Thursday, October 7, 2010

Please don't read this. Unless you want to...

I'm warning you now: this blog is about fantasy hockey, drafting, and all completely nerdy subjects related therein. Most of you will have absolutely NO interest in what I'm going to say - and that's alright. But don't roll your eyes and leave me nasty comments about how uninteresting my life is. Believe me, I already know. On the other hand, you might get a good laugh at my expense - and at the very least, feel better about yourself. 

Polar Bears - champions of creating schadenfreude moments since global warming. 

Great. Now I'm depressed. 


I've been playing fantasy sports since 2007. It was my first real office job - and like so many young professionals with excellent multi-tasking skill, and unmonitored internet access, I thought, "Meh - it'll be fun." I started with fantasy baseball. I'll tell you right now - I haven't done better than 4th place in fantasy baseball. I have other fantasy fanatic friends who say that baseball is the hardest fantasy sport to play - I'm not sure why, exactly. But there you go. I played fantasy college football - which is lame - and then ... I started playing hockey. And hockey continues to be my love, my obsession, and my heartbreak, year in and year out. 

(By the way, I'm watching Jeff Tweedy and Mavis Staples on the Colbert Report. Awesome. Jeff just said, "I don't argue with her about anything," and Mavis just said, "The devil ain't got no music." I think my heart just stopped with happiness!)

For the two non-fantasy players still reading this blog, you might not believe it, but people get paid to blog about fantasy sports and share their strategies. Unfortunately, I'm NOT getting paid, but I'm going to tell you my strategy anyway. No, no, don't thank me. 

The truth is that strategy is ever-changing. At first, I didn't have a strategy - I just let yahoo draft everything for me. I didn't trade, I didn't add/drop very often, I didn't get rid of players that weren't producing. Even with my non-planning, I ended up in 6th place out of 12 teams. Not terrible. Last year, I focused my efforts on defensemen and goalies. In many leagues, Goalie stats count for at least 4 out of 10 categories, if not 5. The madness behind seeking top defensemen, was the theory that forwards were going to score points no matter what ... but if I had *awesome* defensemen, they'd boost my forwards, and give me an edge. With this strategy, I came in 1st in one league, and 2nd in the other two, which, believe me - is nothing to sneeze at. 

Here's the problem with the goalie/defensemen strategy. While I was superior in the goalie stats (I love you, Martin Brodeur!), my defensemen didn't boost my offensive numbers nearly as much as I had projected them to. Here's why: most good defensemen will have 40-50 points in a season. Now, if you sacrifice your early draft picks on defensemen, thereby sacrificing your offense for forwards who are only reaching 50-60 points (or less), you're using two players to reach what one top 6 forward could potentially reach on his own. The argument against this logic, is that if you draft the best defenseman (Mike Green - who had 70 points last season, all on his own) in the NHL, you're drafting a defenseman who might as well be a forward, and that's better than any forward ranked below 20 - and let's face it - you only get one or two drafting slots in the top 20. 

Here's my counter-argument: The number of forwards who will score more than 70 points is MUCH greater   than the number of defensemen who will score more than 70. The end. So this year, I went all out for high-producing forwards in the first 4 rounds. And I have to say, I'm quite happy with my teams. It also doesn't hurt that I drafted 1st in two out of three leagues. Which means I ended up with one of the two best players in the NHL, Alexander Ovechkin. (GOD! I hope he doesn't get hurt!!) Which leads me to ...

Draft Placement. You can plan, you can strategize, you can spend countless hours planning out different scenarios ... but there's a HUGE factor to fantasy sports that you *can't* plan - and that's the luck of the draw. Here's what you need to know about draft positions - if you're in the first 3 or the last 3 slots, you're in good shape. The reason for this is due to the fact that 99% of fantasy drafts involve a system called "snake drafts." Which means that the draft starts at the top with 1, 2, 3, and so on and so forth, until the last position in the draft - for the purposes of today, let's say 10. The second round then starts at the bottom, and works its way back up to the top, and then back down again; like this:

round one: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 round two: 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 round three: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10, etc.

So - positions 1, 2, 3, 8, 9, 10 are the best - for the simple fact that the closeness of draft picks usually garner the best results. 4, 5, 6, 7 are the hardest - by FAR - namely because you're usually settling for lesser players in each round, while the players you want are getting scooped up by at the tops and bottom of the draft. But this, my fantasy fanatics, is where your strategy can boost you to the top, regardless of position. In one league, I drafted 6th out of 12, but rendered a fairly decent team. Here's who I drafted:

