Fantasy hockey: How to add, drop and stream to max out your team

Sean Monahan of the Montreal Canadiens scores a goal on Spencer Martin of the Vancouver Canucks. Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images

As we here at ESPN.com pump out daily looks at the NHL slate and will continue to do so, it struck me that we didn't provide a user's guide for our work.

Sure these daily notes can be viewed through a daily fantasy lens, but that isn't our primary focus here: ESPN.com runs season-long fantasy games and that is who we are here to serve.

But because of the myriad settings and formats that can be applied, there is no strict recommendation that could be made. What's good advice for the eight-team, daily-moves, head-to-head league is not going to be good advice for the 14-team, weekly-lock, season-long rotisserie league.

The most frequent league type is a head-to-head weekly points league with 10 teams, but the settings within can still vary wildly and even that base template doesn't get you to a majority of leagues.

Let's take a quick minute to remember how these streaming and daily recommendations should be used depending on what type of league you play in.

Head-to-head with daily moves or no limit

If you play in a head-to-head format without transaction limits, then dive in. Take advantage of every solid matchup you can find. There's no penalty for working that free-agent wire and getting warm bodies into your lineup on a six-game slate. Ideally, you should reserve a number of roster spots relative to your league size and rotate in some players that are in action on a daily basis. We'll deal with goaltenders separately, but remember that a skater can't get negative fantasy points.

The only real penalty is the occasional player you drop to make room that falls into someone else's lap and becomes an asset working against you. However, if you're careful in your add/drops and never let slip a true fantasy asset, you're fine. The fantasy points curve for the league doesn't level out, but becomes significantly less steep as you approach the skaters in the 80 to 90 range for ranking. If the player you are dropping for a fresh body is going to finish the season ranked outside the top-100 skaters, you can be fairly certain you can acquire a replacement player of similar value.

Now, the awkward wording in that previous sentence is doing a lot of the work: "going to finish the season" outside the top 100. There are plenty of players outside the top 100 right now that not only have a chance to be inside it at the end of the season, but to be absolute difference-makers. One of the keys when playing the streaming game is to not drop difference-makers. How do you identify them? Watch some games, read some fantasy content, watch depth charts, don't ignore offseason assessments that may look silly now (there's a reason Elias Lindholm is considered an elite fantasy play and still could be this season).

Head-to-head with weekly moves or limits

If you are in head-to-head leagues and have transaction limits or weekly rosters, you'll need to be a little more discerning with when you add a player. Limits to roster moves eliminate the advantage of off-night streaming. There are a few scenarios for leagues here with the criteria listed: You could have daily lineup moves, but only weekly add/drops (in which case you need to forecast your additions well ahead of time), or you could have weekly lineup setting, but add/drop daily (in which case you wouldn't be able to use the player until the following week). You could even have weekly lineup and weekly add/drops, stacking all your fantasy work on Sundays (I can sympathize).

There are a few pitfalls surrounding the different settings and how you could use the daily notes.

If you play with daily lineups, but with some kind of limit on transactions or when you can make them, there is some benefit to forecasting the off-nights a week or more ahead of time. This can be done, loosely, by having a quick look at the Monday slate of games. It's not a hard and fast rule, but if a team is playing Monday it is an indication a team might also play on Wednesday and maybe even Friday -- and those are the three days of the week when the majority of the league is resting. (This particular week is a bad example, as Thursday is the lightest day, but this is an exception, not the rule).

For the vast majority of weeks in the NHL season, teams are busiest on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. In fact, they are often so busy that luck of the draw can leave you with too many active players for your roster. That's where the other days of the week come in.

Take next week, for example: Without doing an in-depth dive on the schedule you can see that there is a six-game slate on Monday, so you want to have a quick scan and see which of those teams also play Wednesday and then also play Friday (and maybe even Sunday). Nabbing free agents from teams with games on those nights gives you a counting-stat advantage over the competition. They make it less likely you have to bench an active player for another active player because their games won't compete for your roster attention if they are on different nights.

Following through with next week's schedule to complete the exercise, you can see the Ottawa Senators, Calgary Flames, Montreal Canadiens and Minnesota Wild play Monday and Wednesday. Then looking at Friday, you'll see the Senators and Wild again. They also both play on Sunday next week, making the Sens and Wild the perfect off-night target to boost your games played in a head-to-head matchup. From there you can consider which players are worth adding for the week. In this case, I'd put Marcus Foligno, Calen Addison and Shane Pinto on my roster for the week ahead, but if you play in shallower formats you might even see players like Matt Boldy, Drake Batherson or Joel Eriksson Ek available.

