable to traditional scoring competitions, such as ESPN’s default points game. There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution. In your league, penalty minutes may be worth a lot of money. Tom Wilson of Washington is now a much larger issue. Is it true that shots and PIM are very important? The Ottawa Senators’ Brady Tkachuk jumps to the top of your target list. In leagues where assists are equivalent to goals, Mitch Marner is a far more valuable commodity. Faceoffs may be worth a lot in fantasy, making Blues center Ryan O’Reilly and Carolina’s Jordan Staal even more valuable. I once (reluctantly) played in a league that didn’t recognize scoring at all, instead focusing on less traditional metrics like hits, blocked shots, and faceoffs, and throwing away the traditional player rankings. My personal dream jam isn’t for everyone, but to each their own.
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My best suggestion is to fully acquaint oneself with your particular league’s categories, taking into account whether metrics are valued in terms of their absolute worth or points (and how many), and then update your rankings appropriately. In addition, our preseason in-depth look at specific categories can assist you in this respect.
Leagues, Leagues, Leagues, Leagues, Leagues, Leagues, Leagues, Leagues
The kind of league you play in has an impact on how you build and manage your fantasy team. While the vast majority of ESPN managers play in an H2H points league, there are alternative choices that frequently need a different strategy. For example, in H2H each category leagues, penalty minutes are just as significant as goals and hits, as well as anything else fits within the boundaries of the game. Across the board, you want to outscore, out-hit, and out-shot-block your opponent of the week. A weekly score of 10-2 is a significantly bigger win than 7-5, indicating that balance is crucial. It makes no difference if you defeat an opposition manager by one goal (or assist, or hit) or ten. Investing heavily on shot-blockers, for example, rather than aiming for competitive balance, may backfire.
The same strategy does not applicable in most H2H competitions, where a weekly score of 7-5 is equivalent to 12-0 and the final score is 1-0. I’m more at ease disregarding one or two stats, such as PIM or plus/minus, and instead focusing on others. In this kind of fantasy game, securing a few “slam dunk” categories at the cost of one or two others makes more sense.
When it comes to Rotisserie (Roto) competition, having a well-balanced team is crucial. Squandering one or two categories may result in a significant loss of potential points. Let’s suppose your 12-team/10-category league has a total point limit of 120. Ranking last or near last in a handful of metrics and earning just a point or two out of a possible 12 is tough to overcome, no matter how good you’re humming away in other areas. Whether you like to or not, you must consider plus/minus. In this league, managers that effectively seek for balance fare well.
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The more uncommon season-long, set-it-and-forget-it league is a whole different beast. Hey, youngsters, there was a day when you had no option but to meet with your parents, grandparents, and favorite fantasy hockey writer (ahem) at a local watering hole with an analog magazine and a list of eligible players to pick. There were no waiver acquisitions, trades, or injury replacements on your roster for the whole season. Whether selected in person or online, these leagues still exist (or both). In such a tournament, durability is almost as essential as player talent. Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks has not missed an NHL game since November 21, 2013. In leagues with few, if any, allowed trades, those who are less prone to injury, such as Burns, are extra-valuable commodities.
Establishing a Dynasty
While the above mostly pertains to redraft leagues, dynasty and keeper competitions continue to be popular among fantasy managers. Both need forethought, especially in dynasty leagues. With a limited number of draft picks each season, dynasty managers should focus on acquiring a future fantasy great like Calgary Flames scoring forward Matthew Coronato or franchise goaltender Jesper Wallstedt (Minnesota Wild). Regardless of the fact that these youthful rivals will not be significant for another year or more, the most competitive dynasty teams are constructed on the best possible foundation. There’s always the possibility that not every aspiring superstar will realize their full potential, but that’s part of the game. Snatching the most promising player available is a proven strategy.
Keeper leagues are distinct in that the annual draft shuffles more players in and out each season. While you want to keep the strongest core possible — seven, eight, or more top players — picking a good-but-not-for-long-term opponent isn’t always a terrible idea. Are you in a position to succeed right now? Isn’t it the goal to win? Then, to finish out your team, choose Dallas veteran Joe Pavelski, who scored 25 goals and added 26 assists in 56 games in 2020-21 at the age of 36 (now 37). In the meanwhile, don’t forget about fresh up-and-coming talent. Fantasy managers with weaker, rebuilding rosters, on the other hand, should concentrate on the talent of tomorrow, whether NHL active or not.
Upkeep of the roster
Unless you’re in a set-and-forget seasonal league, putting up a strong team is just the first (and most important) step of a months-long fantasy adventure. Whether you’re in a daily or weekly league, you need to keep a close watch on how your own players are doing while also keeping an eye on those that are available on waivers. The need of diligent, anti-stagnant roster management cannot be overstated. Players are prone to being hurt, becoming cold, and/or changing positions in their respective lines.
Roles and the possibilities they offer are frequently just as important as ability, aptitude, and health. While centering a scoring line with Taylor Hall, Boston’s Charlie Coyle is a completely different fantasy player than when playing in the Bruins’ bottom six. On the Wild’s top line, who will play alongside Kirill Kaprizov (if the RFA re-signs)? In deeper leagues, you want that center or opposition winger on your fantasy team as a hidden asset. I’m not advocating you respond to every lineup change made by coach Dean Evason, but if another player inherits a valuable scoring position beside Kaprizov and it seems to be permanent, that guy deserves additional consideration as a mid-season free-agent acquisition.
Simply said, if there’s a more promising LW (or whatever position) available on the wire than on your current roster, swap them out, either directly or by using any of your free-agent acquisition money to do so. At all times, you want to ice the strongest squad possible (and our weekly in-season coverage will help to that end). Of course, the number of trades allowed throughout the season — which may range from a few to an infinite number — has an effect on your roster-shuffling approach. In the first few weeks, you don’t want to use them all up or blow your FAAB. There’s also the risk of squandering good talent who is just suffering in the near term. Every year, I see managers worry too soon, only to later regret moving players who regain their scoring touch. That is not something you should do.
Injured Reserve: A Few Words
If multiple roster spots are available, take full use of them, apart from temporarily stashing your own wounded stars. Tuukka Rask, who will be sidelined until January or February after hip surgery, is unlikely to play another game for the Boston Bruins. Linus Ullmark and/or Jeremy Swayman may be able to persuade management in Boston that re-signing their long-time senior goalie, even for pennies on the dollar, is pointless. Rask may no longer feel like that after he’s fully recovered. But what if Ullmark and Swayman falter, and Rask is thrust into action to save the Bruins’ season? Wouldn’t it be great to have one of the finest goaltenders in recent memory safely stored away in an extra IR slot on your team, just to unleash his fresh, goaltending figure later in the season? Yes, it certainly would. When you’re well, fill your IR slots with prospective performers. If required, you may always delete them.
The Tradesmanship Art
Contrary to what some fantasy message board postings may imply, making a good deal does not require duping another manager. The final agreement helps both parties by filling a vacuum, at least to some extent. Win-win. Your desired winger for my capable goalkeeper. In keeper leagues, a swap of aging stars for up-and-comers is common, depending on who is rebuilding and who is on the verge of winning it all. If you’re still not persuaded that the classier mutually beneficial method is the way to go, keep in mind that fantasy trade karma exists. Managers that have a reputation for attempting to defraud their peers will have a hard time finding trading partners in the future. If they aren’t kicked out of the league entirely.
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