Early Fantasy Hockey Season Dos and Don’ts – DobberHockey

Normally I resume the Roos Lets Loose format the week after my 15 Fearless Forecasts is published; but I feel like it’s a bit too soon to dissect data. Next week it should be back to business as usual.

This is the perfect time though to remind ourselves to use good judgment in making decisions, especially since we’re faced with so many in this earliest part of the season which will have ripple effects for weeks or even months to come. With a stick tap to Tom Collins, here’s a list of ten things you should pay attention to now, and if/when you should take action in response — call them early season dos and don’ts. Also, know that essentially all of the information and data I discuss here is found on Frozen Tools, which you should be using more so than ever in the early going.

PP Usage (Don’t – look at PP time in a vacuum; Do – look at PP percentage usage and linemates)

First things first – if it seems like PP times for players are high across the board, it’s because pretty much every season the referees will blow their whistles more in the early going to try their best to set a tone for the campaign. As a result, PP times per game might be inflated versus season-long averages for at least the next several weeks, if past trends do indeed hold true to form.

That makes it all the more important to focus not on a player’s PP minutes but his percentage of usage, and his linemates. Which teams are going with a true top unit, versus two units? Is one defenseman getting all the prime PP time, or might the team be using two rearguards on the top unit or splitting time between two on both its units? Find out the story behind the story for PP usage.

OZ% (Don’t – assume the worst if it’s a bit low; Do – beware of high OZ% not correlating to high TOI)

Offensive zone starting percentage is an important stat, as players with higher percentages are more likely to score more often. Inasmuch as a lot of penalties are being called early on, that means some “complete” players are spending comparatively more time in their own zone killing penalties. If a player’s OZ% is lower than normal, and their ice time and PP usage is still strong, there is no need to push the panic button, at least not yet.

In terms of those with a high OZ%, it is correct that the team is taking steps to lead them to score. But be careful not to use this as an absolute, as if a skater has an OZ% of 60%+, but an ice time per game under 14:00 (if a forward) or 18:00 (if a defenseman), he’s being sheltered. Although it’s better to be sheltered than to have a low OZ%, it’s not nearly as promising as getting 17:00+ per game (forward) or 21:00+ (defenseman) while still seeing 60%+ starts in the offensive zone.

SOG (Don’t – just focus on a player’s total; Do – look for steady eddies, not those all over the place)

Like OZ%, more SOG is better – no question. Let’s say two players both stand at 19 SOG after their first 6 games. There could be a big difference in terms of those 19 SOG and what they mean.

How many SOG came on the PP? For shooters, ideally it should be somewhere at or even above one per game. Less and you might start to have a bit of concern as to how involved that player will be in the man advantage. Also, if one player had five games of those 19 games with three SOG and one with four, I like more than a player who had six SOG in two different games, four in another, then two, one, and zero in the other three. Yes, it’s great to see six SOG not once but twice; however, this is a player who’s had as many games below his SOG per game average as above, and it makes you wonder what his true colors are, whereas although the other player has yet to do anything spectacular in terms of SOG, he’s shown consistency, which is what teams like to see and thus poolies should as well.

Goalie Workloads (Don’t – place much stock in number of starts; Do – look for who starts which games)

Poolies expect that workhorse goalies will hit the ground running. Some do, but others who will ultimately end up starting 50+ games see less consistent action in the early going. This is because often the preseason is spent trying to land on back-up goalies, with presumed starters playing maybe only one or two full preseason games. As such, anointed starters could enter the season less in the groove than normal; consequently, teams sometimes will not to overwork these netminders early on, allowing them to get into a rhythm while trying their best to avoid injury.

Where you do want to pay attention though, especially in 1A/1B or timeshare situations, is who starts against who. If a goalie is matched against a tougher team, that can signify his team looks upon him as perhaps the 1A. On the flip side, if another goalie plays more games early on, without factoring in back-to-backs, but not always against the best of the best, then he could be poised to be the anointed one. In short, look for the signs that one goalie is in line to emerge. I’m not saying to give up on the other goalie(s) who aren’t in the best early spot, or to rush out and grab the ones who look like they might be separating from the pack, but do pay attention.

Those on the Waiver Wire (Don’t – focus solely on scoring; Do – look at lines, position, PP usage, salary)

Early season scoring bursts can and do happen, but often aren’t indicative of a new normal. If a player not pegged to be among the top 250 forwards emerges with point per game scoring over the first five or even more games, that might just be short term variance. Remember that to grab a free agent it usually means you have to jettison another player, and many a poolie has acted in haste only to regret it later. That having been said, I will say in my experience ~50% of the best waiver wire pick-ups for the season occur within the first month of the campaign, so you will need to be prepared to pounce.

What would make you pull the trigger? It’s as much about the player you’d drop as the one you’d be getting. You want the move to be a net positive not just in the short term. Things that come into play are linemates, PP usage, and salary. Perhaps a player is on a top line because of injury rather than his own merit; and once the injured player is back, the hot player could be pushed down the line-up. That’s where the salary situation does come into play. Also, if someone on your waiver wire is a LW or RW, you might be more inclined to take a flier on him, due to scarcity at that position versus center. Even better if he qualifies in your league at two or even all three forward positions.

