Trying to corner the goalie market doesn’t always work as planned
After one fantasy sport season has finished, it’s tempting to turn the page to a different fantasy sport that has recently begun. Now, in the early days of Spring, fantasy hockey and basketball leagues have just wrapped up while baseball has just started. Before shutting to door on the recently-completed fantasy sports leagues, though, I’m going to review them and reflect on what worked and what didn’t work. I’ll be reviewing the fantasy basketball season in a different post, but here I’m focusing all on hockey.
Up until the playoffs, my hockey season was quite successful. I ended the season with a record of 146-105-29 (.573%), which was good enough for a first-place finishing in the standings of my 10-team league. I had a bye during the first week of the playoffs before getting knocked out in the semifinal by a team that enjoyed an abnormally monstrous week on both sides of the rink. Still, the season overwhelmingly positive as a whole, and I think it offers me a possible blueprint that I can copy in future seasons.
One interesting tidbit is that until just now, I did not even realize that I only made 21 roster moves all season long, with five of these coming in the last week of my playoff push (for comparison, two teams in the league made over 100 moves during the season). This tells me that my drafts was surprisingly solid.
Speaking of the draft, below is how it all went down.
|Scoring||Head-to-head Points, 14-category|
|Roster positions||C, C, LW, LW, RW, RW, D, D, D, D, G, G, BN, BN, BN, BN, BN, IR+, IR+|
|Categories||Forwards/Defensemen Stat Categories:|
Goals (G), Assists (A), Plus/Minus (+/-), Penalty Minutes (PIM), Powerplay Points (PPP), Shorthanded Points (SHP), Shots on Goal (SOG), Hits (HIT), Blocks (BLK)
Goaltenders Stat Categories:
Wins (W), Goals Against Average (GAA), Saves (SV), Save Percentage (SV%), Shutouts (SHO)
My Draft Strategy: Goalies Galore
The general rule of thumb in fantasy hockey drafts is to wait on positions which are much easier to fill later on in the draft or via the waiver wire. This means that centers take a serious downgrade, and left wingers may get a slight downgrade compared to right wingers. Defensemen are more valuable still, as are goalies.
The trick is to know how to compare all of these positions. Is a defenseman who scores 45 points in a season more valuable than a center who scores 60? Probably, but is the same true if a the center scores 70 points? 75 points? Just as we must avoid undervaluing certain positions, it’s important not to overvalue positions, either.
With this in mind, I had the unenviable task of having the last draft pick in my league of ten teams, which means I had picks #10 and #11, picks #30 and #31, and so forth. This makes it hard to stick to a focused draft strategy since all your desired players could be gobbled up in the 20 picks or so that other teams have between your two picks.
I decided to try to get a sustained competitive edge in the goalie categories, of which there are five, by drafting the top two goalies listed on the board at that point, Braden Holtby and Connor Hellebuyck. I suppose that I could have waited on at least one of them, but I didn’t want to take the chance that one of these top-tier goalies would be done when I got to pick at #30.
With my next pick I picked Steven Stamkos who I think was the top player on the board at that point. As a center, Stamkos’s value is limited, but a player of his caliber – arguably the top player in the league a mere three years or so ago – was someone I couldn’t not take. I should mention, also, that since the season began, he gained RW eligibility (now C/RW eligible), making him even more clutch than he was at the beginning of the season.
