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This piece is meant to act as an introduction to the standard game. With a different league setup than many other manifestations of fantasy hockey, ESPN's standard game needs to be approached carefully by any new manager. Admittedly, it is a bit different than some fantasy leagues you've played in the past, but once you get over the simple fact that it's different, you will begin to embrace it.
The game uses 10 statistical categories: seven for offense (goals, assists, plus/minus, penalty minutes, shots on goal, power-play points and average time on ice), and three for goaltenders (goals-against average, save percentage and wins). There is a slight change here from previous seasons with the replacement of power-play goals for power-play points, but based on the categories, goal scorers still have an advantage. Playmakers will still be counted thanks to assists and plus/minus; defensemen have their dominion in average ice time and penalty minutes. The change still requires a few tweaks for the ...
Eight (revised) Simple Rules For Winning Your League
Simple Rule No. 1: You want the shooter, not the passer. This is a revision of the former rule that stated "Daniel beats Henrik." With Henrik Sedin taking his game to a new level and with the rule change from power-play goals to power-play points, the old rule doesn't nail down the point quite enough. The change in the standard categories shortens the gap between playmakers and finishers, but the playing field is still not level. Whereas in previous seasons, the power-play goal category gave an advantage to your goal scorers such as Daniel Sedin, changing to power-play points numbs the advantage. However, a goal still counts as a goal and a shot on goal, while an assist is just an assist. So when it comes to a choice between two players such as Dany Heatley and Joe Thornton, who will finish with similar point totals, you want Heatley and his propensity to shoot ... and score.
Simple Rule No. 2: Alexander Ovechkin is the No. 1 pick, and it's not even close. This rule remains from last season and is used to really drive home the type of player that the ESPN standard game favors. Ovechkin is likely to lead the league in three of the seven standard categories and could also lead all forwards in two more. Despite his Richard Trophy ways from last season, Sidney Crosby is not likely to lead the league in any category, as he favors a balanced attack. This isn't a debate over who is the better hockey player:. This is simple math given the variables of the standard ESPN game. Ovechkin and high-scoring wingers are kings. Crosby and playmaking centers are his court. While goal-scorers like Ovechkin won't be able to run away with the power-play oriented category because of the change, if you have a look you will notice that Ovechkin and other goal-scorers get their fair share of power-play assists too.
Simple Rule No. 3: A quality goaltender in hand is worth three skaters in the bush. If goal-scorers are extra valuable because they can dominate two categories, then logic dictates that goaltenders, who are responsible for three categories of their very own, also deserve a measure of respect. A standard roster will feature an offense with nine forwards, five defensemen and a utility spot. Each of those roster spots helps toward seven categories. That means that 15 players are responsible for 70 percent of your rotisserie points, or about 5 percent of your total roto contributions from each offensive player. With two goalies handling the remaining 30 percent of your standings, each goaltender is responsible for 15 percent of your rotisserie points.
This is not to say you should be drafting goalies in the first two rounds (not that it's a terrible idea), but rather the rule is emphasizing the fact that those you draft need to be solid. Two elite goaltenders lock you in for 25 to 30 rotisserie points. Two elite forwards don't promise anything other than a good start to your offense. Even owning both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin can't guarantee you any category. But owning Roberto Luongo and Martin Brodeur means that, barring injury, you're going to finish near the top of the goalie categories.
Simple Rule No. 4: Elite defensemen are truly elite. If there is a premium on good goaltending, there is an even bigger premium on your elite defensemen. Defensemen accrue points in the same fashion as forwards in this format. There is no bonus for points scored from the blue line, nor are there any stat categories that specifically favor defensemen (though time on ice certainly leans in their favor). That makes your elite, top-tier defensemen extra special, as they can compete with some of the top forwards for production. ESPN auction values show Mike Green as the top defenseman at $22, but it drops all the way to $11 for the No. 12 blueliner (Lubomir Visnovsky). But from No. 13 to No. 24 there is only a $4 value change. There is only a $2 drop between No. 25 and No. 36. That means the top dozen defensemen give you a spectacular advantage if you can secure a couple of them. You also want to avoid being stuck with the low-end defensemen whose only attribute is that they skate backward a lot, but statistically do not belong in the top 200 players conversation. Further establishing the elite power-play quarterback this season is the addition of power-play assists in the form of the power-play points category. There were three defensemen in the top 10 for power-play assists last season and eight in the top-20. Four of those defensemen managed to finish in the top 20 for power-play points. The true power-play quarterbacks like Green, Dan Boyle, Drew Doughty, Sergei Gonchar and Chris Pronger are dominant fantasy players at their position.
