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Head-to-Head vs. Rotisserie Leagues: A Basic Primer

Paul Bruno

Paul Bruno is co-host of the RotoWire fantasy hockey podcast, The Great Ones. He has been an accredited member of the Toronto sports media for more than 20 years. Paul also helps with RW's DFS podcast and is a contributing writer for RW NFL, MLB and CFL content. Follow him on twitter: @statsman22.

Head to Head and Rotisserie Pools - The ins and outs of both fantasy games.
By Paul Bruno

Well, hockey fans we are in the dog days of summer. The Stanley Cup has long ago been awarded (to the Boston Bruins), the Amateur Draft has taken place and the free agent spending frenzy has really died down. The NHL clubs are just now getting ready for their main training camps and rookie camps are under away. This is the time of year when hockey pool fanatics start to prepare themselves for upcoming hockey drafts.

The two most common formats consist of a) weekly head to head play and b) season-long rotisserie format. The preparation for both types of drafts is similar. You need to review all of the off-season player movement and start preparing depth charts, figuring out who's going to play on each club's special teams and to anticipate each club's starting goalie situation. Additionally, you need to comb the injury lists to see who has had an offseason surgery or find the status of players who had their prior season curtailed by injury. You will want to know the pace of their recoveries and projected return dates.

What are some of the unique characteristics of head-to-head pools?

In head-to-head pools, your drafted team of players is set up to play a predetermined schedule of games against the rosters of all other teams in your league. The outcome of these games is based on the scoring points earned by each player during each individual week of the season. Wins and losses will be assigned to your team, based on the position-by-position points accumulated by your team, measured directly against the rosters of your scheduled opponents for that week.

Clearly, it is vital for you to consider making the most of your opportunities in this scenario. Specifically, you have to be aware of the real NHL schedule that your players will be playing and you will want to lean in the direction of players who are scheduled for three or four games as opposed to those with one or two starts. In addition, you have to be very aware of the injury status of your players, being prepared to replace a star that is on the short-term injury reserve list, in favor of a lesser light that is actually healthy enough to play. Failure to make these weekly substitutions will surely cost the fantasy owner who does not have his eyes on the transaction wire or the weekly schedule. Then, each week everybody's rosters are reset to zero points in all possible categories to prepare for the next week of play.

Typically, the draft day portion of the head-to-head pool for all eligible players is conducted in a simple rotating basis once teams have drawn lots for their initial draft position. There is one aspect of the head-to-head pool that can leave a bad taste in your mouth. A team can roll along, with the first place fantasy owner content with his solid team, which has performed well all season to position him for a top playoff seed as the schedule winds down. The trouble with head-to-head pools using the last few weeks of the real NHL season is in coping with the fact that NHL coaches of the top clubs will pull the reins in on their stars, even sitting them out for a couple of games down the stretch. If a few of your players are affected in this way, your solid season could go up in smoke very quickly.

Nevertheless, the final two or three weeks of the NHL' s regular season are usually set aside for head-to-head league playoffs, which will pit fantasy teams against one another using the concept of seeding teams based on their performance to that point in the season, where, perhaps the first place team takes on the eighth, second faces seventh and so on in week one of the fantasy playoffs. Lower ranking teams will be totally eliminated (not having made a playoff position) or they may play for a "Toilet Bowl playoff of their own with other non-playoff teams. Survivors of the first round of the playoffs go into week to and so on until one team has won the final week of the season  

What's the deal with Rotisserie formats?

Generally speaking, rotisserie style pools are a little more complex and subject to more strategy, beginning with draft day. Rotisserie drafts are set up to give everyone an equal footing by assigning an equal amount of fantasy dollars for each club to build there own roster as they see fit. Each team is eligible to bid on any player in the pool of talent, provided that the prospective owner has a roster spot for the given player. This draft will take a bit long than a simpler rotating draft and this is directly related to the way an NHL player becomes part of a fantasy roster. The draft deigns as an eligible NHL player is put up for bid by one of the fantasy pool owners. Each team owner is then allowed to bid on the available player in the form of a rotating call to action. Owners may proceed to bump up a player's value or opt out of the bidding process until one owner, making the highest bid, may lay claim to that player.

Upon completion of the draft, owners set up their rosters for play, where points are accumulated over the whole season. In rotisserie formats, fantasy teams compete for the ranking over a range of categories, relating to ongoing statistical production, which will accumulate throughout the season. Strength in each category is measured by rank in that space, where measured against all other fantasy teams. This is not impacted by the margin over competitors at all. First place in any category is given a point total equal to the number of teams in your pool, second place gets one less, and so on, until the last place team in a category receives one point. The champion of a rotisserie pool format is that team which accumulates the highest total number of these ranking points. Second place goes the club accumulating the second-highest ranking points and so on for the rest of the teams.

The fantasy sports environment has made an industry out of the magazines, which purport to give you the "edge" and yet, they cannot account for injury, suspension or demotion of the real players. There is a high value placed on luck, no matter how much or how little effort you put into playing these pools, but they certainly help you hold on to a season-long level of interest, even though your favorite NHL team has a bad year. You can still take an interest in managing and tracking your fantasy team's progress on a nightly basis. That's the real beauty within both of these formats. There's always tomorrow to look forward to, regardless of how things played out today.

Ah yes, it is that time of year where every fantasy owner should start to do their preparation, study the online or magazine guides, noting offseason player movement, injury or contract status. I can't wait for the games, real and fantasy, to begin. How about you?