The Basics of Daily Fantasy Hockey

The Basics of Daily Fantasy Hockey 0001

The baseball regular season is over, football is only on a few days per week, and the NBA is still a few weeks away. Enter the NHL and daily fantasy hockey to fill your mid-week daily fantasy void.

Since hockey isn't the most popular sport, here is a guide to help you get started.

Scoring Across the Industry

Like any DFS sport, there is some variety in scoring and lineups for each site. Here is a breakdown of scoring on some of the major sites.

SKATERSFanDuelDraftKingsFantasy FeudStarsDraft
Assists2222
Plus/Minus1-10.5
Shots0.40.5 0.4
PP Points0.5-1-
SH Points-12.251
Blocked Shots-0.5--
PIM0.25-0.25-
Hat Trick Bonus-1.5--
Shootout Goal-0.2-0.5
GOALIESFanDuelDraftKingsFantasy FeudStarsDraft
Saves0.20.20.20.3
Win334-
Goals All.-1-1-1-1
Shutouts2232

As you can see, the differences come in the minor details. But those minor differences make big differences in roster construction. With the full point for +/- on FanDuel and Fantasy Feud, there is much more value in a marginal player that finds himself playing with talented linemates. With no +/- on DraftKings, you really need to focus on the guys that score.

Shorthanded points are less of a concern strategy-wise. They are pretty infrequent (no player had more than 6 all of last season), so you aren't really going to be targeting anyone in your lineups because of short-handed points. Same goes for the hat-trick bonus and shootout goals that are worth points on DraftKings.

Power play points are a different story. They are easier to score than even strength goals, but there is no +/- awarded on them. So on a site like FanDuel, it may appear that PP goals are worth more because of the bonus, but that is actually not the case. PP goals are worth 3.5 (3 for the goal, .5 for PP bonus). Even strength goals are worth 4 (3 for the goal, 1 for +1).  On the other hand, DraftDay awards a PP bonus, but does not give points for +/-, so PP goals are worth more than ES goals on their site.

Blocked shots mainly impact your choice of defensemen. If you play on a site with blocked shots, you want to know which arenas typically over and under count them. It happens and it will affect your scores more than you would think. NHL scoring is lower than other sports, so the margins can be very thin at times.

For goalies, the scoring is pretty much the same across the board, with the exception of StarsDraft. With no win bonus you have a little more freedom there when picking a goalie. Opportunity is still a big part of it (they need to face a decent amount of shots to score well), but you don't have to worry about their team's ability to score/win.

Rosters Across the Industry

Rosters are pretty standard. The two major differences you'll find are utility spots (from 3 on DraftKings to 1 on Fantasy Feud to none on FanDuel, Draft Day and StarsDraft) and wing flexibility (sites like FD force you to fill the specific wings, LW and RW, while others like DK give the freedom to take wings from whatever side you want). StarsDraft goes one step further and lets you take any six forwards you want (LW, C, RW), which really opens up a lot of ways to build a roster.

Basic Strategy

While there are a bunch of different things that you can get points for, your main objective should be to find guys who are getting goals and assists. The other major stats (shots and +/-) usually are in line with goals. A guy who scores a lot almost always gets a good amount of shots per game. And the best players usually have good +/-. There are expections to both of these, of course, but in general, you want the goal scorers.

So with that in mind, you can eliminate a lot of players from consideration. For forwards, focus on a team's top two lines (aka the top 6) and their power play units. Players who are on the power play units will usually be in the top 6 as well. These guys will see the most ice time and they are responsible for most of the goals a team scores.

For defensemen, goals are a little less likely. Guys that play on the power play are the best targets, but those guys are usally expensive. There are other thing you can look for in defensemen, but they are more complex. I will touch on them later in this preview. The window dressing stats come in to play here. On +/- sites, you can target guys who play for good teams. On blocked shots sites, you can target guys who are known for that.

Stacking

If you have played MLB DFS, you are familiar with stacking. If not, the idea is basically to take a bunch of guys from the same team, hoping that team does well and your players combine on the scoring players for huge fantasy points.

And in hockey, stacking is very easy to do because teams play with set lines.

For example, you take the 1st line for the Blackhawks. If Marian Hossa scores, there is a pretty good chance at least one of linemates will be getting an assist on that. So instead of 3 points for that goal, you are getting 5. If both guys get assists, you are looking at a 7 point boost. If the site includes +/-, all 3 guys are getting a +, so that one goal could potentially give you 10 points.

In tournaments, you will see a lot of stacks. Like baseball, you don't need to stack to win but it is a viable strategy. Different sites have different stacking rules. And that impacts what kind of stacks you can use.

The full stack is common on DraftKings. This is pretty self-explanatory, you load up your team with guys from one team (and one guy from a separate team, which is required by DK). The thought process here is that you believe a team is going to score 4 or 5 goals on a night, and you are hoping to have a piece of all of them. So instead of trying to find a line you like, you just take all of them.

On sites like FanDuel and StarsDraft, you are limited to just 4 players from a single team, so stacks require a little more thought.

