How to Play Fantasy Hockey

Three Methods:Learning the GameBuilding Your RosterManaging Your Team

Whether it’s a cash prize, a trophy, or mere bragging rights at stake, fantasy hockey is a popular way for fans of the sport to take even more delight in the NHL’s regular season. While it doesn’t have the same appeal as fantasy baseball, football, or basketball—at least in the United States—fantasy hockey is taken just as seriously by those who play it on a regular basis. If you have a basic understanding of the sport, taking part in a fantasy league is a fun way to add extra significance to the season.

Method 1
Learning the Game

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    Research the types of fantasy hockey. As with the majority of fantasy sports, fantasy hockey is presented in several different forms:
    • In rotisserie fantasy hockey, stat categories award points based on the number of teams in the league (for example, in a 10-team league, categories award points from 1 to 10 depending on where teams rank in that category). If you rank fifth in assists, that would be worth 6 points to your team. The owner with the highest point total at the end of the season is declared the winner.
    • Points-based is the simplest style of fantasy hockey, awarding different point totals for various achievements (goals, penalty minutes, goalie wins, and others). The team that collects the most points wins.
    • Head-to-head pits one team owner against another on a weekly basis. Their rosters compete against one another in various statistical categories, with each team earning a “win” for finishing ahead of the opponent in a category. Rather than accumulate points, team owners aim to finish with the best “win-loss record” at season’s end.
    • Salary-based is a fantasy game in which owners are given a fixed amount of fictional money and must use it to build a team. Each player in the NHL is tagged with a predetermined “salary.” Users are not allowed to exceed the “salary cap.”
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    Research the types of leagues. It is important to establish how much commitment you’re willing to put into playing fantasy hockey before deciding on what kind of league you’re interested in entering:
    • Single-year leagues are the simplest form of fantasy hockey. You draft a team, make roster moves throughout the season and go for the championship. The following year, you start completely from scratch. This style of league is ideal for anyone looking for something easy to track and requiring the minimum amount of commitment.
    • Keeper leagues allow fantasy players to keep a maximum number of NHL players on their roster from one season to the next. Some leagues mandate that each team keep the same number of players, while others set a range of players per team. The following year’s draft includes any player not retained.
    • In dynasty leagues, teams remain the same from year to year, with the only roster changes coming in the form of player adds, player drops and trades. Each year, the annual draft consists exclusively of rookies. This league requires a great deal of attention and commitment.
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    Learn about the categories. While each league varies, most use some variation of 10 categories—six devoted to forwards and defenseman and four geared toward goaltenders:
    • Goals refer to any instance in which a player directs the puck into the net.
    • Assists are given to a maximum of 2 players who touch the puck prior to a teammate scoring a goal. Possession must be uninterrupted for an assist to be awarded.
    • Power play points are rewarded any time a player records a goal or an assist while his team has a man advantage.
    • Shorthanded points refer to any goals or assists accumulated while a player’s team is short a man.
    • Penalty minutes are accumulated whenever a player is given an infraction.
    • Plus-minus is a category that tracks which players are on the ice for goals in even-man situations (5-on-5, 4-on-4, or 3-on-3). A player on the ice when his team scores an even-man goal is given a plus-1, while opposing players are given a minus-1.
    • Goalie wins are awarded whenever a netminder is on the ice when his team scores the eventual winning goal.
    • Goals-against average is a stat tracking how many goals the netminder allows per 60 minutes of action.
    • Save percentage measures a goaltender’s success rate when it comes to stopping the puck; a perfect save percentage is 1.000.
    • Shutouts refer to any game in which a goaltender does not allow a goal.
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    Look into the types of drafts. The type of draft you conduct will shape how you conduct your research and ultimately decide on a strategy:
    • Straight drafts can be conducted either online or in person. In a straight draft, the order is established, and users select NHL players one at a time. The order can either be regular (people own the same pick in every round) or serpentine (straight draft order is used for odd-numbered rounds, while the opposite is used for even-numbered rounds). Players are selected until all teams’ empty slots are filled.
    • Auto drafts are conducted online, with teams selected automatically rather than by the competing team owners. The drafting program makes selections based either by the site’s player rankings, or by pre-rankings established by the team owner. This type of draft is ideal for those who are unable to agree on a mutual date for a live draft.
    • Auction drafts do not follow a specific draft order. Instead, a player is offered up for bid by one team owner, and everyone then bids on the player until a final price is established. Teams are limited to predetermined budgets and must fill every spot on their roster without running out of money.

Method 2
Building Your Roster

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    Read up on the players. Most of the largest sports websites have their own fantasy hockey sections, complete with “mock” drafts (conducted by fantasy experts to provide insight into possible draft trends), columns on overrated and underrated players, and projected statistics for the coming season. Magazines are also helpful, but generally wind up being dated by the time your draft is held.
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    Conduct your draft. The draft is one of the most entertaining days of the fantasy year, as team owners gather to pick what they hope will be the winning roster - and engage in a little good-natured trash talk along the way. Stick to your strategy, but be willing to make minor adjustments as warranted. Make sure you fill every position with the best player available, and do your best to achieve proper balance in every category.
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    Set your optimal lineup. Most leagues will allow you to carry more players than you need, with the extra bodies ending up on your “bench.” You’ll need to decide what your optimal lineup is and make sure it is set up in time for the start of the season.

Method 3
Managing Your Team

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    Replace underperforming or injured players. Nearly every fantasy hockey team runs into injuries or poor performances along the way. Unless you have an empty slot on your bench or specific slots for injured players, you will need to drop someone if you’re looking to add a free agent. Scour the pool of available players regularly and don’t be afraid to take a chance on players who are running hot, or who suddenly find themselves with more playing time than they were originally expected to get. Being proactive will help your chances of winning.
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    Make trades to improve your team. Team owners will often find themselves strong in one area, weak in another, or both. This is the time to talk trade. If you’re dealing from an area of surplus—for example, you lead the league by a significant margin—then your best option is to deal some of your excess for help in other areas. Conversely, if you’re weak somewhere but well-balanced everywhere else, you should find a way to trade for help in that area. Trading isn’t always easy, but if you make enough offers and keep communication lines open, you should succeed in making your team better.
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    Scour the Internet for tips, warnings, and trends. Fantasy hockey experts don’t stop working once the draft season is over. They’re working all year long to provide owners with up-to-the-minute news on injuries, playing time situations, and other key developments. Leagues aren’t won on draft day, so continue following fantasy writers and analysts on a weekly basis, and adjust your roster accordingly.
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    Enjoy the season! Fantasy hockey is designed to add appeal and excitement to the NHL season. Don’t take it too seriously, and you should find some level of enjoyment whether you finish first, second, or tenth.


  • Goaltenders make up a fraction of your roster, yet are often a good portion of your fantasy points for the year. There is no reason to settle for subpar goaltending. If you’re serious about contending for the fantasy title, you need to ensure that you have at least one superior netminder—and preferably two.


  • Penalty minute totals can be difficult to project from year to year, so do not rely too heavily on previous seasons’ tallies, especially those belonging to skilled players. Often, their penalty numbers are skewed by misconduct penalties, which add 10 minutes to their season total.

Sources and Citations

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Categories: Ice Hockey