If your lineups lock for the week, it's a different approach.

You'll need to consider in some cases whether two games from a player are better than four games from another. This is a personal decision, but unless you are talking about players ranked among the top 100, quantity will usually beat quality.

One of the best views for this is the browser-based lineup tool for ESPN.com. If you are in a weekly league, you'll conveniently see a column right next to your players' names that lists their opponents for the week you are working on. This is an easy way to boost your counting stats as you set your lineup. Myself, for example, I'll take Shane Pinto's four-game week over two games from Andrei Kuzmenko next week (especially since one of the two games is against Connor Hellebuyck and the Jets).

These small, schedule-based boosts are harder to see in our daily notes, but you can still use them here. It's a great way to already have the fringe players on your radar, as you'll see them highlighted in the notes through the week.

This same logic for head-to-head leagues with limits can also apply to season-long leagues with weekly lineups. But there is another governor on most season-long leagues you need to be aware of and track.

Season-long with games-played limits

Now, if you play in a season-long points or rotisserie league, this is where you likely need to be more careful.

Whether or not your league has transaction limits, it almost certainly has games-played maximums. That is a threshold that means you can only start each position on your roster a limited number of times in the season. Unexpected injuries and occasional forgetfulness can leave you behind at times, but if you are actively streaming targets on off-nights, you could quickly find yourself outpacing your threshold.

Typically, it's 82 games per roster spot. So if your league uses five defensemen in starting lineups, you'll have 410 defensemen games to play with for the season. But you want to reach it. I a perfect world, you hit the limit on the last day of the season.

But a limit is a limit. If you stream in some extra skaters on off-nights earlier in the season, you might run out of starts by defensemen before the season ends. That would mean none of your defensemen's stats would count for the final few games of the season. Not a great thing if you have Roman Josi or Cale Makar on your team, as you want to maximize their returns with every game.

You can check this in the browser-based ESPN.com game at the very bottom left on your team page. It's subtle, but important "View Game Maximums." This will tell you if you are projected to run out of starts by a position before the season ends. Loosely, green is good and red is bad, but it's not that simple.

Trending a little bit ahead of your thresholds earlier in the season isn't a bad thing. It's better to push up against the limit and hit it a day or two early rather than fall short and limit your potential points or stats. If you find yourself in the green by a growing number, that means it's time to start finding ways to add games played. You don't want to short-change yourself.

While season-long leagues are more boxed in from the daily ups and downs of depth charts, there is still a spot to take advantage of here, especially if your season-long game has daily roster moves. And it's the one thing we haven't talked about yet. You guessed it, the netminders.


As always, goaltenders are their own thing. They are the one roster position that can actually reduce your fantasy totals -- whether through negative points in a points league or terrible ratios in rotisserie -- if you don't choose wisely.

When it comes to streaming them, especially on off-nights, you need to be careful. For every foothold you can gain, there is the chance that they make your fantasy totals worse. Just ask anyone who tried to pick up some streaming points this past Monday: Jordan Binnington, -8.4; Jeremy Swayman, -0.8; Karel Vejmelka, -1.2; Spencer Martin, -7.0; Sam Montembeault, -8.0. They combined for no wins, an .802 save percentage and 5.40 goals-against average.

There's also the added difficulty in not knowing which goaltender will start which game. Not for sure, and definitely not more than 12 hours in advance. The online beat-reporting tracking of projected starters is light years better than what we used to have, but still doesn't get us anywhere close to anything more than same-day transactions for spot starts.

You will naturally fall well short of the maximum games from your goalies. Even Connor Hellebuyck and Andrei Vasilevskiy only play 90 percent of games (and that will fall as the season wears on). You can and should absolutely target and use goaltenders to stream in some extra points.

But that is easier said than done. We do our best to highlight the potential spots in the daily notes, but there is always massive risk with the netminders. Wrong about a skater stream? Oh well, they only got 1.2 fantasy points, ce la vie. Being wrong about one goaltender can negate being right about three skaters when streaming.

On your own, the key is knowing the backups, watching for back-to-back sets on consecutive nights for teams (so you can narrow down when backup will get the call), and watching for the best potential matchups based on special teams, five-on-five possession and, frankly, how lucky you're feeling.