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Slappers and Bangers: How to Build Your Fantasy Hockey Roster

Welcome back. This week we’re taking slightly more of a philosophical approach.  For some, this article may have been more useful, pre-draft. I get that. At the same time though, there’s a growing number of us that engage in dynasty-style pools where once the main draft is done, it’s done.

Limited keeper pools are your in-between, you build your core roster and re-draft the supporting cast each year.

There’s one question I feel I should address: Why should anyone listen to me? Well, I’ve been around.

Real Answer: I’m currently in five pools, four dynasties, and one is a salary cap limited-keeper (keep 12). The prospect pools vary from eight to 30. All the pools are some variation of multi-cat. Whether they are standard, one point for each category (hits, blocks, shots, goals, GAA, W, etc) or a points pool, which is a newer format. Each category holds a point value (goals 2.5, assists 2.5, shots .25) and at the end of the week, you have a point total (IE: 245 points – 210.25 points).

These are all money pools with buy-ins from $40 to $100. I haven’t pulled a single dollar from my own account since I originally joined these pools. I’ve finished in the money consistently enough to cover the following year’s buy-ins, every year for the last five years.  This isn’t a brag session, but you need to know I’ve had sustained success with this strategy. I mean, I wouldn’t trust a bottom feeder either.

For this article, we’ll focus mainly on roster makeup and strategy with a couple of general rules I live by.

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Fantasy Hockey Roster Strategy

You need an elite core

I don’t care how many peripheral categories your pool contains, you need a core built with superstars. Take a look at the average draft position of one-year pools, you want to own at least two of those names. On any given roster you’ll find two legit first-round talents, Leon Draisaitl, Austin Matthews, Connor McDavid, and so on.

This is the beauty of this type of pool—the long-term effect of a trade.

All pools count goals, assists, power-play points, and shots. It is rare to find a multi-cat pool that uses more than eight skater categories. I’m pointing out the obvious but to win skater categories you need offense. And you want to squeeze as much offense into each roster player as possible.

I have one roster with Matthews, Draisaitl, Kirill Kaprizov, and Jason Robertson. Another with Mitch Marner, Matthews, Brady Tkachuck, Kaprizov, Nikita Kucherov, and Cale Makar.  Elite players are limited. With multiple pools, you are going to have overlap.

All forwards must produce over 2.5 shots per game

If you look at all the elite point producers, they clear this mark easily. It is after that elite 100-plus point tier that I  focus more attention on this category. Shots equal chances, period. Breaking shots down into high and low-danger chances is part of a larger advanced statistic conversation.

By including this benchmark on your second tier of roster players you do two things. First, you will maintain a high expectation of offense. Most forwards that produce 200 or more shots a season (2.5 per game) are going to be higher on the points leaderboard.

Yes, there are outliers both above and below. Some forwards are volume shooters that don’t produce a ton of points. We can list a couple of them here, Chris Kreider 226 shots, 54 points, Frank Vatrano, 236 shots, 41 points,  Boone Jenner, 45 points.

Then there’s the other side of the exception, Joe Pavelski – 184 shots, 77 points, Anze Kopitar – 169 shots, 74 points, Nick Suzuki – 162 shots, 66 points.

Compare these to Mitch Marner – 196 shots, 99 points, Braydon Point – 240 shots, 94 points, Clayton Keller – 223 shots, 86 points.

All but perhaps Vatrano is owned in a 12-team pool with a full roster (Start 12 forwards, six defense, 2 goalies, and 4-6 bench). Just through the brief comparison above it should be obvious why high shots with points is of the utmost importance. It is the best of both worlds.

And yes, there are exceptions to this rule. In need of a category specialist, I’ll sacrifice some offense. I own Mason Marchment in one pool. He’s there for hits and penalty minutes. Before him, I owned Marcus Foligno for the same reason. Marchment doesn’t give the same number of hits Foligno did, but he does provide a better dose of offense. I do try to limit this to one forward slot.

Defensemen must produce over 60 points OR a minimum of 40 points, 150 shots, 150 hits, and 150 blocks.

I will always sacrifice peripheral stats (hits, blocks) for points. Owning defensemen like Cale Makar, Adam Fox, and Roman Josi, should be a priority.

In most pools, you’re only going to own one to three of these elite point-producing defenders. After that, you want to really round out your D-core with players like the ones I listed last week.

Admittedly it takes some crafty trading to acquire a full six defenders that meet these two conditions.

Players like Tyson Barrie and Rasmus Andersson will give you solid point production but you will be sacrificing hits and blocks (especially in Barrie’s case).

Then there’s the ‘bangers.’ Players like Brayden McNabb, Adam Peeke, and Connor Murphy will give you 200 hits and blocks, off-setting what Barrie doesn’t give you. Together, they meet the requirements.

You want to take good stock of your forwards. If you have really strong, high-producing forwards you can sacrifice a little bit of offense with your defense to add in the peripherals.

