With just over a week before the first puck drops, we're entering prime time for fantasy hockey drafts. If you're like me and play on various sites, it's easy to forget the rules and nuances of each league. Blindly drafting without regard to the rules can be fatal. Even if you're Biff Tannen and you know exactly how many points each player will score next season, it's no guarantee for fantasy victory if you don't fashion your draft strategy to the league you're in. In this post, I'll give you some tips and guidance on how to draft (and win) in a standard CBS fantasy hockey league.
The first step for any league is to study the point system so you know the relative value of each position. CBS does a good job of weighting the value of offense, defense, and goaltending, to ensure that each position has somewhat equal weight. Quick recap of points in key categories:
Offense: Goals = 3, Assists = 2
Defense: Goals = 5, Assists = 3
Goalies: Win = 5, Saves=.2 , GA=-1
So what does this mean? First off, the tendency for the inexperienced GM is to blow off drafting defensemen until the later rounds, since the big names and leading scorers obviously come from the forwards. Huge mistake here. Because of the weighting of points, a 20 goal scorer on offense will earn 60 points for his efforts, while a 20-goal performance by a defenseman will net 100 points. Another critical factor to realize is the relative gap between the elite players on defense versus on offense. When it comes to defensemen, there's a fairly small number of predictable, elite performing players. After that group of 10 or so, it drops off considerably to the point where it doesn't matter much who you pick. The story is different for forwards. (Aside from a few obvious exceptions like Crosby and Stamkos), you won't see a huge point difference between the top 10 forwards and the next 20 or so on the list.
Bottom line here: don't be shy about drafting one or two defensemen in the first 4 rounds, even if it means enduring a laugh or two from your unschooled competition.
And what about the other stats categories?
• Penalty Minutes - At .25 a piece, it's worth considering, but not worth planning your draft around it. There are few players in the league that bring a steady diet of points and PIMs. Those that do should be bumped up your list a few notches (Perry is the most notable); however, don't go crazy drafting goons.
• +/- - Perhaps the most arbitrary stat in fantasy sports. Don't waste your time trying to predict this one. Generally speaking, favor players on good teams over those with poor goal ratios. Often times a decent +/- will line up nicely with points, and when it doesn't, it's not worth worrying about.
• SHG/PPG - For as often as a short handed goal is scored, pay no attention. Power Play time (and goals) on the other hand are more predictable and should factor into your rankings. CBS offers a bonus point for each goal on the power play, so give a slight boost to guys like Simmonds and Vrbata that might otherwise not be worth an early look.
CBS strikes a decent balance when valuing goaltenders between wins, saves, and goals against. A player who sees a ton of shots (Varlamov, Bernier) has an edge out of the gate over a guy who only has to wake up every few minutes to turn aside a casual kick save (Rask). So don't completely shy away from a good goalie on a poor defensive team. Shutouts are hard to predict, but there are certain goalie who historically will give you that added bonus on a regular basis (Rask, Quick). The obvious category (and the one that may be easiest to predict) is wins. At 5 points a piece, this is where you'll want to weight a good bit of your ranking for this league.
Bottom line: focus on Wins and Saves.
Points Per Game Rule
One last point worth noting in CBS scoring rules is how they award points. It's not the total points earned that matter in a head-to-head matchup. It's fantasy points per game played. While this won't affect most of your decisions at draft time for forwards and defense, it's something to think about for goaltenders. This makes a split-crease situation somewhat more palatable. This makes the goalies in St. Louis or Anaheim a prime target in CBS, whereas they may be overlooked in other formats. It's still risky to go with a part-time goalie in net, but in this format, you can pull it off.
