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Daily Fantasy Hockey 101: An Intro to Daily Hockey

Michael Clifford

Michael Clifford

Michael Clifford writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.


The Sochi Winter Olympics are starting to wind down which means the return of NHL action is not too far away. In fact, itís less than a week from now. Thereís still a lot of hockey left to be played, though, as every team has between 22-25 games left which equates to upwards of 30-percent of the season.

Before delving into the specifics of daily fantasy hockey, hereís a broad stroke on the daily fantasy sports industry first.

What are daily fantasy sports?

Daily fantasy sports, or DFS, essentially cram an entire seasonís worth of fantasy gaming into one night and allows the player to enter multiple contests in different ways. In a nutshell:

-- Fantasy gamers wanting the rush of draft day without the commitment of season-long games would love DFS. After depositing on a site like FanDuel, the user then selects the type of game they wish to play (which I will get into later). The fantasy gamer then selects their roster to fit under the designated salary cap (in hockey on FanDuel, itís $55,000).

-- The user just has to click ďenterĒ and thatís it! Itís that easy. Then itís just a waiting game until the puck drops.

Thereís a lot of versatility in DFS as you can play against one person, two people, 10 people, 100 people or more. In this sense, itís a lot like poker. There are different games and different levels of stakes starting as low as $1 per game.

Once that nightís slate of games is over, itís a brand new day with different teams, different players and the process starts all over again. Itís a new fantasy league every day.

Getting to know DFS hockey

Daily hockey is sometimes pretty difficult to handicap and there are three reasons why:

1. Hockeyís a fairly lucky sport. Thereís evidence to suggest that around half of all the goals scored in the NHL are luck-driven and goals are the name of the game in DFS hockey. Any fantasy gamer, whether season-long or daily, knows how much luck can play into any game and hockey is perhaps the worst offender. Basketball games can have a hundred baskets between two teams on a given night while the majority of hockey games will be between four and six total goals.

2. Goaltending is very volatile and itís the one position that will make or break most nights. On FanDuel, you have two of each position (right wing, left wing, center, defense) and one goaltender. That one goaltender comprises just 11.1-percent of your roster spots but on good nights, a goaltenderís point total will be around 20-percent of your final points total (or more) and about 15-percent of your salary cap.

3. A playerís plus-minus rating can be a significant hit to your team. In FanDuelís scoring, a player that scores a power play goal and takes two shots would be at 4.3 fantasy points, which marks a successful night. If heís on for two even-strength goals against, thatís a minus-2 and the 4.3 drops down to 2.3 and perhaps out of the profit range.

With all this in mind, itís important to remember how volatile hockey is and to not get frustrated easily. Itís easy to pick the wrong goalie two or three nights in a row and feel like itís hopeless. There are ups and downs in any fantasy sport and hockey is no exception.

Types of games

There are four main types of games that are most common on FanDuel:

1. 50/50 Ė The total pot is evenly divided among the top half of fantasy gamers on a given night in a given contest depending on final scoring. For example, a player in a $2 50/50 that finishes 23rd out of 50 would double up their bet; a person who finished 27th out of 50 would not. Regardless of where you place ďin the money,Ē everyone gets the same amount. These are most advisable for gamers just getting their feet wet as a larger player pool means less likelihood of draining your bankroll as you navigate your way through this game.

2. Head-to-Head Ė Exactly what it sounds like -- a one-on-one match with one other gamer. When starting out, itís not a bad idea to avoid these games. The head-to-head players tend to be sharks, or players that are better at the game than others.

3. Salary Cap Leagues Ė These are individual leagues that can have anywhere from 3-100 participants. Unlike the 50-50 leagues, salary cap leagues have different pay scales depending on the size of the league. These can be tough to make a profit in until a level of consistency is found, and that can take a while.

4. Guaranteed Prize Pool (GPP) Ė These are the bigger tournaments that can have pools of thousands or tens of thousands of dollars. For example: a salary cap league will only have up to 100 people in it, a GPP called the ďOne-TimerĒ on Fanduel regularly has over a thousand.