I’ll sacrifice hits before blocks with defensemen. Last year’s league leader in blocks for a forward was 92. Last year there were 30 defencemen with 130 or more blocks. If your defencemen don’t block, you won’t be competitive in this category.

If I am going to own a defenseman like Brayden McNabb (I do), it’s because I have a defenseman that will offset his lack of shooting and offense. I know I will only get 1.1 to 1.2 shots per game from McNabb. Owning Cale Makar in this pool, who averages over 2.5 shots per game provides me with this luxury.

Perhaps the best way to look at my rule for is to ensure the production from all six defensemen averages 40 points, 150 shots, blocks, and hits.

Pay attention to league trends

This is extremely important in dynasties and limited keepers. Certain owners value certain players or types of players more than others.

I have yet to adopt this strategy, but keeping a spreadsheet of a manager’s comments toward players, their favorite teams, values they place on players can give you an edge. You might be in the league with the same group of owners for a decade. This information increases in value over time.

Some owners are so in love with their favorite team, they want to own as many of these players as possible. First, don’t be that owner. Second, this is a trade you can usually extract extra value on.

A lot of managers believe a player’s value plummets after the age of 30. Exploit this. Star players rarely disappear at the age of 30. It is that middle-tier, hard-nosed, hard-hitting style player – James Neal, Andrew Ladd – that has created this belief.

If you notice though. Great players find a way.

Here’s a practical example. Three years ago I traded a 3rd round prospect pick for Joe Pavelski at the trade deadline. There was no real negotiation, he was on the trade block for a third-round pick. I sat in first and needed another forward. After the trade, I asked why he was so cheap. The answer? “No one wants him. He’s 36, his value is declining.”  I’ve enjoyed two and a half seasons of just under point per game production since.

It can also be a bargaining chip to bring the price down during negotiations, ‘He’s old. I can’t pay that much for a player about to decline.’

Winning the trade = Making your team better

Sometimes you have to give to get. Not every trade you make is going to be a lopsided victory.

Every trade should have a purpose. Perhaps you trade to improve a weak category, or two. Most often it is to sure up hits and blocks. You’re either trading prospects and picks, or straight offense for a peripheral specialist (IE: Radko Gudas, Adam Larsson, Brayden McNabb)

Or you find your roster is maxed and you make a two-for-one or three-for-one deal. In these situations, you don’t acquire the full value of what you move.

The goal is to get the best player in the deal and obtain the required roster flexibility. I seem to need to do this yearly to make room for one or two prospects to move up and down my lineup. That’s the flexibility I need, I like – extra games played.

Don’t trade to make a trade

Trading is a ton of fun. It is exciting and can make your heart race when you pull off a blockbuster.

But… trading for the sake of trading in the end will be detrimental to the team you are building.

You need to compare your team to the others in the pool. Look at the rotisserie standings (under the standings tab). Find out what your team needs. If you’re 9/12 in shots – then you need to make a trade to increase shots.

Don’t make lateral trades for the sole purpose of being able to say you’ve owned a certain player. This isn’t Pokemon, ‘gotta collect them all.’

Be strategic.

Don’t rebuild a rebuild

It’s like a fantasy version of the Arizona Coyotes or Buffalo Sabres. Both teams are on their third rebuild attempt without ever becoming competitive.

Yes, acquiring blue-chip prospects and having a roster filled with the shiniest names of tomorrow is exciting.

But… at some point, you must flip the switch and take the next step to compete.

Here’s the thing, every year there are going to be new prospects. The shine will wear off of what you own and another shiny new prospect will catch your attention. My puppy drops her stick and runs to the reflection my watch makes on the wall. Suck it up and move up, stop the rebuild.

I mean, as a competitor I enjoy the donations from two to four teams every year. It makes my season easier, but there comes a point you need to commit to winning.

After all, isn’t the goal of joining a fantasy league to win? If you want to continually own prospects go buy a box of Upper Deck Series 2 cards and collect Young Guns.

Cycle out veteran players while they still have value.

I know what I said above about veterans.

Everything is a balance. You won’t get full value for them, accept that.

You can increase your return by being strategic when you trade them. Trade them during a hot streak, you know, when you no longer want to trade them.

Take for example, Evgeny Malkin. At 37, the productive years remaining are diminishing.

What is easier to trade:
a. Malkin with 15 points in his last eight games or,
b. Malkin with three points in his last five, and a game-time decision for the last four games?

Timing is everything. Sell high.

Move out a couple of players over 35 years of age, each year. Cycle in young players about to hit their prime or their breakout threshold. This will keep you out of the basement and avoid entering a full rebuild at all.

Retool. Don’t rebuild.

I realize I didn’t get into the nitty gritty of multi-cat roster construction. There are so many little nuances in building a successful roster that if I included it all it would be a novella.

I hope some of these tips you find valuable as you navigate your season.

Next week we’ll take a look at some category specialists and see if we can identify a couple underlying gems that might be lesser known.

Thanks for reading.

Follow me on Twitter: @doylelb4

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