I Drink From the Cup of Stanley

13 04 2009

The NHL playoffs are just about to open, but fantasy hockey is over, and in my first season, I’ve won my league.  My strategy of drafting goalies early paid off, with my two backstops Evgeni Nabakov and Niklas Backstrom each having a shutout and strong overall numbers in the final matchup.  In the final, I won all four goalie categories, plus goals and penalty minutes, and a tie in shots on goal, for a 6-3-1 victory. On the season, I was 56-23-17 in the four goalie categories and 63-52-9 in the skater categories, so my edge pretty clearly came from the goalies.

I look forward to next year, when I expect more managers to pick goalies sooner–I’ve been talking about it a lot, and some of them read this blog.  The managers that is, not the goalies.  If any readers are interested in fantasy hockey, chime in and I can probably get you into the league next year–we’ll be evicting a fair number of deadbeat managers.


Are goalies undervalued?

7 10 2008

Every fantasy season I build a model in Excel to evaluate draft choices.  It’s a simple model that uses some dubious assumptions, that’s generally proven pretty useless for fantasy baseball and football, but highly effective for fantasy basketball.  Last weekend I built the model for both hockey and basketball.  I’ll discuss my basketball findings in a later post, but right now I’m more interested in the very surprising results from the hockey model.

When I ran the calculations, and built a draft board, the model said that the top 10 picks–that is, the 10 most valuable fantasy players–are all goalies.  This clashes with conventional wisdom from the fantasy community, where you generally see just a couple goalies in the top 10.  I was concerned about an error in the model, so I started thinking about what it was doing, and whether its results made any sense.

The model I use compares players to a replacement-level player at their position, a projection of the best guy available on the wavier wire.  There are 30 teams in the NHL and as best I can tell, you only want to start the primary goalie on each.  So there are potentially 30 possible starters.  In our 12-team league, each team starts 2 goalies, for a total of 24 starters.  Additionally, teams will draft backups.  This doesn’t allow for much flexibility.  If you don’t land two top goalies, you’ll be stuck playing a bad one, or a backup, or only starting one goalie.  These all seem like really bad ideas.  Category math also works in goalies’ favor.  Fantasy teams start 2 goalies and 10 skaters.  The goalies account for 4 statistical categories, the skaters for 6.  So with two top picks, you can gain a huge edge in 40% of stats. 

In my draft this weekend, I drafted Evgeni Nabokov 9th overall, the second goalie off the board.  I followed with Niklas Backstrom (no, not Nicklas Backstrom) at 33 overall and Pascal Leclaire at 112.  According to the model, all three of these guys should have gone in the first round.

I’ll reevaluate this strategy as the season plays out.  There are a couple points against it.  For one, it’s a head-to-head league and one of the goalie categories is shutouts.  Shutouts are very rare, so I suspect many matchups will end 0-0, 1-0 or 1-1, meaning it’s a bit of a crapshoot anyway.  I accounted for this by devaluing shutouts by 50% in the model.  A second downfall is it’s hard to predict which goalies are actually the top goalies.  I went entirely based on last year’s numbers, since I don’t know enough about hockey to predict anything.  This article seems to support my thinking, and argues against this objection.  Greg Gibeault: “I can’t say that I’ve grabbed a sleeper goaltender and had him actually perform in recent memory…I don’t have enough fingers to count all of the random players who I’ve grabbed at other positions who have performed well.”

Overall, I’m really skeptical about my chances in fantasy hockey, but I’m optimistic about my goalies.

Reasons to get excited about Fantasy Hockey

17 09 2008

I’m strongly considering starting a fantasy hockey league this year, even though I know almost nothing about who’s good in hockey right now.  Of the top 10 players on Matt Romig’s Big Board, I would have recognized 5 as hockey players.  Nonetheless, hockey’s a cool sport, the Blackhawks are a possible playoff team, so it’s time to, in the words of EA Sports NHLPA ’93, “Get in the game!”  Speaking of NHLPA ’93, at least one player from that game is on Romig’s Board–Nik Lidstrom at 13.  I’m pretty sure that #6 Brodeur, #32 Osgood and #33 Kovalev were added for ’94, along with Mats Sundin, who’s on the bubble.  Think about the keeper league ramifications.  Lidstrom looks like he’s been a fantasy stud for about 17 seasons, and still going strong.  That’s ridiculous!

Other reasons to appreciate Fantasy Hockey

  • Romig has both two players on the bubble: Nicklas Backstrom and Niklas Backstrom.  I figured it was a typo, but it turns out they’re actually two different dudes.  One’s a goalie, one’s a center, but they’re both almost good enough to crack Romig’s top 50.  That’s ridiculous!
  • Penalty minutes count as a stat in fantasy hockey, but unlike in basketball where turnovers count against you, fantasy hockey counts penalties as a positive stat.  You need to draft your team so as to have a sufficient number of goons.  That’s ridiculous!