Be honest: the last time you joined a fantasy hockey league, did you spend more than ten seconds looking at and thinking about the roster settings? Sure, it may be easy to understand that your Yahoo public league goes 2C/2LW/2RW/4D/2G/4BN, but have you ever stopped to consider what that construction should mean to you regarding the optimal way to build your fantasy squad?
If not, this article is for you; if you have thought about this before, hopefully I can provide a couple more insights to ponder before your next draft.
Valuing defensemen vs. forwards
Regardless of whether you’re in a league that uses all three forward positions (C/LW/RW) or combines them all into one via the F position, you’ll want to understand how to value your forwards versus defensemen in your drafts. Undervaluing defensemen (and in particular top-end defensemen) is one of the most common mistakes that I see fantasy managers make. The reason for this disconnect is a lack of understanding around value over replacement.
Value over replacement player (or VORP) is a term you may hear thrown around in fantasy circles a fair bit. It’s a nuanced concept and can be misunderstood and misapplied very easily, but at a basic level VORP seeks to understand the difference in value between any player and an average waiver wire player that you could pick up at any given time throughout the season. The most basic approach to this method is to take the number of players at any given position on each roster, multiply that number by the number of teams in the league, and compare that level of forward versus the player you’re considering drafting. So in the Yahoo public example you could assume an average of 9 forwards and 5 defensemen on each team and multiply by the number of teams in the league.
The issue you quickly run into with forwards versus defensemen is that there are actually very few defensemen who consistently produce strong fantasy value above replacement. Consider that across 32 NHL teams almost all run a single defenseman and four forwards on their top power play unit. That’s roughly 32 PP1 defensemen but 128 PP1 forwards! Now of course PP1 deployment is not the sole reason for drafting a player, but it’s a significant boost that can’t be ignored. This phenomenon translates to a large drop off in fantasy value after 25-30 defensemen have come off the board. Getting 3 or even 4 of those top 25-30 defensemen can set you up with incredible value over replacement while still drafting comparable players at forward in later rounds.
RW vs. LW vs. C
If you’re playing in a league that delineates between centers, left wingers, and right wingers, then you should also consider that right wing as a position is generally less deep than left wing which is in turn less deep than center. Consider that towards the end of your draft in the 14th round you’ll be choosing between Nico Hischier (60 points in 70 games last year), Taylor Hall at LW (61 points in 81 games), and Travis Konecny at RW (52 points in 79 games).
Of course these are just a few players from those rounds, but scroll through the list of players available at each position by ADP and you’ll see a lot of very solid C available later in your drafts and a significant drop off in RW quality after the mid rounds.
Util spots are generally discounted by most managers when they first look at roster settings; after all it’s just an extra player or two to start at any position, so how important can it really be? But crucially, a Util spot (or two or three in some leagues) adds a starting spot to the lineup that will nine times out of ten be occupied by a forward (since as we’ve established there’s generally far more depth for fantasy at forward than defense).
So the addition of one Util spot tips the VORP scales back towards the forwards a little (12 extra forwards being started in a 12-team league), and two Util spots tips them even further (24 extra forwards in a 12-team). So the next time you see a Util spot or two in your custom league’s settings, take a second to think about how much it will change your values on pursuing defensemen versus forwards in your draft.
Util spots also give you a little grace in terms of roster flexibility. Leagues without Util spots force you to adhere to the C/LW/RW positions much more stringently and therefore players with dual eligibility (i.e. can be played at C/RW, C/LW, or LW/RW) become that much more valuable. You don’t want to get into the first heavy Saturday night of the season and realize that you are rostering 3 LW-only and 3 RW-only players and all three RW but only one of the LW are playing that night; having two of those six wingers be LW/RW eligible would keep your lineup full for the night and obviously give you that extra opportunity for fantasy points.
The number of bench spots in your league should also be given more than a passing glance when developing your draft strategy. In a league with short benches (generally 4 or less), you may want to avoid having to carry a 3rd goaltender and therefore prioritize having two starters projected for a significant workload this year. With deep benches it may be worth heavily investing in defensemen and keeping two or even three defensemen on your bench at all times, since there are usually four D slots on a team and therefore it’s typically easier to fit a defenseman into your lineup even on heavier nights.
Deep benches should also push you to invest more heavily in players who play on off-nights more often. Off nights are generally defined as nights on which half or less of the league is playing a game. Anaheim, Arizona, and Winnipeg are among the teams with the most off nights for the 2022/23 season and players from those teams are more valuable in leagues with deep benches. This is just common sense: in a league with more potential players to choose your starting lineup from, it’s much more likely to have nights where you’re leaving one or more players on the bench.
Having a bunch of players who play more often on off nights mitigates this effect and will result in getting more games played out of your roster as a whole.
Nate Groot Nibbelink is the creator of Apples & Ginos Fantasy Hockey and the originator of the #ZeroG draft strategy. You can find him pontificating about obscure fantasy hockey strategy topics in the Apples & Ginos Discord Server or on Twitter @applesginos.
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