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Fantasy Hockey for Beginners: Get On the Ice!

Are you a beginner at Fantasy Hockey?  Perhaps you are a hockey fan who has not tried fantasy sports.  Maybe you are a fantasy player yet to try hockey.  With the NHL season about to begin, now is a great time to test the waters.  The first part of this article is for hockey fans who are complete beginners to fantasy.  The second is for fantasy players who are new to fantasy hockey.

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Are you a hockey fan who has never played fantasy?

It can be intimidating to try fantasy for the first time.  Don’t be put off.  Fantasy is a great way to engage with the whole NHL, not just your favorite team.  You will be tested on your ability to identify the players who will put up better stats than your competition.  The type of stats your league counts is up to you and your leaguemates.  You combine a roster of players from different NHL teams and measure the accumulation of their stats against your competitors, who choose different players.  You generally roster more players than are allowed to play on the same day, leaving you to make the strategic decisions of who to ‘start.’  That comes with the ecstasy of the decision that pays off big and the agony of accidentally benching a player who had a great night in ‘real’ hockey.

Find your leaguemates

The most important thing to make your experience a good one is to play with good leaguemates.  It can be great to play with people you know if you have that option — there is nothing to take the place of in-person trash talk and trade talk.  If you can’t connect with a group of players you already know, you can join a public league here on Fantrax where you can join in with others who just want to play a league.  Levels of competition and engagement will vary, but a public league is a low-stakes way to start if you are looking for one.

Pick a format

Fantasy can involve as much or as little a time commitment as you prefer.  There are also different sets of rules.  Perhaps the easiest entry point is a head-to-head weekly points league.  That involves drafting a team, choosing your lineup once a week, swapping players from your roster with free agents, and (if you like) trading players with your competition.  In a “points” format, various stats are given a point value and the computer tallies up your totals against your competition weekly.  The alternative to points – the categories format – involves tallying different categories of stats (most goals, most assists, most hits, most saves).  Some leagues rank team finishes in categories over a season and add them up to compute an overall leader (the rotisserie format).  It can also be computed for every week in team-on-team matchups, with the overall standings computed by the weekly results.  Roster moves can be daily or weekly, allowing players to add free agents or cut players throughout the season to account for injuries and performance.


The most important moment of the league is the initial draft.  In the most common format, teams take turns choosing players with a “snake” format that means every round reverses in order to be more fair.  You should do some research in advance of this to determine at least generally how players stack up.  When you are in the draft application you’ll also see players ranked in roughly the order their numbers project.  You may be a lifelong Kings fan, but drafting Anze Kopitar in the 1st round will lead to a very long and painful season.  Do not mindlessly follow any rankings (including ours), but keep in mind your leaguemates will likely be working with a general consensus of which players rank where.  Having your own predictions and opinions on top of those is part of the fun.

Trading and transactions

Even if you are new to fantasy, you are definitely not new to the concept of people trying to rip you off.  Trading players with leaguemates can be a lot of fun, but you are most likely going to receive a lot of lowball offers.  Taking your time and watching other trades is a good idea. There is no rule that says you have to trade. Trading away stars for unproven players pays off once in a great while, but unbalanced trades can rile up your leaguemates and in some leagues can actually be vetoed. Likewise, when you add players, take your time before giving up on established stars if they get off to a slow start.  You should, however, keep making adds and drops with your later picks if they are not performing.  Heck, you can tag me on Twitter @fanhockeylife and my podcast co-host Victor at @victornuno12 and get our opinions if you like.


Fantasy is supposed to be fun.  Try to stay active in your league – some players will become less active as a season drags on if they are not doing well.  Even if you start slow, I have seen many comebacks from teams that start with poor records.  Every year some players who start the year undrafted go on to power league-winners, like Tage Thompson or Noah Dobson.  The day you are watching a random Monday night Arizona-Anaheim game in April because your season is riding on John Gibson and Clayton Keller, that is the day I know I have you hooked.

Are you a fantasy player who is a beginner at hockey?

Well, hello there football, baseball, and basketball players – welcome to the best of all fantasy sports.  Aside from learning a brand new player pool, you are now playing a game where all 60 minutes matter.  There is no more watching a clock tick for 20 seconds between 5 seconds of action and constant commercials.  Players play offense and defense.  They do not even wait for a stoppage of play to come in and out of the game.  The caliber of player you roster almost never gets “benched,” all 18 skaters on an NHL team generally play every game.

For you Football players

I know there are tens of millions of you out there who are locked in on the football season.  But let’s face it,  if you get off to a slow start you may decide this isn’t your year – and then your fun is over before it’s snowing in Green Bay.  You might even be thinking you have  a bit more time on your hands than one weekly waivers period and lineup setting.  What could be more fun than another fantasy draft and a rooting interest in a sport until late Spring?  I know some say they don’t want to have to pay attention to their game daily.  Look – football has become nearly a 7-night a week sport too!

