Puck Daddy - NHL

(Ed. Note: In celebration of Yahoo! Fantasy Hockey's return, Puck Daddy presents a short series of guest posts this week that look at how some prominent fantasy experts go about building their own teams. Here's Rob Higgins of XM Radio and author of Higgins Hockey Fantasy Index.)

By Rob Higgins

My friends that participate in our keeper league are quick to remind me that since it's one of my jobs to analyze hockey, I had better finish in first place every single season. They love that ole' chestnut. I get the train of thought but that's a lot of pressure! Fortunately, for me, I have, in fact, won this aforementioned keeper creation for the past 6 years now, thank you very much, and as a result no one will trade with me ever again. 

Unless, of course, I'm willing to give up the moon for their banged-up bench.

Good times.

If that's the reality you're chasing - and don't get me wrong, it is much better than the alternative, based on my experience - then you may want to consider the following:

It's All About Watching Games

There is no better way to evaluate hockey players than to simply watch them play against each other. Simplistic, I know, but that's the best resource out there, in my opinion. For me, it all starts there. After that, it's all about doing your homework.

Hawks Versus Pigeons

If box scores or stats draw my attention to someone, I'll make sure that I see that player more than once before committing to any kind of transaction. If a winger won't go into the corner to get the puck in an aggressive and unpleasant manner, or disappears when the going gets rough while getting top line minutes ... well, that tells me a lot more than the fact he led all wingers in points that week.

Fundamentals like character, mental toughness, durability, reliability, context, fit and money are all timeless, real-world considerations that are key to the process of building a winner, even one of the fantasy variety. Any NHL player that fails to qualify when it comes to these basic requirements I classify as a risk; and while I make a habit of taking risks, faithfully, I do so in small quantities so as to avoid suffering from "potential upside" overload. 

I use a statistic I call HFI, the metric that drives the Higgins Hockey Fantasy Index,  to identify and break the league's population down into statistical peer groups.

HFI is a per-game, rate-based perspective that takes into account the player's entire stats pack in order to get a sense of his true fantasy value. Alexander Ovechkin is the only player other than Jaromir Jagr(notes) to eclipse the 3.50 HFI mark since the lockout. Does that make him the best player in the NHL in that time? I don't know. But what I do know is he'd still be my top priority at a draft or auction.

With five full seasons to use as a sample since the lockout, HFI patterns have clearly emerged. Telling ones, in my opinion.

For example, Patrick Marleau(notes) didn't hit the 2.0 HFI mark once before the lockout but has done so 4 of the 5 seasons since. I'm comfortable suggesting that he's likely to hit the 2.0 mark once again in the new NHL, making him a Cherry Pick in my book. Still, it seems his perceived value continues to be haunted by his lack of success in the playoffs as well as the absolute stinker he pitched in 07/08 when his HFI hit an embarrassingly low 1.31. This perception, accurate or not, continues to make Marleau good regular season value.

From my experience, no single statistic paints a more clear and accurate picture of a player's output, or lack thereof, than HFI and it's been my secret weapon, if you will, for years.

That is, until it became the subject of a very non-secretive hockey book officially released by Simon and Schuster/Touchstone yesterday. Life is a tradeoff, I suppose. And my own pool's parity may just be another part of the price I pay for writing the thing. Orrr  ...  make for the greatest - victory - ever!

Not bloody likely. I gave that book everything I got. It's freaking loaded with facts and compiling them was, admittedly, exhausting.

What my friends will now know is that HFI is the ultra-quick-reference scouting tool that allows me to ignore the distractions that are single stat stuffers and flashes in the pan during the season, while classifying every NHL player, all 800-plus, into easy-to-visualize groups that provide a vivid sense of what kind of producers are out there and in what numbers they exist before it begins.

Once your head is around that, the fluidity of a draft or trade scenario becomes irrelevant. You're prepared for any type of transaction and are able to prioritize and act accordingly with confidence during the construction and maintenance of your juggernaut

Once the peer groups are identified, I find it helpful to use quality, in-depth analysis (why shun research?) as well as common hockey sense in order to identify the genuine options within the peer groups.

The Cherry Picks versus the Cherry Bombs, the players that are Sick Sick Sick and not only Foxy By Proxy. The ones worthy of Radar Love versus the buzzes and noises that inspire me to emphatically say Don't Believe The Hype.

Identify the peer groups then identify the genuine options within them. Prioritize based on position scarcity and need and then act accordingly. There may be over 800 players employed by the NHL over the course of a season but only 100-140 of them can post a high enough HFI over a long enough period of time to help you win. That's a small group to monitor, attach player values to and then draft from.

The numerical standard that I use for inclusion on my roster is a 1.70 HFI clip. If a player can not maintain a 1.7 pace on a consistent basis, then there had better be one hell of a good reason why he can't if he's going to occupy a spot on my team.

The Hawk knows who the mentally tough, durable and reliable 1.7's are. The Pigeon does not.

The Hawk with the most of them wins.

Rob Higgins is the author of Higgins Hockey Fantasy Index and co-host of "The Point: Fantasy Friday" on XM NHL Home Ice. For the record, a "Foxy By Proxy" is a tier 3 player who might excel with the right linemate or defensive partner.

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