In my last post, I discussed strategies for drafting your fantasy hockey team. Drafting well is critical to your team's success. If you play fantasy football, you know that sometimes if a team has an awesome draft, they will hardly need to touch the waiver wire all season, especially if their team crushes the competition week after week because even if they wanted to grab someone off waivers they probably don't have a high enough waiver priority to get them. That's why an 8-6 team can come out of nowhere and knock out the regular season leader at 14-2. Suddenly, a stud who has been producing big numbers all season for the 14-2 team gets injured or puts ups a donut when it counts the most. The 8-6 team was savvy enough to pick up that sleeper off waivers back in Week 7 who happened to have a monster game in the semi-final matchup against the 14-2 team. For this reason, in fantasy football, you should never fret too much if your team gets off to a slow start. You just need to be good enough to get into the dance. So what if you start 1-3 and your friend is 4-0? A 4-0 start will mean nothing for them when you are hoisting your FF trophy!
In fantasy hockey, it's different and a lot harder. In hockey, for starters, you've got a longer season. In many leagues, you go for 21 weeks, compared to the usual 14 in most football leagues. If you include all rounds of the playoffs, you could be playing hockey for 24 weeks. In most football formats, you are only playing 17 weeks at the most. Also, in football, save for Monday and Thursday night games, you are basically just setting your lineup once per week. In hockey, you've got to tend to your lineup each and every day, especially since not all of your players play every day. In my view, there are more uniquely talented hockey players than there are football players, which is why during the regular season, it is easier for a good fantasy hockey team to lose to a less than stellar team in a given weekly matchup than it is for a really good fantasy football team to lose to a bad opponent. Those of you who have ever been annoyed when their first place hockey team lost a matchup to the last place team in the league will understand.
In my previous post, I mentioned that you've got to maintain balance on your fantasy hockey team. You've also got to keep things fresh. Your fantasy hockey team has to be constantly evolving and you can't let it get stale or to stagnate. You've got to keep it fresh. You've got to keep watering it and nurturing it. That doesn't mean you should change out all your players every week. But it also doesn't mean that even if you drafted very well that you should change nothing. Below, I will enumerate a few key tips to keeping your team fresh and how to find those waiver wire gems.
1. Don't Be Married To Any One Player: One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to marry yourself to a particular player, especially if they were picked to have a huge season but have been struggling most of the season thus far. There may be a lesser known player on the waiver wire who has been lighting it up. They may not have the same "star" power that the underperforming player has, but if they are producing and could otherwise boost your team, it might be worth making the switch. You might worry that someone else will grab the "star" player you decided to drop, but chances are, if he's really been that much of a bum, nobody else will really be hankering to get him. They may wonder what took you so long to get rid of him. You may still be able to pick him up again if you change your mind. If someone else grabs him, good luck to them. It could end up being much better for you to be the first one who grabs the sleeper stud on the waiver wire than to hang on to the veteran star that has been nothing short of a complete letdown. This tip especially applies if this star player happens to be on one of your favorite teams. Believe me, the player himself will not be butt hurt if you drop him from your fantasy team and it makes you no less a fan of your hometown team. One of the beauties of fantasy hockey is how you can sometimes root for players on your least favorite teams while at times hoping your hometown guys do poorly, especially if the guy you love to hate is helping your fantasy team.
2. Do Your Homework: By this I mean do your research. There are a lot of sites dedicated to fantasy hockey and many of them offer their insights on players to consider adding and dropping. I personally go to sites like Yahoo, ESPN, Rotoworld, SB Nation, and Daily Faceoff for fantasy tips, especially when it comes to potential waiver wire pickups. Most of these sites provide a list of most added and dropped players that week, which helps give you a clue as to who is hot and who is not. If you are in a Yahoo league, Yahoo even does a nice job of telling you which players on your team have been dropped in a lot of Yahoo leagues. They also give you the top three most added players for that day.
3. Take Advantage of IR: If one of your players ends up on IR, be sure he is designated as such so that you can go and pickup a replacement. Don't fall asleep at the switch and let that roster spot go empty for any period of time. When your guy comes off IR, then you can either drop the new guy or if he is really catching some fire, maybe you consider dropping someone else and keeping the new guy.