Hits (Don’t – overvalue young guys who hit a lot; Do – look at games which have a lot of hits)

Hits is a subjective stat – that is, what constitutes a hit in one arena might not in another. So do pay attention to games where a lot of hits are being recorded, especially if it’s not by players who usually hit that much, as you might want to look to players from teams who play home games at those arenas, versus at places where fewer hits are regularly recorded. Essentially, it’s a good metric to use when deciding between two otherwise similar players.

But be careful not to think that a younger player will hit at the same rate that he does early on. One way for these players to show their coaches and even management they’re contributing is to dish out big hits, and many a youngster has taken that approach in initial games. Sometimes it lasts, but in other cases it doesn’t. If a young player who was not expected to hit a lot is doing so early on, it might just be a temporary situation.

Top Six (Don’t – assume stable top six spots lead to PP time; Do – look at bottom sixers on the PP)

It used to be that top lines at even strength often were the same as the PP1 forward lines. But now there are plenty of players skating on a scoring line but who see little to no PP time. While their top-six spot might be secure, they might not graduate to a spot on PP1, or even be on the PP at all. That is important, since dating back to 2000-01, a total of 8638 forwards had five or fewer PPPts in a season, but of them just 15 had 50+ points that same season and only 47 had 45+. You do need PPPts to be fantasy worthy in all but the deepest of leagues.

Looking at the other side of the coin, since 2000-01 there have been 3075 instances of a forward recording 10+ PPPts in a season, with over 15% being by forwards who had 40 or fewer points that same season. Yes, some were injured players, aging players used mainly in a PP role, or youngsters who got PP time but never could make it as a true NHLer; however, many were stepping stone situations where the player strutted his stuff on the man advantage to an extent that it earned him better ice time overall.

Handedness (Don’t – stress too much for forwards; Do – factor it into defensemen assessment)

Most poolies probably couldn’t confidently indicate whether all their skaters shoot left or right. The reason is because for the most part it doesn’t matter, especially for forwards, as many will play off wing and it rarely matters for centers. Where it does have some possible bearing is on the PP; if most of a team’s top forwards are left-handed shots, a player being right-handed might give him a better chance to land a man advantage spot than if he shot left as well.

For defensemen, teams often try to form pairs at even strength where one of the two is left-handed and the other right-handed. That matters when it comes to finding partners for some of the best of the best offensive defensemen, as they can get spillover scoring benefits. Look at Devon Toews for a great example. On the PP though, all bets are off, as the Pens have toyed with a PP1 with Erik Karlsson and Kris Letang, both of whom shoot right, as do Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour, who both were regulars on Florida’s PP1 when healthy last season.

Making Trades (Don’t – turn a blind eye to early trades; Do – make trades only where you clearly win)

I’d be shocked if even this soon into the season the trade winds haven’t started blowing in your league. People have an innate tendency to want to tinker. Am I saying don’t agree to a trade this early? No; however, you also want to think long and hard as to whether a trade makes sense, especially now.

First and foremost, unless you’re in a league where players are kept in the round they were selected, you need to forget about where a player was drafted. Yes, in many cases a draft may have taken place not even two weeks ago. But it’s over and done, and now all players are on equal footing. Don’t assess trades based on the rounds in which the players were picked.

When might you propose a trade? If you have a key player who out for a while, it might be wise to try to plug that hole. Also, if you have a player who has name value which, based on reliable early returns, will far exceed his actual value, time might be of the essence to trade him.

When should you accept a trade? When you clearly win. I realize that at best only one side can clearly win and sometimes there is no clear winner; so you’ll have to find a way to get the other side to accept what you see as the losing end of a deal. But that can happen, and it’s up to you to make it a reality. Otherwise, I’d wait on trades until things shake out a bit more and come into sharper focus.

Multi-cat players (Don’t – overvalue them; Do – look for hidden gems to emerge)

Everyone is enamored with players who provide across the board category contributions. The reason is not only because of the benefits they provide but also their comparative scarcity, especially in terms of also doing well scoring-wise. That last part is key. I see teams overvaluing players who indeed do well in multi-cat but just don’t score enough too. If you focus so much on categories like hits, blocks, and PIM, you can fall short in goals, assists, and PPPts, which are harder to come by and can put you in a hole out of which it is more difficult to dig than multi-cat areas.

A couple of years ago Tanner Jeannot put together a come from nowhere multi-cat season that won his owners a number of championships. Wvery season a few players emerge who are multi-cat studs. Are they routinely as great as Jeannot was? Definitely not. But pay attention to defensemen who might be getting paired with scorers and also check multi-cat boxes, or forwards who find their way into the top nine and can maybe get you 40+ points alongside huge multi-cat totals.


There you have it – ten pieces of early season advice. Should you follow all of these as gospel? I’m not saying to do that, as not all of this is one size fits all. Consider this more as “food for thought” to help shape your decisions and to keep in the back of your mind. As promised, Roos Lets Loose returns next week, with an edition of Forum Buzz.

Questions for Mailbag Column

Got questions about your team, or certain players? Send them to me so I can answer them in my upcoming monthly mailbag. To get questions to me, you can either private message “rizzeedizzee” via the DobberHockey Forums or, instead, send an email to [email protected] with “Roos Mailbag” as the subject line.

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