Thanks to emerging and existing DFS sites -- large and small -- you have the daily opportunity to build your own roster, compete directly against others doing the same, in a preferred league of selection, for a monetary investment of your own choosing.
No fuss, long-term commitment or getting stuck with players you don't like. For those unfamiliar, here's a primer with tips to get you started.
1. Become familiar with the basics
First, acquaint yourself with your preferred site's salary cap, roster size and scoring categories. Here are specifics from two of the big sites:
Roster: Nine players including three wingers, two centers, two defensemen, one utility player (W/C/D) and one goaltender.
Scoring categories for skaters: goal (3 points), assist (2), shot on goal (0.5), blocked shot (0.5), short-handed point bonus (1), shootout goal (0.2), and hat trick bonus (1.5).
Scoring categories for goalies: win (3 points), save (0.2), goal against (-1), and shutout bonus (2). Netminders can also accrue points with goals and assists.
You have a total of $50,000 to spend, with salaries ranging from the mid-$2,000's and up.
Roster: Nine players including four wingers, two centers, two defensemen and one goaltender.
Scoring categories for skaters: goal (12 points), assist (8), shot on goal (1.6), blocked shot (1.6), short-handed point bonus (2) and power-play point bonus (0.5).
Scoring categories for goalies: win (12 points), save (0.8), goal against (-4) and shutout bonus (8). Netminders can also accrue points with goals and assists.
You have $55,000 to spend, with salaries ranging from the mid-$2,000's and up.
Once assembled, your team will compete against others in a contest of your choosing.
2. Pick a potential purse
After joining a DFS site, but before assembling your roster, there's the matter of settling on what contest suits you best. If you prefer facing long odds for a shot at a greater payout, Guaranteed Prize Pools (GPPs) -- which involve challenging hundreds, if not thousands, of other fantasy squads -- is up your alley.
Otherwise, cash games, such as 50/50 or head-to-head contests, are appealing alternatives, where your team must beat a smaller pool of competitors for a more meager payout. It all depends on how conservatively, or not, you care to play. Often, DFS managers will hedge their bets, so to speak, by entering two or more teams in a wide variety of competitions.
With GPP's, an emphasis on selecting less-conventional assets often reaps the greatest reward. Outside of one or two consistently popular players, target higher-risk performers with the most upside, considering matchups, lineup changes, and other intangibles. In order to finish high in these events, your roster cannot resemble everyone else's.
This isn't the case with cash games, where a more conservative approach often proves successful. Remember, you don't have to beat the whole world. Your fantasy squad must only better half, or two-thirds, of your competitive pool (or the one person against whom you're playing in a head-to-head matchup). If you believe Alex Ovechkin will shine bright that particular night, include him. You can bet the majority of your competition will do the same. Try to harness an edge with other smart bargain and mid-range salaried players otherwise.
Once you have a handle on these basics, you can explore multipliers, personalized leagues, and the rest of what daily fantasy competition has to offer.
3. Gauge available goaltending
In a nutshell: goalies are important. A poor outing from your netminder can quickly spoil an otherwise strong showing from the rest of your roster. The ideal DFS goaltender is one who's likely to face a lot of shots, stop most (if not all) of them, and earn the win. Beyond that, you may want to tailor your selection to your choice of contest.
When a star like Henrik Lundqvist is sporting a hot hand, he's an obvious high-priced asset, particularly in cash games, while GPP players may prefer to save roster dollars and roll the dice on a bit-time player or over-performing backup under the right circumstances. For instance, Devils rookie Scott Wedgewood handsomely rewarded some owners this past March during his bright, if limited, run. Never mind that he only suited up for four games.
There are no hard rules here. Only that you shouldn't cheap out on your netminder for the sole sake of saving salary. The position is simply too important.
4. Browse bargain options
When shopping for shoes, cars or electronics, there's nothing like striking an excellent bargain. The same applies to daily fantasy players. This is where a little research can pay out rich dividends. For instance, once David Perron moved on from a disappointing showing with the Pittsburgh Penguins, he saved some face by salvaging the remainder of 2015-16 with the Anaheim Ducks (including eight goals and 12 assists in 28 games). This was largely thanks to some primo ice time on a top forward line with Ryan Getzlaf.
As you can imagine, Perron's fantasy salary was exceptionally affordable ahead of his trade out of Pittsburgh. So, along with the valuable points, you're benefiting from the extra wiggle room allotted under the cap to buy pricier stars, at least in the short term until the sites update his salary. Keeping in tune with such transactions and lineup adjustments will give you an edge over your competition.
5. Harness the hot hand
Those who quickly bought in to Shayne Gostisbehere in the early stages of his first full NHL season with the Philadelphia Flyers were given cause to smile. After an already impressive start made in November, the young defenseman strung together a 15-game point streak through the end of January and most of February. As expected, it also took a while for the Gostisbehere's fantasy salary to catch up. Players will run unexpectedly hot for extended periods; monitor these streaks and act accordingly.
6. Survey struggling stars
There's also the potential upside to investing in an star player who's had a rough time of late, and particularly doing so in GPPs. Not only is such a high-caliber skater capable of breaking out at any moment, but his fantasy salary is likely to have depreciated in the meanwhile. Think of the Philadelphia Flyers' Claude Giroux during one of his short-lived cold snaps.
7. Matchups matter (to a point)
At the most basic level, you want to engage hot players from a strong offense who are up against an overall weak defense. While looking to the lines and over/under totals at sportsbooks is a good place to start, individual matchups can also be worth investigating.
After relishing two dominant victories against the formidable Penguins in the latter half of 2014-15, Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask extended his winning streak this past season, allowing only three goals in three appearances (including a .972 save percentage). This isn't to suggest Rask will always overwhelm the Penguins (this is way too small of a sample), only that you might put off investing in a pricey star like Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin until another day.
8. Ponder potent forward pairings
There's the obvious two-player/one-goal advantage to stacking a productive forward pairing, especially, but not exclusively, in cash games. If the Stars' Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn are playing well together, and facing a weaker defense and goalie, stack away.
But not all stacks have to be so pricey. Look for effective star/supporting cast duos or trios -- look to see who lines up next to John Tavares for the New York Islanders, now that Kyle Okposo is gone, for instance -- as well.
9. Covet other categories
Look beyond goals and assists. Veteran Francois Beauchemin led the league with 256 blocked shots in 2015-16; those add up to major points in DFS contests. He also managed to contribute to the score sheet with some regularity -- 34 points -- bolstering his value for owners. The lesson here is, don't overlook the lower-profile fantasy assets that dominate in non-scoring categories, especially when they come cheap.
Your shot-happy skaters are also worth an extra long look over their more conservative counterparts, if all else appears relatively equal.
10. Scrutinize social media
Twitter serves as a valuable game-day resource for last-minute lineup changes, goalie start decisions and injury updates. Some coaches are wont to relentlessly shuffle lines more than others (looking at you here, Ken Hitchcock). With the ability to fiddle with your own roster until puck drop, it's up to you to make informed adjustments, as necessary. Not every fantasy manager keeps such shrewd practice.
Good luck and have fun!