If you can do that, you can follow hockey seven days a week.  Sure, you can play the points format you know and love from football, but why not live a little?  Categories mean the strategy of looking for a variety of player types.  You want big scorers, bruisers, playmakers, goalies – not just one dimension of player.  In traditional fantasy football, there are half a dozen players on an NFL team who register fantasy points.  In hockey any player in the lineup could (theoretically) be the top scorer for the night.

If you want to stick with points, let me make some analogies for you.  Goalies are a challenge.  They are a little bit like quarterbacks – possibly the highest scoring players on your team, incredibly valued or borderline streamable depending on your format.  Goalies can move up and down the rankings fast, so even if you start the season behind, you might nab and ride the goalie equivalent of surprise breakout Jalen Hurts.  Next, imagine even the best QBs only start 2/3 of the games.  That leaves space for a couple of extra streams as well.  There is a saying in hockey: “goalies are voodoo.”  That’s part of the fun.

A defenseman in hockey is a bit like Wide Receivers. There are lots of borderline options with a few top-end difference-makers.  The meat and potatoes of hockey lineups are centers and wingers (aka forwards) – like running backs.  The good news is the top forwards are fairly consistent from year to year.  Unlike RBs fighting for touches and targets, hockey players all get at least some opportunity.  Rarely do you deal with the equivalent of starting a running back that gets “Shanahaned” to the bench.

For you Baseball players

Fantasy hockey should seem familiar to those of you who play fantasy baseball.  The great news for you is the hockey schedule is a perfect complement to baseball’s schedule.  In a normal season, hockey begins at the same time the fantasy baseball season ends and vice-versa.  That’s a 12 month a year dopamine hit and a way to spend January doing something other than sadly counting days for pitchers and catchers to report.  The familiar roto, head to head, categories and points choices are in hockey just as they are in baseball.

Imagine for a moment each MLB team had one pitcher and one backup per team.  These pitchers have the endurance to pitch nine innings every game, except maybe 10% of games for poor performance.  The better pitcher on the team starts 50-80% of the games with the backup soaking up the rest.  These pitchers generally retain their jobs, but occasionally get cut or replaced closer-style.  They are an awful mess to predict.  While these players usually do not comprise half your categories like pitchers do, they are likely to make up at least a third of them. Now you know what playing with hockey goalies is like.

Streaming in hockey is like baseball except there is generally a full slate of games 3 nights a week while some nights may have as few as one or two games.  That opens up all kinds of chances to squeeze a player in based on matchups.  The four skater positions (C, LW, RW, D) have different position scarcity.  Multi-position eligibility outside of the defenseman position is pretty common (though less easy to compute).  Defensemen, as you might expect, have lower performance expectations than forwards.  In some leagues points by defensemen get an extra bonus while in others the use of stats like hits, blocked shots, or penalty minutes are used to ensure the tough guys have value.

For you Basketball players

I know some of you are reluctant to take this plunge because the hockey and basketball seasons coincide.  It is ok – there is always more time for fantasy sports!

Both offensive and defensive stats for each player count in hockey just like basketball.  You do a lot of balancing categories to figure out a preferred way to win your category matchups.  Like basketball, top players are more consistent from year to year than some sports.  Of course changes in teammates and playing time can certainly impact player values.  Hockey is also like basketball in that there are a lot of multi-position eligible players.

There are a couple of things different from the fantasy basketball game.  Unlike basketball there is a group (goalies) with a completely separate player pool and scoring metrics.  In a categories format, you will have to give them particular attention.  In basketball, turnovers and shooting percentages put risk into starting players.  Throwing a low-octane backup in on a Sunday in basketball might give you that extra couple of rebounds and points you need.  On the other hand, it also might do damage to ratios.  In fantasy hockey, typically the only ratio stats where bad performance can bring you down are in that goalie area.

Fantasy hockey is like basketball in the number of strategies it opens up and the way you need to consider players. Ranks cannot be viewed in a vacuum, but parts of a lineup to build that maintains strength (or specialties) in different stats.

Give hockey a try everyone, you might like it!


If you want to prepare for the upcoming fantasy hockey season, you should be listening to my podcast “Fantasy Hockey Life” here on Fantrax.  With cohost Victor Nuno and great team expert guests, we broke down the NHL with a podcast episode on each team.  Now we are ready to take you through the 2021 regular season and to your championship.

Does your league have an interesting way to decide a champion this season?  Let us know in the comments below.

For more help in getting ready for next season, check out the Top 10 Fantasy Hockey Rookies of 2021.

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