Round 1: Henrik Sedin C (112 points last season!)
Round 2: Alexander Semin RW (84 points)
Round 3: Bobby Ryan C, LW (64 pts)
Round 4: Tuuka Rask G 
Round 5: Nicklas Lidstrom D (49 pts)
Round 6: Christian Ehrhoff D (44 pts)
Round 7: Alex Burrows LW (67 pts)
Round 8: Mason Raymond LW (53 pts)
Round 9: Lubomir Visnovsky D (45 pts)
Round 10: Chris Mason G
Round 11: Kurtis Foster D (42 pts)
Round 12: Mikael Samuelsson RW (53 pts)
Round 13: Jussi Jokinen LW (65 pts)
Round 14: Andy Sutton D (13 pts)*
Round 15: Joni Pitkanen D (46 pts)
Round 16: Saku Koivu C (52 pts)
Round 17: Brian Gionta RW (46 pts)
Round 18: Nikolai Khabibulin G
Round 19: Tyler Seguin C (ROOKIE!)
Round 20: RJ Umberger C (55 pts) 

It might not look as great to you, but it leaves me very hopeful. I drafted a lot of players who are on the upswing - meaning that not only are they good, fundamental players - they're going to improve. Alex Semin, Bobby Ryan, Christian Ehrhoff, Alex Burrows, Mason Raymond, Jussi Jokinen - I think they're all going to have a great year. Then I have some consistent players, who, while I know aren't going to do much (if any) better, won't do much worse - work horses whose style of play is rock solid and dependable. These are mostly veterans - Henrik Sedin, Nik Lidstrom, Lubomir Visnovsky, Mikael Samuelsson. But that brings us to: 

WILD CARDS! Fantasy sports is just like gambling - you have to take some kind of a risk in order to get ahead. Risks in fantasy sports include everything from drafting rookies right out of training camp, to projecting which goalies might pull themselves up from the basement of the unknown. Examples on my roster - Chris Mason - who was picked up by the Atlanta Thrashers after a luke-warm season with the St. Louis Blues. The guy isn't a bad goalie - in fact, St. Louis would have won more games if they had scored more goals. But even in a relatively poor year, he won 30 games, and has a save percentage of .913% - which while not breathtaking, isn't something to ignore. (A "good" goalie has a save percentage of .917+) On the other spectrum, I drafted Nikolai Khabibulin, who was injured for all but the first three weeks of last season. Not only has he been out, he was just arrested in Arizona for a DUI this August, and released on bail. Khabibulin has had some sparks of brilliance, but hasn't managed to hold any kind of consistency. I actually dropped him the night of the draft to pick up Jean-Sebastien Giguere, veteran goalie for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Giggy (as he's referred to) helped the Ducks win the Stanley Cup in 2007, and ALMOST won the cup for them (single-handedly) in 2003. After the cup, Giggy had a string of personal problems (like his father's death), which, understandably, effected his play between the pipes. He was out-shined and up-staged by Jonas Hiller. Giggy had been with the Ducks for so long, the management was loathed to get rid of him - but finally, loyalty gave way to salary cap space, and off to Toronto he went toward the end of last season. Giggy's arrival in Toronto sparked some life into the nearly-dead Leafs, and I'm *hoping* that in the off-season Giggy got his groove back. We'll see, because after all ...

GOALIES ARE NOT ALWAYS RELIABLE. It's sad, but true. Goalies, like baseball pitchers, have ups, downs, crazy stretches of brilliance, and maddeningly disappointing bouts of suckiness. Any position upon which so much is depended - well - it's to be expected, I guess. Even Roy Halladay, who pitched a no-hitter today, (only the 2nd playoff game no-hitter in MLB history!) had some really crappy games this season. Just ask Liz. But goalies can't be ignored - again, their stats make up half of the fantasy scoring categories. So, here's what you do. Divide up your favorite goalies into three tiers - Top tier, work-horses, and gambles. Examples of top tier goalies are goalies who are not only consistent, talented goalies, but are on teams that will help them win games - examples include: Martin Brodeur, Roberto Luongo, Henrik Lunqvist, Ryan Miller. Work-horses are goalies who are talented and usually consistent, but are perhaps on teams with more of a struggle, examples: Jimmy Howard, Jonas Hiller, Pekka Rinne, Miika Kiprusoff - in other words, goalies that will get at least 30-35 wins, whether their teams are helping or not. Then ... the gambles - usually untested, new to the team, battling for a no. 1 spot - these are goalies in which there is potential, but not enough evidence to prove it. Goalies like this include Dan Ellis, who was just traded to Tampa Bay, Antti Niemi, who was traded to San Jose, Chris Mason, traded to Atlanta, Tuuka Rask in Boston, Steve Mason in Columbus, JS Giguere in Toronto, and Brian Elliott in Ottawa. 

There's also a 4th category of goalie - one that I don't like to draft. I'll call them puppets - namely because they aren't *really* good goalies, but they're on teams whose offense is SO good, they're going to win games, whether they try to stop the puck or not (which is why people like to draft them). These goalies include Seymon Varlamov, goalie of the offensive powerhouse Washington Capitols, Marc-Andre Fleury, goalie for the superstar Pittsburgh Penguins, and Marty Turco of the Stanley Cup defending Chicago Blackhawks. Whoever they decide to play in-goal in Philadelphia will also fall into this category. 

