Welcome to ESPN Fantasy Hockey 2011-12! We are glad you are here to take advantage of the best fantasy league manager available on the entire web and hope you have as much fun playing the game as we have bringing it to you.
This is an introduction to the game, but don't stop reading just because you are a wily fantasy hockey veteran. The ESPN standard game is a bit different than many other fantasy games you've played, and it has a few intricacies.
How to play: Signing up First things first, head to the appropriate sign up locations and get into a league. You can join a custom league, create a custom league and/or jump into a standard public league.
How to win: Signing up In the Charlie Sheen sense of #winning, it is important to make sure you are in a league where you will enjoy yourself. If the standard game doesn't sound like your cup of tea, get into a format you dig. You will pay more attention to a league that meets your preferences and you paying attention improves both your experience and your leaguemates'. To that end, meeting people online and getting into a league is encouraged and can be broadening but it's hard to beat the feeling of being able to talk fantasy at the water cooler or a family BBQ. If you can set up a league with people you know, odds are it will enhance your enjoyment of fantasy hockey as well. Personally, I like a mix of both: a couple public leagues to broaden your horizons and a couple leagues with acquaintances for that special type of trash talk reserved for people who know you.
How to play: Ranking After you set up your league and before the draft date starts approaching, you need to find some time to do your research and ranking. Read up all the fantasy advice you can, but if you are pressed for time, make sure you read what is important. If you are playing in a standard ESPN league, you don't need to be able to recall the fourth-string netminder for the Phoenix Coyotes (it's Justin Pogge) or the number of times Teemu Selanne was on the ice when Saku Koivu got a point (27 of his 45 points). Keep the knowledge you study in check with the league you are competing in and it will save you a lot of time. Follow as much training camp as you can before your draft. We have some rankings here on the website, but to each their own. You will want to put your own spin on the rankings.
How to win: Ranking Assembling the right team at the draft will go a long way to helping you take the title home at the end of the season. Here are some guidelines to help you do that:
1. Goal scorers beat playmakers every time. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, each time Daniel Sedin scores a goal (or attempts to score a goal) he helps in another category, shots on goal. Every time Henrik Sedin passes to Daniel to take that shot, he isn't guaranteed anything but he does to get an assist if Daniel happens to score on the play. The scorer is always producing and the playmaker is hoping to assist. Secondly, there were 1.7 assists to be had last season for every goal scored. By simple product of scarcity, a goal is worth more. That doesn't mean you start discounting players just because they get most of their points on assists, it means you break value ties by leaning toward the scorer.
2. You will want to rank up a couple of elite defensemen. The drop-off for elite production from defensemen comes fast and furious. There is an elite group of a half-dozen D-men and then a large grouping of about 25 defensemen who have similar value. If you can walk away with one of the top performers, you will have a significant advantage from a position of general weakness.
3. When considering your ranking, be aware that plus/minus is a mercurial category. It can balloon and sink from season to season like no other category. Putting too much weight into plus/minus when ranking your players can raise some players who may not deserve a boost and lower players who deserve to be considered sooner. That said, you want to secure a solid plus/minus, so look to teams with a consistent track record in the category and that haven't changed much in the offseason (i.e. Vancouver Canucks, Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals).
How to play: Drafting Once you have your league set up and rankings complete, the draft day will be a looming deadline that will come at you faster than a freight train. Be prepared and be ready. Be studied on the type of draft you are doing, whether it is a straight draft, snake draft, auction-style, if it's a from-scratch league or a keeper. Make sure you have a cheat sheet handy and a list of some fallback sleepers should you ever be pressed for time on a pick.
How to win: Drafting Whether snake, straight or auction, there are some tricks to make sure you have a good draft.
1. In snake and straight drafts, one of your biggest opponents can be the clock. A wise strategy to be at-the-ready should your time to make a pick be waning is to have a pre-set list of players you are a big enough believer in to take them a round earlier than they are expected to go. With the sixth round, for example, you would take a look at the average draft position list (once it starts getting generated) and look at the names of the players going in the seventh round. There is likely to be a player that stands out in your mind as worthy of being a sixth-round pick. Write down the name as an emergency backup should you feel panicked with the clock ticking down.
2. In auction drafts, there are countless strategies on how to spend your money, so in the interest of brevity, here are just a couple. Spend some dollars on goaltenders. They will go at a premium, but the cream of the crop can come close to guaranteeing a high finish in three categories. No forward you will buy at the auction table can guarantee a high finish in one category, let alone three.
3. Once the auction gets into forwards who are fantasy second-line quality (think of your No. 4 through No. 6 forward roster spots) stay out of bidding wars. The value becomes pretty tight after you get your fantasy first line settled and spending some extra dollars to secure Brandon Dubinsky over Alex Tanguay is arguably wasting a little cash. If the bidding is hot and heavy on a forward you like in that range, remind yourself that the next couple guys on the list are closely comparable.
How to play: Lineup Once you have your team settled at the draft, it's time to manage your team through the season. There will be many occasions of injury, slump and demotion that will force you to make some moves. Work the free-agent wire in your league and look for breakout performances by looking at recent production on the ESPN Player Rater. You can sort the player rater by scoring periods and see who has been hot lately.
How to win: Lineup But if you want to win, you don't have to wait for injury, slump or demotion to force your hand. Here at ESPN.com we update weekly rankings of the top forwards, defensemen and goaltenders. We will highlight trends in production, depth chart movements and the impact of trades or call-ups. To be the best you have to stay one step ahead of the competition. Staying ahead of the competition also means smart lineup setting. That is where the other ESPN.com column comes into play. The Fantasy Forecaster lays out the week ahead on a grid and calculates matchup ratings on offense and defense for each game based on the most up-to-date statistics in the NHL. Using the forecaster, you can plan which players to focus on during a week ahead and even plan to grab a free agent that happens to have a good schedule.
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.