Fantasy Hockey 2021: DFS strategy for the NHL season ahead

By AJ Scholz, RotoWire

Special to Yahoo Sports

After months of waiting, we are finally on the eve of the NHL season kicking off, so what better time to start talking about DFS strategies? In terms of player salaries below, we are going to utilize Yahoo's Opening Night offering that includes a four-pack of games, but the strategies aren't limited to just this slate.

Speaking of Opening Night contests, you'll definitely want to take advantage of Yahoo's season-long NHL Yahoo Cup, which is free to enter. This multi-round, single-entry contest includes 19 rounds where the top 1,975 entries overall and top 60 entries per round share a prize pool of $10,000. Scoring will be cumulative across all rounds, and your five lowest scores will be dropped.

You can get signed up here.

Before diving into specific DFS strategies, it's important to remember the type of competition you're entering. If you're looking to take down a GPP, then you'll want to key on players with lower drafted percentages and potentially include some riskier options. Cash games generally favor a more risk-averse strategy that targets players who produce independent of the volatility/variability of goals and to a lesser extent, assists.

Skip the favorite in net

Everybody wants to pick the winner, which is why goalies with the best odds to win get steeper salary tags and feature higher drafted percentages. As such, you'll find Andrei Vasilevskiy topping out at $38 on Wednesday with his team sitting at -228 to win over the Blackhawks. Instead, you could look at Frederik Andersen ($33) or an underdog like Carey Price ($31) in a scenario where the lines are slightly closer (Toronto -143 versus Montreal). Saving salary is even more important when you're required to grab a pair of netminders, as well. One caveat might be cash games, where you don't necessarily want to take as much risk and could consider paying up for a "sure thing" between the pipes.

Stacking top lines

In most contests, but especially in GPP tournaments, it's not enough to simply target top players like Auston Matthews ($35), Nathan MacKinnon ($34), or Leon Draisaitl ($34), as they're cost prohibitive and leave you with less room for value plays further down the lineup. To maximize the effect of these world-class players, it helps to stack them with their linemates, especially ones who come in at a steep discount (though in MacKinnon's case, this can be tough since his linemates don't come cheap, either). If you're high on Edmonton and want to utilize Draisaitl, consider adding Dominik Kahun ($14) and Kailer Yamamoto ($17) — just make sure to check the team's depth chart first.

Third-line stacks

Finding value is key to GPP success, and there's no better place to find that value than with a third-line stack. These trios won't carry the expensive salaries like their top-six counterparts but can still provide plenty of scoring opportunities. Looking ahead to the first slate of games, Vancouver's third-line offers some intriguing players with offensive upside and are the shortest underdogs at just -125. The combination of Jake Virtanen ($11), Adam Gaudette ($10), and Patrick Russell ($10) comes in less than Draistail ($34) by himself, for example.

Power-play blueliners

The best way for defensemen to rack up fantasy points is with the man advantage. While these guys tend to have higher salaries, their opportunities to play significant power-play minutes with some of the team's top players often equate to a fantasy goldmine. Of his 50 points last season, Cale Makar ($23) notched 19 on the power play. While he's no longer in Boston, Torey Krug ($19) was second in the league among defensemen last season for power-play ice time per game (3:53), which allowed him to generate more than half of his points with the man advantage.

Cale Makar #8 of the Colorado Avalanche
Keying in on scoring defensemen like Cale Makar is key in DFS. (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Look beyond injured players

Avoiding players with an injury designation is the obvious move, especially if you don't have time to adjust your lineups before puck drop. However, the key is to look beyond the immediate injury to track the lineup changes that come with it. Without Nikita Kucherov (hip), Blake Coleman ($17) is poised to start the season in a second-line role with the Lightning and could even get an occasional look with the second power-play unit. The same applies to David Perron ($23), who figures to replace Vladimir Tarasenko (shoulder) on the Blues' top line for the time being.

Find the value play

This one might seem straightforward, but on most nights, there are players further up the lineup than expected either due to injury or coaches trying different combinations. The opportunity to utilize a low-cost guy who suddenly finds himself in a first- or second-line role with the team's elite stars is usually too good to pass up. For Wednesday's slate, two players jump out in Montreal's Nick Suzuki ($17), who will be centering Jonathan Drouin ($15), or Vancouver's Nils Hoglander ($10) after he forced his way into the top six during training camp.

Shots faced by goalies

Securing a goalie victory is important but not the be-all, end-all — especially in a two-goalie format, as saves rack up plenty of fantasy points, too. With the season just kicking off, we, unfortunately, need to rely on stats from last season. Still, some things aren't likely to change: take for example the Blackhawks, who allowed a league-high 35.1 shots per game last year. Projected starter Malcolm Subban ($20) is the cheapest goalie on the board and could get rocked by Steven Stamkos & Co., but he'll probably still produce decent fantasy results given a high number of saves. On the flip side, the Canadiens averaged the second-most shots per game in 2019-20 (34.1), so Frederik Andersen ($33) could face plenty of rubber.

Finally, don't be afraid to take both sides of a matchup if there's a chance for high shot totals. With Andersen, you could pair him with Carey Price, guaranteeing yourself points for a win from at least one of your goalies.