4. Games Per Week: When adding a potential player and dropping another, pay attention to their teams' number of games that week If the guy you are considering adding only plays two games that week and has already played one or will have played one by the time he is eligible to play for your team, then you might want to pick up a guy who plays four games that week, especially if he hasn't played any yet. When I first started playing fantasy hockey, I was burned one too many times by teams who made sure they had some guys who played a lot more during the week than a lot of my guys. Again, this doesn't mean that you drop the stud player from your team because he only plays two games that week. This is more for the player over whom you may be on the fence with respect to dropping him. Also, don't just pick up any random guy off the wire who plays four times versus two. You have to look at the production value on a game-by-game basis. The guy playing two games might produce more than the guy playing four games. The four game guy might go scoreless that week while the two-gamer gets a hat-trick. One trick I sometimes pull is to make a swap or two at the very end of the week so that I have one or two more key players playing for me on the last day of the matchup. As scores can change very quickly, this can be a tremendous power play. If I'm up 5-3, this has sometimes boosted my final score to 7-2 or better. Even better, if I'm down going into the final day, say 3-5, I might be able to pull a 180 and win that matchup on Sunday with something like a 6-4 score. In fantasy hockey, especially in head-to-head matchups, you want to get the win, but you also want to win by as much as possible to help your overall record and hence, boost your position in the overall standings. For example, I've won the last 6 match ups in a row in my current league. However, I wasn't content to win them by 5-4 or 4-3 margins. My average score in those contests was 7-2. Simply eking out wins would not have put me in first place. Maximizing the score is what did it.
5. What Do You Really Need?: When adding and dropping players, don't simply go for the best available player on the wire. Just pay attention to what your team needs, either for that week or in general. Take a look at your overall performance in the different stat categories to see how you stack up compared to other teams. Maybe you are doing just fine with G and A but you are really hurting for Plus/Minus, PIMs, PPP, and/or SOG. Therefore, you should target the waiver wire add who will boost you in the category or categories you need most. When dropping a player, drop the player who has been hurting you the most in those categories without giving up too much in the categories for which you are in better shape.
6. Follow the Stats: When picking someone up off the waiver wire, be careful not to just go for the guy with the best production in a given category or categories over the course of the season so far. Pay close attention to how players have performed in the last seven days, last fourteen days, etc. If you look even more closely, you can get specific information on the player, like "he has scored 5 goals in his last 7 games…" or "he has only scored once in the month of December." This kind of information can help you figure out who is getting hot and who is in a funk. The guy in a funk might have better overall production in a given stat category, but you might be better off with the guy who has lit it up the last week.
7. Play the Matchups: Pay attention to who the potential add will be playing that week. If they are up against some of the league's best teams, especially if they are on a long road trip, that could limit their upside potential. If however, a player is up against weaker teams with lackluster netminders, especially if that player is playing them at home, then that might be a strong candidate for your team.
8. Lines and TOI: Finally, pay attention to a player's overall time on ice and which lines they are on, especially if the team has recently shuffled up their lines. If a potential player has moved up a line or is getting a lot of ice time, if everything else looks good, he might be the guy to pick up. Maybe he moved up a line because someone else is injured or because he has proven himself. Either way, it could yield dividends for your team. On the flip side, if a decent player has recently been moved down a line or his TOI has diminished recently, you might want to think a bit harder about that one.
There you have it. Those are eight key strategies to consider when making add and drop decisions for your team. None of these are absolute guarantees because all of these things will vary from team to team and from league to league. Some strategies might be better to pursue some weeks while other strategies will be smarter plays in subsequent weeks. The bottom line though is to remember that you should keep your team fresh and always evolving in order to stay ahead of the curve. That doesn't mean you swap everyone out though. Finally, even if you don't employ all of the above strategies all the time, nor should you, keeping those pointers in mind and simply considering those aspects when you look to add a player may just help separate you from the rest of the pack.