Simple Rule No. 5: Goons need not apply. Penalty minutes are closest to being a specialty category than any of the other ones. For example, you rarely find someone who shoots the puck a lot but has trouble scoring (though Zdeno Chara and Dion Phaneuf's performances last season might be the exception) or someone who has a good plus/minus but doesn't put up points. But there are tons of players out there who rack up PIMs and nothing but. The problem with goons is that, despite the advantage they can give you in a category, they will absolutely decimate you in another. Of all the NHL players you could reasonably expect to rack up more than 100 penalty minutes, only a dozen or so will get more than 15 minutes of ice time. The others will drag your average ice time down so much, you will be sacrificing one category for another while losing the scoring production you'd get from even a replacement-level forward.
Simple Rule No. 6: Multicategorical players are worth their weight in gold. Brenden Morrow used to be the king here, but Alex Burrows, Steve Downie and Scott Hartnell are reigning champions, with David Backes and Sean Avery challenging. These guys may not light up the scoreboard, but the fact they have a decent amount of ice time to go with 150 penalty minutes and know what to do with the puck means they don't have to. Any power forward is a sleeper to find this kind of value, but you want to make sure they have a chance of having a decent plus/minus to truly be valuable.
Simple Rule No. 7: Plus/minus is both essential and fleeting. Plus/minus is an unusual fantasy statistic because players can contribute both positively and negatively to a non-ratio category. That is not something you often have to deal with in fantasy sports. While you have to cope with a baseball player who doesn't steal bases, you don't see that player take away some of the stolen bases your other players get. If you were playing fantasy football, no one would touch the running back that consistently posted minus-50 yards every week, but in fantasy hockey, some players with a similar handicap deserve a spot on your roster due to their other contributions.
The unpredictability from year to year really messes with the category as well. Jeff Schultz led the league last season with a plus-50 after posting only a plus-13 the previous season. Heatley was third in the league in 2007-08 at plus-33 but finished the following season with a minus-11. Thomas Vanek led the league at plus-47 in 2006-07 but followed up with a minus-5 campaign. Wade Redden led the league at plus-35 in 2005-06 and was plus-1 the following season. The 2003-04 league leader was Martin St. Louis at plus-35 and the next season he was minus-3. Get the point? Give proper weight to the category, but chasing it can be disastrous. It's best to make sure most of your players are in position to help in that category rather than to count on a couple of players to carry you. Which leads us to ...
Simple Rule No. 8: When factoring plus/minus into a player's value, pay attention only to the extremes. We know the Washington Capitals and Vancouver Canucks will be the home of plus/minus leaders this season, so feel free to move those players up in the rankings because of their rating. We know the Edmonton Oilers and New York Islanders will have a plus/minus rating similar to Antarctic temperatures, so move them south in your rankings. But since most Pittsburgh Penguins will finish somewhere between plus-10 and minus-10, just forget about the statistic completely. Don't bother giving Sidney Crosby credit for his plus-15, and don't discount Evgeni Malkin for his minus-6.
I wouldn't bother factoring it into any of your decisions except for players on certain teams. The teams whose players deserve a boost for plus/minus are the Washington Capitals, Vancouver Canucks, Chicago Blackhawks and likely the Boston Bruins. Penalize players for their plus/minus if they're skating for the Minnesota Wild, Edmonton Oilers or New York Islanders. Ignore the statistic for everybody else on draft day, and adjust accordingly as we get a better idea of how teams will play during the season.
At the end of the day, I called these all "simple rules" for a reason. These are just blanket-statement strategies. Well-thought-out strategies, but strategies nonetheless. It's not my place to offer up a rigid code of conduct, but by reading this, you should feel a little more comfortable with the ESPN standard game. Surely you'll enjoy the subtleties and come up with your own strategies once you get playing. But hey, guess what? If you don't like it, ESPN Fantasy Hockey is fully customizable to any category and game-play setting you desire. Did I mention it was free, too?
Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is the 2008 and 2009 Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Hockey Writer of the Year. You can e-mail him here