Believe it or not, it’s now been more than two months since the Pens hoisted the Stanley Cup, which also means we’re just eight short weeks away from opening night of the 2017-18 NHL season! It sure sneaks up on you, doesn’t it?
Hopefully you’ve already taken the most important step in your offseason fantasy preparations by purchasing the DobberHockey 2017-18 Fantasy Guide (available here and updated right up until the puck drops on 2017-18). But don’t think buying the Guide and casually leafing through it now and then will be enough to win your league; you have to diligently prepare, which means putting in the time and effort required to study the right things, the right way, and at the right times.
This is where I come in. I’ll be doing two columns (this one, plus another four weeks from now) laying out how you should be preparing for the 2017-18 fantasy hockey season during these two roughly monthlong time frames. That way you can ensure you use the available time to your full advantage.
Before I start though, I’ll note that these columns are mostly geared toward non-keeper leagues, since keepers not only can vary significantly in terms of how many players are kept, whether they’re a dynasty league, etc., but also with regard to when keepers are (or already were) due. Even still, I think there will be useful information here for everyone, so I encourage you to come along for the ride.
General Advice/Goals for the Next Four Weeks
During this time frame, you want to focus on reacclimating yourself with past data and events and going beyond just top level information. That means getting your mindset back to where it was when the season ended, plus making sure you’re fully aware of subsequent events that will impact this upcoming season, from the expansion draft, to the entry draft, to free agency, to trades, etc. Unless your draft will happen in the next four weeks, you do not want to finalize specific plans or rankings as yet. That comes later. Instead, this is the time for objective data gathering, so let’s outline what you should be doing.
Focus on the (un)reliability of season-long totals
Most poolies look at season-long totals and either stop there or perhaps at most also examine recent season to season trends. On the other hand, winners drill down further to unearth the story behind the story, which consists of figuring out players whose season-long totals from 2016-17 are not (or are no longer) indicative of what they will likely bring to the table in 2017-18.
For the lion’s share of players (especially more unproven ones or veterans who could be on the verge of decline), it is useful to determine how and when they amassed their 2016-17 totals to determine whether (and, if so, to what extent) their season-long numbers are reliable indicators of what they’re likely to do for 2017-18. Were they consistent throughout 2016-17, suggesting they’re less likely to see higher or lower totals in 2017-18? Did they start strong then fade, indicating they could be at risk of lower scoring? Or did they end much stronger, signifying a greater likelihood of more points this season?
Additionally, for players whose finishes or starts were especially strong or weak, go back and check to see if that’s their norm. For example, Sean Monahan and Ondrej Palat finished strong in 2016-17, yet both had done the same thing at least once in the past only to not (or at least not yet) parlay a strong finish into much higher production in the very next season.
Also, be sure to examine the “before and after” for players on teams (i.e., Florida, Islanders, St. Louis, Boston, Montreal) which made midseason coaching changes. With all but the Panthers sticking with their replacement coach for 2017-18, it’s important to give far more weight to post-change 2016-17 stats for those teams versus what they posted under the previous coaching regime.
Don’t give too much weight to playoff scoring
When going back to unearth the story behind the story as I suggested above, notice I didn’t mention playoffs. That’s because you’d be best served not to put much weight on playoff scoring. Why? For the most part, playoff numbers don’t carry into the next regular season. If they did, we’d have been picking the likes of Justin Williams and David Krejci in round one of our drafts every season.
The playoffs are a different kind of animal – a high-stakes battle in which teams are focused on winning in the short term and will do whatever it takes to achieve that goal. There, the norm can atypically include far more players soldiering through sometimes significant injuries (costing them production), plus teams bestowing more icetime upon past prime veterans due to their experience while making younger, promising players healthy scratches or deemphasizing their role.
The one exception might be to focus on young players who did manage to break out, since if they shined on such a major stage then chances are they impressed team brass enough to likely receive an expanded role for the upcoming season. Go back and read my recent column for more thoughts on this area.
Pay attention to injuries, and not only those that will result in 2017-18 missed games
Certainly you need to know which players are already assured to miss (or are at risk of missing) 2017-18 regular season games due to injury or recovery from surgery. But you can’t stop there. Take the time to also familiarize yourself with NHLers who played hurt during the 2016-17 regular season, since in many cases the affected players are due for a rebound that might not be so easily grasped by most.
Also, even if a player is apparently healthy for game one of the 2017-18 season, the fact that he had been hurt or had surgery during the offseason could leave him at risk of a subpar 2017-18 or at least a poor start to the season. This would be especially the case if the issue cut into his training regimen or cost him time in camp or the preseason. Also, not all injuries are created equal, with some (such as those involving a shoulder) often having more lingering effects, which in turn lead to comparatively worse production even after the player is healthy enough to resume playing.
Start to assess how offseason movement might affect depth charts
To truly gauge the effects of offseason movement or development, you must look beyond the just a player himself. If a player changes teams, he’s impacted of course, but so too are players on his new team and those on his old squad. How are lines and depth charts changed as a result? Might his new or old team now be more or less inclined to make deals mid-season, including to call up younger players?
Don’t make the mistake of figuring that things will pick up in 2017-18 right as they left off at the end of 2016-17. Although with some established stars and locked in lines that might be the case, the vast majority of situations will change in some minor to not so minor way, and you need to be on top of everything in order to value players accordingly.
But don’t go overboard in this area – not yet at least, as a lot will change in the four weeks leading up to the season. The goal for now is to get a firm handle on what the offseason movement was and to start thinking about the fantasy ripple effects.
Contracts and the Cap Matter, Even in Non-Cap Leagues
In the cap era, how much a player earns in salary goes a long way toward determining where he slots into his team’s plans. All things being otherwise equal, an expensive player likely will get more chances to succeed than one who earns less. Players armed with new deals could be in line to see their roles change. So even if you’re not in a cap league, you must know player salaries, and, in particular, who saw their salary increase or decrease based on offseason deals. Also, be careful about players who just signed major deals after having played atypically well in 2016-17, since they’re at risk of a huge let down for 2017-18.
In a similar vein, there can be significant fantasy impact for teams which are currently at or even over the cap. Not only might they be more at risk to sign their RFAs later, but they could also be more likely to turn to younger (and cheaper) talent to plug holes created by expensive players that are either banished to the minors or bought out. So be sure to familiarize yourself with teams near, at, or above the cap since they are more likely to have line-up affecting events between now and the start of the season, or even during the season, such as near the trade deadline.
What about players set to become RFAs or UFAs in after this season? When I first started playing fantasy hockey in the – gulp – 1990s, astute poolies would grab players who were upcoming UFAs, thinking those players would be in line for top performance in order to pad their resume. But things have vastly changed since then. Teams are locking up most of their key talent early, paying them more in order to cut into their UFA years. The result is that with each passing season the UFA crop is smaller and older. As such, banking on them to shine during their UFA-to-be season is a risky bet. Instead, the players to focus upon are those set to sign RFA deals, especially arbitration-ineligible RFA deals, since these players will be the ones looking to cash in much like UFAs of the past.
How to effectively study
Now that you know what to focus on over the next four weeks (in addition to your regular preparation), there’s the question of how to effectively utilize this time to study. With 31 NHL teams and 28 days between this column and part two, it makes sense to try and tackle a team per day. When you come to a weekend, spend one of the days doing two teams instead of one and the other of the days briefly going back over the teams you covered in the week that just passed so you can ensure that the data has been drilled home.
I’ll be back in four weeks with the second of these columns, giving you tips on how to best spend your time over the last nearly one month before the puck drops. Until then, happy studying and of course keep coming back here for your weekly dose of cage match.
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