You can stack an individual even strength line of 3 forwards. Or take 3 forwards and a defenseman from one of their power play units. Or you can do a mix of these and just take 4 forwards from one team, which would likely give you a piece of both their top two lines and both power play units. It really depends on the matchup and what you are trying to accomplish. The line stack is more of an all or nothing. Whereas the mix gives you a lot of coverage that is spread across the team, similar to the total stack, just on a smaller scale.

Exposure

The same principles that making stacking so attractive also offer some good cash game strategies: mainly getting exposure to the best players without paying the sky-high prices for that player.

Like I explained earlier, teams play in lines. When one guy on that line scores, his linemates are likely to get an assist and almost assured of a +.  So if you are on a +/- site and you can't afford Sidney Crosby, you can instead roster his cheapest linemate. If Crosby does well, your player will likely end the game as a + and maybe even pick up an assist or goal. As long as that player is on Crosby's line all game, he will be in position to benefit from Crosby's production at even strength for a fraction of the price sometimes.

So cheap guys that get to play on lines with talented players are ideal targets in NHL, which is pretty unique in terms of DFS. And knowing who these guys are will allow to make really strong cash game lineups that give you exposure to a variety of teams on a given night.

Goalies

I hate to make another comparison to MLB DFS*, but goalies are like pitchers.

*MLB and NHL DFS are often considered comparable. In some ways they are with low and event-based scoring being the main one. But it's still a very different approach, as all DFS sports are. The transferable skills from other DFS sports are limited to understanding the concepts behind roster building, like expected value vs price. Just like you wouldn't expected a person from a season-long background to come in and immediately being successful in DFS, don't assume NHL will be easy for you just because you did well in MLB.

The win bonus (on all sites but StarsDraft) has a huge effect on goalie scoring. And goalies are the closest thing to guaranteed points in hockey (even though they aren't guaranteed much).

So when you are looking at goalies, you need to weigh 3 things: talent, opportunity and win potential (if the site awards for it).

Skill is obvious. Good goalies generally play better than bad ones. Opportunity is the tough one. If a team's defense/matchup is too good, your goalie won't face a lot of shots, which is actually bad for his score. You need saves to get points. For a cash game, that might be ok because you are assuming he will also get the win, which can make up for a lack of shots.

But for GPPs, you want more. Ideally, you find a guy that will face 30 shots, stop them all and get the win. But it's never that easy. If you take a guy that faces a lot of shots, you run the risk of him allowing a lot of goals. And that's where talent and win probability come in. You are trying to find a goalie that will see a good amount of shots, but has enough to talent to stop most of them. There is no set answer or formula to go with, but there is more to goalie selection than paying up for a heavy favorites.

Advanced Stats are Your Friend

The biggest edge in NHL DFS is the fact that people are looking at all the wrong stats. If you want to be successful in NHL, the best thing you can do is dig into the advanced statistics and the theory behind them.

Ignore people talking about grit, character, hot streaks, home/away splits, which guy "wants it more". It's all nonsense.

Figure out the guys who are driving possession, getting put it in favorable situations and getting lucky/unlucky. Find those guys, exploit their inefficient pricing and you can win.

Here is a good run down of the major advanced stats. Understanding them and keeping up with them will help you more than you can imagine.

Here are the 3 major ones you should focus on:

CorsiFor%: shows you which team is getting more shots when a player on the ice. Shots are a proxy for possession and they also lead to goals (duh). Guys that are over 50% the ones you want. Under 50% should concern you a little bit, especially on +/- sites.

PDO: Also known as luck factor. Every player's PDO should be 100. Regression is very strong in PDO. Its almost impossible to maintain a PDO significantly over or under 100, unless your skill (or lack of skill) is extreme. Guys on a hot streaks are often just benefiting from high PDOs. Guys that are cold are usually just having bad luck, which will show itself through a low PDO. Prices are correlated with actual results, not how lucky a guy was. That is where understanding PDO can help you fade the guy on an unsustainable run while his price continues to rise. Or target the guy getting done in by bad luck while his price drops to an all time low.

Zone Starts: Starting a shift in the offensive zone is obviously more likely to result in positive fantasy points than starting a shift in your defensive zone. Some coaches go out of their way to start certain players in the offensive zone, which makes them ideal fantasy targets. Looking at zone starts can help you identify these guys, especially defenseman. This one of those things I alluded to earlier as one of the more advanced ways to pick a defensemen.

Those are just the big ones and very brief descriptions. There is a ton of great info out there on this stuff and should be required reading for anyone who wants to take a serious shot at DFS hockey.

Conclusion

DFS NHL can be a lot of fun and it's not nearly as daunting as it seems. You are basically just trying to get the guys who score. And that narrows down the player pool big time.

Most of the stuff I wrote about in here is the stuff you can exploit to get a small edge, but by no means necessary to play NHL casually.

You can hone your daily fantasy hockey skills at DraftKings, FanDuel, and StarsDraft today! 

Drew Stukas

Drew Stukas

Daily fantasy sports player from Boston, MA. Plays under the name clivebixby. Currently ranked in top 25 for NHL and top 300 for MLB. You can also find his work on DailyPuckTalk.com and follow him @drewstukas on Twitter.

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