Fantasy Hockey auction strategies: Seven rules to follow

Spend up for stars like Alex Ovechkin while you can instead of trying to save a dollar or two. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Andrew Fiorentino, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports

It’s hockey time! NHL training camps are just around the corner, which means fantasy drafts are too, and it’s time to prepare those of you involved in the increasingly popular auction leagues.

Let’s lay down seven simple ground rules that’ll help you crush the competition.

Rule No. 1: Don’t be “that guy” sitting on a Scrooge McDuck-esque pile of auction dollars as the endgame approaches.

Sleepers are awesome, but you know what isn’t awesome? Spending all your money on your sleepers instead of on legit stars of the league, who are far surer bets to perform. A sleeper is no longer a sleeper if you have to pay $20 to get him because you’re bidding against a guy with $19 and one roster spot left to fill. Leaving money on the table is bad, and spending money for the sake of spending it at the end of a draft is worse. Identify where you’re willing to spend money on star players early in your auction… and spend it. A team of stars and scrubs has a lot more potential for success than a team full of late-draft mediocrities.

Some of the most common auction advice is to be patient, but patience isn’t always a virtue. Spend wisely and follow your plan — as long as your plan doesn’t involve saving half your budget for guys who end up going surprisingly cheap in the endgame.

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Rule No. 2: Draft with positional scarcity in mind.

Last season, nine NHL defensemen — yes, only nine — cleared 50 points. Three of those cleared 70. Only 23 blueliners managed 40-plus points; by comparison, 39 forwards put up 60-plus points. That means the returns diminish rapidly, and the standard Yahoo fantasy hockey league requires you to start four defensemen. Those who wait until the endgame to fill out most or all of those lineup slots will find themselves with major holes on the blue line, and those holes aren’t easy to fill in free agency. Spend some bucks so you don’t end up with 20-point guys on the back end of your blue line.

On a similar note, goaltenders are worth their weight in gold. Remember, you’re talking about just two lineup slots determining 40 percent of your fantasy stats in a standard format, and goalie is a highly top-heavy position. Four goalies won 40 games last year; only 10 others reached 30 wins. Paying for an elite goalie slated for a heavy workload is almost always worth it; sure, injuries happen, but most of the top netminders tend to be year-in, year-out workhorses, and particularly in head-to-head formats, steady playing time is even more valuable than elite ratios. It’s a wise move to budget for an upper-crust goalie (maybe not one of the top few guys because you’ll be paying a huge premium, but after you get past the likes of Braden Holtby and Carey Price, the prices should get a lot more reasonable, fast) combined with a mid-tier upside guy. Then augment that duo with either a handcuff or a cheap upside play at the end of the draft.

Finally, don’t forget positional scarcity among forwards. It isn’t that hard to find a center who will give you 50-plus points; the wings are far thinner, so unless you’re going after the crème de la crème down the middle, it’s worth waiting there and spending on bigger-ticket wingers instead. As a bonus, you’ll more often find contributors in PIM on the wing than at center; it’s nice to get a few well-rounded wingers who can be counted on to spend some time in the sin bin so you don’t need to waste a roster spot on a PIM specialist.

Rule No. 3: Ride the wave of your draft.

All auction drafts have phases, and they often break out something like this:

Phase 1: The initial spending spree that sees all the stars get drafted.

Phase 2: The point where almost everyone realizes they just spent a ton of money on those stars, so they get more conservative with their bids and start saving up with an eye on the guys they want in the endgame.

Phase 3: Endgame madness, when prices are out of control — if they’re not as high in absolute terms as in those first two phases, they certainly are quite high relative to value and production.

Phase 4: The real endgame, when everyone costs just a few bucks (or a single buck). This is when the real sleepers come out and play.

Your goal is to dip your toe into Phase 1 for some of those elite players who form the bedrock of your fantasy roster, then go splashing around for those cheaper stars in Phase 2, nap through Phase 3 (hey, auctions are long), and fill out your roster with upside plays in Phase 4. As I alluded earlier, if you’re stuck spending in Phase 3, things have gone horribly wrong.

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Rule No. 4: Fill your starting lineup with guarantees and your bench with upside.

Forwards who can put up 40 or 50 points will litter your waiver wire all year long, so modestly producing veterans are worth exactly nothing in your draft. Your bench is where you can gamble cheaply on some of the highest-upside kids in search of the next Auston Matthews or Patrik Laine, but your starting lineup shouldn’t have any prospect types in it except for the can’t-miss types (who do, as we’ve seen, sometimes miss anyway, at least in their rookie years).

Rule No. 5: No price enforcing.

This applies to all sports, but it can bite particularly hard if you get caught price enforcing in a hockey draft. It hurts when other people benefit from relative bargains, but it hurts a lot more to have your auction strategy screwed up and a roster spot eaten up because you decided to bid $35 on a name-brand player you thought was going “too cheap.” Stay within yourself and stick to your plan to whatever degree is reasonable.

Rule No. 6: Don’t nominate players you want, at least most of the time.

Your nomination turn is a tool — use it. Nominate players at positions you’ve already filled who are likely to command big bucks at the auction table, and then sit back, put your feet up, and watch the feeding frenzy. At certain points (we’ll get into that in the next rule), you may want to change it up and nom someone you want, but that’s all about having a feel for what’s happening in your draft.

Rule No. 7: Don’t let a buck or two dissuade you out of a guy you really want.

If you have, say, $55 budgeted for Alex Ovechkin, and the bidding goes a couple bucks past that, stay with it. You’ll regret not spending up for the big stars if you let a few virtual dollars be the difference between drafting ‘em and letting ‘em go. Those few extra bucks would probably just be spent on bench guys anyway, and with Yahoo’s relatively shallow four-man bench, you won’t have any shortage of cheap options for the back end of your roster.

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