These games employ different strategies:

50-50, Head-to-Head, Small Salary Cap Leagues

-- Avoid stacking lines and players in these types of leagues; you want to spread the risk around. The number of other fantasy gamers you have to beat to profit is smaller, so the risk needed is smaller as well. Stacking a line in a 50/50 that does not end up racking points will tank your night and will lead to a reduced bankroll very quickly.

-- Select goalies that are likely to win. Predicting the number of shots is hard because of a lot of different factors (score effects, team situation, etc.) and shots can skew final fantasy point totals a lot. Look at the Vegas lines for the game, spot the heavy favorites and go with those goalies. Let the shots fall where they may.

Large Salary Cap Leagues, GPPs

-- Stacking a couple different lines is typically the way to go. To profit in these types of games consistently, itís necessary to get a huge point total. Getting a huge point total means stacking lines; if you just select a player here and there from several teams, you are sure to miss on one or two. Zeroes and minus players will end any hope of profit in these games.

-- To separate yourself further, select goalies that might be undervalued so A) you can spend more on skaters and B) you can use a goalie with a low ownership rate to differentiate yourself from other gamers. This is where trying to predict shot totals Ė Buffalo and Toronto consistently give up a lot of shots Ė can be somewhat useful.

These guidelines should help fantasy players get their feet under them more quickly than the average player. Donít forget to stick with mostly 50/50 contests early on as to not deplete your bankroll.

Choosing players

Outside of the guidelines above for choosing skaters/goalies for different leagues, there should be different ways in how to choose your players.

Forwards

Power-play players should be looked at first. Not only are shooting percentages higher on the power play than at even strength, but thereís also an added bonus for power-play points. Trying to peg that will score goals is hard, but players that get regular power-play time should be given top consideration.

On FanDuel, almost everything revolves around goals: goals, assists, shots, plus-minus, shots on goal. Penalty minutes have value as well, but a fight is worth nearly the same (1.25 points) as three shots on goal (1.2 points). This means that there are certain types of players Ė the fourth liners and the grinders Ė that you can scratch off most lists right away.
Finally, and this can be bad betting advice sometimes but good in fantasy, I never walk away from a player on a hot streak. If Phil Kessel has five points in four games, I will have Kessel in my lineup probably every game until he goes cold. Hockey is a game of fluctuations where shooting percentage and save percentage streaks are the norm. In that sense, take advantage of these streaks and donít play the ďtheyíre dueĒ game. There are exceptions to every rule, but good players go on streaks and it can take a while before their price inflates to a point that reflects this.

Defensemen

Again, look for defensemen that are on the power play. Often, youíll be surprised at how cheap they are: John-Michael Liles (Carolina), Sami Salo (Tampa Bay) and Sami Vatanen (Anaheim) have all spent portions of this year on the top power play unit for their respective teams and all had dirt cheap salaries at times.

Anticipating who a defenseman will be matched against can be crucial to the value because of the plus-minus factor. Having John Carlson from Washington can be valuable in some situations, but the Capitals are also a bad even-strength team and he gets all their hard minutes. Sure, he plays the top power-play unit, but he also plays against other top lines and thatís why heís minus-3 this year.

Donít overspend on defensemen unless you really like the matchup. By nature, these guys will be in on a lot fewer goals and that can crater value quickly if a team doesnít get their offense going.

Goalies

As mentioned above, two ways to go with this:

1. In smaller games, look for heavy Vegas favorites and pick whichever matchup can fit your roster the best.

2. In larger games, look for underdog teams and goalies that are cheap. It allows you to spend more on the lineup and you could hit a home run (Ryan Miller and Ben Scrivens come to mind this year as both have wins with monstrous shot totals against, making them tremendous values even though theyíre both on terrible teams).

Remember, goalies will be frustrating, both in real life and in DFS. Stick with the process.

Those are the basics of daily fantasy hockey. If hockey isnít familiar, or DFS isnít familiar, this will be a process that can take some time to get used to. That said, a lot of people that Iíve met through this internet machine over the years become hooked once theyíve started.

Thereís less than one-third of the season left, enough time to get used to DFS hockey but not enough time to go through a deposit or two. Itís probably the best time to lace up and get in the game.