A glimmer of hope. A ray of sunshine. An exchange of contracts. That's all that was required to get hockey fans excited (and then mildly disappointed) about an upcoming season. While positivism can only take you so far in real life, there's no limit to the good vibes in fantasy land. Because if the professionals look ready to hit the ice, then that means the fantasy game will follow suit. So if your draft were to take place today, how prepared would you be? Don't fret if you feel lost; the following will cover many (but not all) areas for the average intermediate and expert poolie.
The amount of required fantasy work and strategy depends on the league type (draft vs. auction), format (head-to-head vs. rotisserie), and participant competition level (expert vs. novice vs. couldn't-care-less). If you are relatively new to the game, then maybe start off with a top-100/200 player list. While you may have opinions on whom you think will do well, don't be afraid to use website resources. Player projections, cheat sheets, and similar tools are available to guide you in your decision-making process.
I would highly recommend using the RotoWire Custom Fantasy Hockey Rankings by plugging in base values, transferring the output to a spreadsheet, and then sorting by position as well as editing the data to tailor to your preferences. I'd also suggest buying the most recent fantasy preview magazine to use as a reference guide for power-play units and prospects. Yes, you can find similar info online but having a paper copy to circle and jot notes within helps organize everything.
Avoid cramming. More information doesn't always equal better information, especially when trying to make a decision during the draft with the clock running. Believe me, you won't be able to pick while chewing gum and checking five websites at once. Don't procrastinate or the auto-drafter will give you Laurie Boschman and an old pair of socks. Pay attention to the picks. Take a peek at the other rosters so you don't waste your time choosing a RW when 10 of the other 11 owners have already maxed that designation allocation.
If the best player available belongs to a position in which you've filled up, then you may still want to pick him for depth. You can't sacrifice talent if your goal is to maximize point totals. However, if you're light in another position and there are only one or two decent remaining options, then you may have to go in that other direction. Remember to scroll down the default rankings to find promising rookies and those who should still do well but had an off year, missed considerable time due to injury, or are returning to the NHL.
You may be drafting with friends, family and/or colleagues, so don't be ashamed to pick a player you know another owner wants. It may sound unethical, but one steal could upset another poolie's entire strategy and give you a slight psychological advantage for the subsequent hours Ė and coming season. But at the same time, don't dig too deep for someone else's favorite and sacrifice significantly better options.
The rotisserie-style system lends itself to different strategies than the head-to-head format. For example, in a standard online roto league, goalies are more valuable as they usually account for 40% of the category allocation. In other words, the 10th-best netminder should be ranked higher than the 10th-best center (or, dare I even say, 10th-best non-goalie). Most of the key decision situations in this format occur during the season, so not a whole lot more can be said.
Then there's the auction. This particular layout is the more exciting of the two, but also the one where people tend to make more mistakes. Being short of funds at the start shouldn't necessarily hinder your opportunities. Obviously, all the big names should be off-limits but you can still grab at least one or two players from your checklist.
Remaining dollar amounts are regularly counted for a reason. As the auction progresses, you'll get more of a feel for what you need - but, more importantly, what your rivals can spend and how you can trap them into shelling out more than they want on certain players. This will leave you with more money to buy whom you really want since most others won't be able to afford them.
Don't be discouraged if you miss out on any intended targets, as a few backup selections should remain. The 'nominate-someone-undesirable' ploy will only work if you don't get stuck with him. Try not to be locked in a situation where you have many holes to fill and only a $1-2 limit per spot. You probably pegged a few sleepers but may have a problem if the bidding climbs to $3 and beyond. Stay with a plan but you can improvise a bit as the conditions change.
And for heaven's sake, be deliberate with your decisions. Nobody likes a Walter Waffler. Never heard of the guy? Let me refresh your memory: "I'll take/nominate Player X. No, I meant Player Y. Oh, he's gone? Fine, Player Z then. He retired two years ago? OK, back to Player X. Hmm, I don't really like the team he plays for...Wait, who else is left?" But, at the same time, never rush a pick. Take an extra few seconds to ensure your logic and strategy is sound before pulling the trigger.
Depending on how the negotiations go and if a deal is reached, NHL action may be back by November. And then again, the league could be frozen until at least 2013. But we can continue to analyze actual skaters as they ply their trade in various international locales. From the far reaches of Russia to your own backyard, professionals are making an effort to stay in shape and retain our support. As much as anyone would hate to see veteran stars like Martin Brodeur and Teemu Selanne lose an entire season, there is still hockey out there and that ain't bad.
Evan Berofsky enjoys writing. Seriously. When he's not trying to shove hockey miscellany down your throat, he gets his kicks playing tournament Scrabble. If you have anything to say about Evan's work (or need any hot word tips), feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter (@evanberofsky).