Then 2nd thing to consider for any league is the number of players per position, and how the league breaks down offense. The standard CBS rules call for:
• 2 goalies
• 4 defense
• 6 forwards
• 4 bench spots
One of the nuances with the CBS draft rules merits serious consideration. While you can mix and match centers and wingers once the season begins, CBS limits you to selecting just 3 total centers at draft time. I don't understand why they do it, but if you don't play to this rule, you could seriously hurt yourself late in the draft. First off, high-scoring fantasy centers are abundant. It's tempting to jump all over guys like Stamkos, Malkin, and Giroux in the early rounds, but step back and look further down the list. Guys like Duchene, Couture, and Pavelski will be around much later in the draft, and is that really so bad? If you spend 3 early picks on centers, you'll be regretting it in round 14 when you see that Drouin and Carter are still available, but CBS won't let you pick them. Budget your center selection for value and save one of the 3 for the final couple of rounds. Give yourself room to cash in on a sleeper.
Note: Perhaps the most frustrating part about this rule is that it's different in the mock drafts. In a mock draft, CBS will let you pick up to 6 centers. I had to learn this the hard way a few years back in my Premium League when I went to take Anze Kopitar in round 9, only to have the unfriendly red text tell me somebody else would be benefiting from his production. Consider yourself warned.
Also note, some CBS leagues draw distinction between left wing and right wing (as opposed to grouping them all together). If this is the case, you must mock draft this way to learn a thing or two. You'll quickly find the talent pool drops off considerably by position in these drafts. Centers are a dime a dozen, relatively speaking here, and shouldn't be drafted until round 5 or later.
In a 12 team league starting 2 goalies, it's critical to get at least one elite player at this position. Having two is even better. If you don't pick a goalie in either round 1 or 2, you may lose interest quickly, because you'll be losing on a regular basis. There's only so much talent to go around, and you'll only find a handful of useful options on the waiver wire over the course of the year. Contrast that with the forward position. You're guaranteed to always have a serviceable forward available throughout the season when the need arises, purely based on quantity.
Note: The 3 player limit also applies to goalies during the draft, so if you're the type that likes to stash 2 backups on your bench, you'll have to wait until after the draft to add #4. The approach here should be different than for centers, however. There are only 25 or so goalies worth drafting, and you need a good player in your 3rd slot, so do not wait past round 11 or 12 to grab your backup.
CBS grants you 4 bench spots, one for each position. Again, once the draft is done, you can fill those 4 spots with any mix of position. At draft time, you'll obviously want to place 1 center and 1 goalie in there. Beyond that, feel free to grab 2 defense, 2 wingers or 1 of each. You'll probably end up dropping one of those within a few weeks anyway (possibly for 4th center or goalie), so don't sweat it much.
The third major factor to consider is the default player rankings in CBS. Each site features their own set of player rankings, and it's worth studying them in order to guess the tendencies of your opposition. Most GMs will tend to lean on the default rankings, particularly late in the draft. With this in mind, you can learn a lot by searching for both underrated and overrated players in their listings.
If you run through a mock draft or two, and look through the rankings, you should find some players significantly undervalued in their rankings. While you may have ranked these players quite high on your list, they may just go a few rounds later than you would have picked them. Take advantage of this information and spend that early pick on a another position and get the value in the next round. This is a risky strategy, but if you're in it to win, you've got to take some chances to cash in big. Here are some players that I find to be noticeably undervalued by CBS's rankings:
Goalies: Quick, Gibson, Kuemper
Defense: Letang, Barrie, Trouba
Centers: Drouin, Steen, Statsny
Wingers: Nichuskin, Tlusty, Gaborik
NOTE: if you're in a more serious league with established managers, take this advice with a grain of salt. If you know what you're doing, you'll have done your own homework and have your own custom draft list.
On the opposite end, it's worth looking for players that CBS has rated artificially high against your personal draft list. In this case, you have a decision to make. If you want the player badly enough, know that you'll have to grab him earlier than you would like. A better bet may be to resign yourself to finding value someplace else. Here are a handful of players that probably won't make it on to my squad, as somebody is bound to grab them way too early for my liking:
Goalies: Bishop, Holtby
Defense: McDonagh, Giordano
Centers: Bergeron, Johansen
Wingers: Vanek, Nash, Sharp
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