NHL DFS 101
To be sure, fantasy hockey, and specifically daily fantasy hockey, is the smallest segment of the four major North American sports. As with almost everything sports-related, though, it's a segment that is growing.
Those that have played different daily sports before knows that each are unique in their approach: Football is very much matchup-based; baseball is a daily grind where pitchers are the focus; basketball is dominated by those who dominate minutes played. In their own way, each is a unique, fun, and hopefully profitable experience.
Daily fantasy hockey is unique in its own right, but let's take a step back first.
Daily fantasy sports (DFS) are a hybrid of salary cap games and poker. Fantasy players may have played a football salary cap game before where the owner has a cap (say, $100,000) and has to fit a lineup within that cap. Elite players like Matt Forte (or Steven Stamkos in hockey) would cost significantly more than replacement players like Mike Tolbert (or Devin Setoguchi in hockey). Let's then take a popular DFS site, FanDuel, to examine roster construction: the player must choose a goalie, two defensemen, and two of each forward position to fill out their roster. That's how it's similar to various salary cap games.
The owner also chooses what type of league to play in, and how much to pay (this is where the similarities to poker are drawn). Players can choose a heads-up league (against one other player), a 50/50 league (the top half of players in point accumulation all win the exact same amount, regardless of total points accumulated), or a tournament-style, where anywhere from three to thousands of people play in the same tournament for a large pool of prizes (also called GPP for Guaranteed Prize Pool). Then the next day, the process starts all over again, with different players, and slightly different salary costs.
So DFS hockey players choose the players that fit under their cap, choose how much they want to spend (different sites go from 25-cents to hundreds of dollars for a single game) and what type of league they want to play.
Now that the basics of DFS in general, some more specific details.
Bankroll management is the most critical aspect of any DFS sport. Here are a few basic guidelines to follow when jumping into the foray the first time.
As with most aspects of investing - and that's how this should be looked as, investing and not pure gambling - marginal gains over the long-run is the focus. It's anecdotal, but most people that I've talked to that have been discouraged from DFS in any sport is because they've lost quickly. Almost uniformly, these people were putting up one-quarter of their bankroll, or more, in a single night. There is too much variance day-to-day in almost any sport to risk that much in a day. A good rule of thumb is put no more than 10-percent of the bankroll down on a given day. That way, even during a cold streak that stretches a few days, the bankroll won't be decimated too badly.
Part of building slowly is also the type of game that is played. For those just jumping in, I would recommend large 50/50 games out of the gate. The larger the number of players in a 50/50, the more likely it is to be in a game with other players of equal-or-lesser skill.
Playing 50/50s aren't a way to build a lot of money quickly, but they're a way to make sure to not lose money quickly, too. The longer a DFS player can stay in the game, the more likely they are to become profitable.
Streaks happen, stay even
Hot and cold streaks happen all the time during the run of a six month season. It's not uncommon to go hot for a few days, or cold for a few days, even during the same week. When those streaks happen, an even head will keep the bankroll healthy.
In that sense, don't start putting down 20-percent of the bank if you happen to be on a hot streak. Remember, just because you flip a coin heads three times in a row, doesn't make the fourth flip more likely to be heads. Each coin flip - each day of DFS - is independent of the next. The same also goes for cold streaks. Losing money can be a tough pill to swallow, but you're no more likely to lose the next day just because you've lost two in a row.
That said, do not be afraid to take a couple of days off. Hockey can be a grind, as there are games almost every day from the second week of October to the first week of April. It can be hard to stay with it every day, and to keep an even keel every day. If you feel yourself getting emotional in decisions, or finding it tough to stomach a few days of losses, take some time off. Clear the head. It can do the body, and the bankroll, a lot of good.
Building a Roster
So now that the basics, the bankroll, and the streaks are taken care of, time to get to the specifics of hockey. Remember, these are guidelines. The saying is that there's more than one way to skin a cat (which is kind of disturbing) and different, yet successful, DFS hockey players build their rosters differently. This is what I do.
Build From the Net Out
As we are building our bankrolls through 50/50s and heads-up games, a winning goaltender is crucial. On DraftKings, for example, a score of 30 points should get a player in the money in a 50/50 (it varies, obviously, as it's possible to not cash with 30 on one day, and cash with 25 the next, but it's not a bad estimate). A goalie win is worth three points, or 10-percent of a target total. That's a lot. When factoring in 30 saves (6 points total) and two goals against (minus two points), now that winning goalie is worth 23.3-percent of the target total, or 7 of 30 points. In other words, a winning goalie has a massive impact on profit potential.
When playing DFS hockey, then, look at the Vegas lines for a heavily-favoured team and go for the starting goalie. In a 50/50, it's a good way to ensure some easy points.
Start the Studs
Until the prices get out of control, look for favorable matchups that feature top scorers like Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, and so on. Sometimes the price on these gets exorbitant, and then it's no longer profitable, but after the goalie, having a rock or two among the forwards should provide a nice floor for a DFS squad.
Look for cheap players who have been promoted
There are times through the year when players on a roster get a chance alongside the elite talent. Guys who end up playing alongside Sidney Crosby, or become the third forward alongside Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, become instant profit plays because the price hasn't adjusted. Last year, Patrick Maroon got time on the top line with Anaheim; Jussi Jokinen was alongside Evgeni Malkin from time to time; rookies ended up on the second line in Los Angeles. These players were all pretty cheap until the prices adjusted, and it made them good plays at the time.
Keep an eye to beat writers for lineup changes and player promotion. For those on Twitter, I have a list of nearly 90 beat writers that can be followed for specifically this.
Beware of Site Scoring
Different sites have different scoring. This places the emphasis on different players across different sites.
FanDuel's biggest difference is that it includes plus/minus as scoring. A player who goes plus-2 with three shots on goal (2 + 0.4x3 = 3.2 points) is more valuable than a player with a power play assist and a shot (2 + 0.5 + 0.4 = 2.9 points). So despite a player not actually contributing directly on the score sheet, a plus-player can become important.
This devalues players on bad teams. Guys that play for Buffalo, Calgary, and Edmonton, among others, are hard to use. Even if they score a power play goal (3.9 points), if they go minus-2 (negative two points), that takes away over half their scoring.
DraftKings does not value plus/minus at all, but it does value other things.
On DK, players can earn points with short-handed points (1 point), a shootout goal (0.2 points), or a blocked shot (0.5 points). The fact that short-handed points and blocked shots are counted means defensemen who play the penalty kill become valued. Because there's no point value for plus/minus like FanDuel, all of a sudden, for example, Buffalo defenseman Josh Gorges carries value as a discounted play, where he'd be unusable for pretty much the entire season on FanDuel.
Though, the DK scoring de-emphasizes scorers a little. On FanDuel, power play points are counted, on DraftKings they are not. On FanDuel, a shot on goal is worth 0.4 points, but worth just 0.3 on DraftKings. There's also a tiny discrepancy in points for penalty minutes, too.
All this is to say, each site is unique in its own scoring system, and knowing which players have value to which sites is important.
Hopefully DFS becomes a part of the fabric of fantasy for the reader. Not only is it fun to ice a different lineup every day, but the frustration of injuries becomes more infrequent than in season-long leagues, and it also helps stay on top of information. Knowing the most current information helps in DFS, but also for the yearly leagues, too.