FORWARD POSITIONS. When drafting forward positions, you need to know that not all forwards are created equally. This varies from year to year, but this year, it happened like this: LW are rare and valuable, RW are tricky, and Centers are good 'n plenty. So part of my offensive strategy was to draft a LW first - which I succeeded in, except in the case of Henrik Sedin. The fall-out wasn't as bad as I thought, but my LW's aren't as flashy as I'd like; especially since Alex Burrows is out for another month with an injury. Ah well. 

DEFENSE = STEADY AS SHE GOES! So here's the deal with defense, when you're not drafting them in the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd rounds. Consistent is good! Look at their stats for the past 3 years. Have they stayed within a 5 point spread year after year? Are they slowly getting better? How many shots on goal are they taking? Are they moving the puck with assists? How are they on the power-play? Good, steady defensemen = Nick Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski, Lubomir Visnovsky, Chris Pronger, Zdeno Chara. Also, up-and-coming defensemen are always worth a gamble. Tyler Myers was a huge payoff last year. Cam Fowler could prove to be a wonderboy this year. If you're going to gamble big in one position, Defense can be a good place to do it. 

SLEEPERS. There are two kinds of sleepers. The first are players who are quiet with their points, and most people don't look twice at. Jussi Jokinen had a 30 goal/35 assist year last year for Carolina. Rene Borque had 30 goals and 27 assists. What makes these players so awesome is that they're usually just starting to hit their stride, which means that they're only going to get better, which means that it could be the difference between in winning, and coming in 2nd or 3rd. The other kind are young players, usually rookies. Sometimes they have a lot of hype surrounding them like Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin, or Cam Fowler. Sometimes they're less visible, but are fulfilling a specific job on the team - Nazeem Kadri of the Leafs is like this. Jordan Eberle could fall into either category. Dan Sexton of the Ducks, who was pulled up from the minor leagues last year, had an impressive 7 goals and 10 assists in the 10-15 games he played. The difficult task of discerning these young'uns, is whether or not they'll stay up in the NHL, or if they'll be sent back down for development. Big money, big money, big money!

DO's and DON'Ts
1. DON'T draft more than 4 players from the same team
2. DO draft players from teams you think will make play-offs
3. DON'T draft more than three players from your favorite team - trust me on this. 
4. DO draft two players from your favorite team.
5. DON'T fall in love with any of your drafted players - it'll only lead to heartache.
6. DO track your stats in the league - it'll show you where your weak spots are.
7. DON'T rob Peter to pay Paul - ie, if you're low in assists, but high in saves, don't leverage one to gain the other. It doesn't usually work. 
8. DO propose trades - it's the surest way to improve your team. 
9. DON'T feel pressured into accepting trades that won't help you.
10. DO engage in smack talk - it's fun. 

FINALLY - STRUCTURING YOUR DRAFT. So here's the deal. You need to pad your pre-draft rankings. You can't just throw people up and hope they'll stick. Also - pad according to position. Decide on the projected positions for the first 6 rounds - tweak it until you like it. Mine went a little something like this: 

Round 1 - LW
Round 2 - RW
Round 3 - C
Round 4 - G
Round 5 - D
Round 6 - G

This, my friends, is called a frame; setting up each position for maximum success. However, each frame needs to be tailor fitted to each league - in fact, the frame is dependent upon how many teams are on the league. The frame above was for a 10 player league. A 12 player league might look a little something like this: 

Round 1 - LW
Round 2 - G
Round 3 - RW
Round 4 - D
Round 5 - G
Round 6 - C

If you have 16 players on a team, and 10 teams in a league, that's 160 players. If you have 16 players on a team, and 12 teams in a league, that's 192 players. The difference of 32 players might not seem big, but believe me, it IS. You have to account for the fact that you'll be scraping the bottom of the barrel by round 12. 

Where I went wrong in the list toward the beginning of the blog, was that I didn't realize that particular league was drafting for 20 players on each team. Which meant that my goalie positioning was way off, hence my crazy goalie spread. In my other two leagues I drafted Martin Brodeur, Henrik Lunqvist, and Antti Niemi - and Miika Kiprusoff, Jonas Hiller, and Chris Mason. Much better, no? 

Good drafting takes time. You have to go through and pull up players who are stuck further down the list. The goal is to position them in such a way to where you'll draft them before anyone else. Alex Semin was listed at 31 on the list. He's gone in the top 20 for every draft I've done. It takes research, intuition, and trial-by-fire precision to set a good draft - but when you do - it pays off in spades!

Of course, sheer dumb luck trumps just about everything I wrote about. And thereby hangs a tale ...


Phoenix said...

I'm still...confused. Don't worry about it, though. Benni can't get me to remember what a 2 point conversion is so I'm clearly a little sports-debilitated.

I love you. So much so that I read the ENTIRE post.


QueenFee said... you said. ; )