After that, I picked up Drew Doughty, a top-five defenseman. Here’s how the rest of my draft went:
|1.||(10)||Braden Holtby (Was – G)|
|2.||(11)||Connor Hellebuyck (Wpg – G)|
|3.||(30)||Steven Stamkos (TB – C,RW)|
|4.||(31)||Drew Doughty (LA – D)|
|5.||(50)||Mark Scheifele (Wpg – C)|
|6.||(51)||Jakub Voracek (Phi – RW)|
|7.||(70)||Patrice Bergeron (Bos – C)|
|8.||(71)||Jonathan Marchessault (VGK – C,LW)|
|9.||(90)||Mark Giordano (Cgy – D)|
|10.||(91)||Alex DeBrincat (Chi – LW,RW)|
|11.||(110)||Ivan Provorov (Phi – D)|
|12.||(111)||Brayden Point (TB – C)|
|13.||(130)||Philipp Grubauer (Col – G)|
|14.||(131)||Mark Stone (VGK – RW)|
|15.||(150)||Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Edm – C,LW)|
|16.||(151)||Anders Lee (NYI – LW)|
|17.||(170)||Ryan McDonagh (TB – D)|
Did my draft strategy work out? Not really
Drafting goalies with my first two picks didn’t actually help my team. Both were around mediocre in performance, or perhaps slightly above average. Hellebuyck ended as the #16 goalie in the league and Holtby ended as the #17 goalie. While they each earned over 30 wins, they generated poor GAA and save percentages while getting me very few shutouts. In fact, a no-name goalie that picked up mid-season, Jordan Binnington, provided me with much better stats-per-game overall while ending as the #8 goalie in the league.
So much for trying to be sneaky at draft time with goalies. But was there any positive that came out of it? Well, actually, there was. The simple fact that I had several goalies on my team who were everyday starters (I had workhorse Craig Anderson on my team for a while as well) meant that just by sheer volume I would win at least some goalie categories in various weeks. Compared to other teams in the league, I was the #2 team in both goalie wins and saves, and tied for #2 in shutouts (I was near the bottom in GAA and save percentage, though).
The lesson to be learned from this is that if you can’t beat ’em with quality, beat ’em with quantity.
Despite my draft misstep with goalies, several of my other skater picks turned out to be really strong. Stamkos performed as expected (preseason rank #18/end-of-season rank #23), while Patrice Bergeron (#44/#7), Mark Scheifele (#47/#36), Brayden Point (#81/#26), and Mark Stone (#139/#42) all performed brilliantly by outperforming their preseason rank. Also not bad were Jonathan Marchessault (#64/#69) and Anders Lee (#324/#60).
However, my single best player – also the top-ranked player in the league – was Mark Giordano (#128/#1). He ended the season with 74 points and a +/- rating of +39. Not bad for a player picked in the ninth round. He well outperformed the first defenseman that I picked, Doughty (#58/#137), who suffered from a lack of goals and a miserly +/- rating of -34. I should have avoided the Los Angeles Kings altogether this year.
So if my goalies didn’t help me much, how did my team do so well? By outperforming the pack in almost all of my skater categories. My stat totals for the year had me tied for #1 in my league in goals scored, #3 in assists, #2 in +/-, #3 in PIM, #2 in PPP, #1 in SHP, #5 in HIT, and #3 in BLK. These alone had to have carried me heavily during the season. Add to this my overall average goalie performances, and I had a team which was, by and large, significantly above the median in my league.
This is the second year in a row that I have drafted goalies with two of my first three picks. While this carries some risk due to the lack of consistency at the goalie position, it did provide me with the distinct advantage of being able to take other strong skaters who were available in later rounds while other managers were scrambling to find goalies.
As for my skaters, I don’t know that there’s any replicability in terms of players that I chose. Besides picking up key players who fell to me after being passed over by several others (Stamkos, Bergeron), I made several key picks from Rounds 8-16 that were the result of my pre-draft research. Many of these players outperformed their pre-draft rankings, which is precisely the key to winning fantasy leagues.
Here is my summary of my key takeaways
- Taking two of the top goalies early might not make you successful in percentages, but it can still provide you with stability in volume stats.
- Taking goalies early also allows you to take skaters with high upside during middle rounds when other managers are more likely to chase goalies.
- It’s important to research and capitalize upon late-round players who are ranked too low in pre-draft rankings.
- Look for stat categories that might normally be forgotten about, such as hits and blocks, and draft late-round players to fill those needs (or get them off waivers).
Now that I have found a basic strategy that has been successful for me over the past two seasons, I’ll have to use it again next year. I hope to repeat my positive results, though next time I’ll also be hoping to come away with an overall league championship.