Fantasy Hockey Pool Preseason Strategy

As training camps set to open, the buzz surrounding the upcoming fantasy hockey season is palpable. While the lambs in your league are still drooling over their fantasy football rosters or tracking their fantasy baseball teams down to wire, fantasy hockey GMs who expect a championship in 2011-2012 are using September to prepare for fantasy drafts that usually occur towards the end of the month and into early October. And, keeper owners are keenly watching their calendars – aware of the date by which they must submit their keeper list to their league commissioners.

September training camps are the time to get a leg up on the competition, to see the offseason moves and developments in action, and get a feel for where each team is truly at heading into 2011-12. We all know a poolie or two who’s come unprepared on draft day, shouting out names of guys who have gone down with injury, succumbed to surgical repair, or dropped down the depth chart only weeks prior. And, although we will take their money, savvy GMs won't be caught napping themselves.

So, what exactly should we be looking for during the preseason that might unlock hidden gems for the ‘11-12 NHL season? Well first, let us tell you that Fantasy Hockey Standard has you covered: we are monitoring the developments, the injuries, the roster adjustments, the trades, and the positional battles – and all of these events will be factored into our updated cheat sheet rankings to be issued in late September/early October. But, we also know that being a fantasy hockey champion does not mean blindly following the recommendations of a website, magazine, or self-proclaimed fantasy hockey guru. Fantasy championships are made by processing the pertinent information and interpreting it through the unique nuances of your own league rules and your own hockey IQ. Let’s face it: upon victory, no one is going to stand up and say, “I won this year because I read X,” or “because I used the rankings from Y.” Only you know how to seal the deal and bring home the cup.

At Fantasy Hockey Standard we feel there are 5 key overarching facets of the fantasy preseason and NHL training camps to pay attention to. So many developments are generated from these aspects that they give us a solid all-around understanding of the NHL come October. Following the preseason from these angles should do the same for you.

1) Pay attention to injuries. Every year there are injuries to important players during the preseason. First, and obviously, if a key player goes down, he should also be knocked down your rankings. Second, the injury then creates a positional vacuum on that team’s roster (ex. Travis Zajac). Who is going to fill the spot on that line? Does the player also play the powerplay? If so, who is going to move into that slot? Is there suddenly some bubble player who moves up the team’s depth chart? If so, what sort of fantasy contribution might that player make, or take away from another player? For example, what if this injury happened in Edmonton and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins suddenly looks like a lock to make the team – now your rookie ratings also need a significant adjustment. One injury can set off a domino effect of movement within your fantasy scouting and pre-draft rankings.

2) Watch positional battles closely. You do not want to be the uninformed poolie who thinks they are drafting a first or second liner based on where that player was positioned on the depth chart at the end of last year, when in fact they have been bumped - perhaps by a player returning from injury (ex. Mark Streit, Peter Mueller) or by a player who is regaining his higher form after an unproductive 2010-11 (ex. Jay Bouwmeester). Perhaps an up-and-comer from last year suddenly displays the potential they have been touted to possess, or perhaps a player drops off due to offseason issues (ex. the Winnipeg Jets are a team with a few players like this). Although we know that depth charts in the regular season are in constant flux, be aware that some positional battles are won and lost in the preseason, when roles are established and re-established.

3) Watch the evolution of powerplay units. As more and more pools award bonus points for situational statistics, it is important in the preseason to keep a finger on the pulse of each team’s #1 and #2 powerplay units. It is not uncommon for coaches to try different looks on the PP during training camp and preseason action in an attempt to uncover untapped scoring prowess. The powerplay, of course, provides the opportunity for skilled players to excel – especially smaller, younger or inexperienced players who are still acquiring their NHL scoring touch. There are always players who surprisingly make opening day rosters based on their scoring potential and, although they are players to keep tabs on, more importantly they often disrupt a team’s regular powerplay units. Don’t go into your draft relying on last year’s PP depth charts; rather pay attention to the shuffle in the offseason and preseason so that you know what sort of powerplay scoring the players you are targeting on draft day can provide. (Check the Fantasy Hockey Standard Draft Guide for projected PP units.)

4) Follow the news wire for trades and signings. This smacks of the obvious, but we’ve all been sitting around the draft table admiring our early round picks, when the poolie on the clock appears oblivious to a recent – and extremely important – roster development concerning the player they are about to draft. The internal debate: “Do I say something before or after the selection?” Just like all of our preseason fantasy suggestions, trades and signings create a ripple effect through an entire NHL roster. Suddenly a player who looked good to make the team is on the bubble, or suddenly a second line center drops to the fourth line. This is often the case when there are more players arriving via trade than leaving a team. Furthermore, is the player who has been acquired fitting into his new digs? Was he a second line winger prior, but suddenly skating on the third line and off the PP? Following the ramifications of trades and signings is such simple advice, and so obvious, but so important that we must remind our readers.

5) Generally speaking, take in as much information as possible. Where do you start? Well the preseason scouting publications are the most obvious. For example, Fantasy Hockey Standard’s Regular Season Draft Guide took months to meticulously construct and populate with as much pertinent fantasy hockey data that can possibly fit into 240 pages. Then, scour the stats, depth charts and injuries from last year, synthesize them with the implications of the offseason trades, signings and the 2011 NHL entry draft, and stir that up with the preseason developments. Then, prepare your own rankings list. Use our hardcore fantasy draft advice on Value Based Drafting and Advanced Auction Strategies found in the ‘11-12 Draft Guide to get into the nitty gritty of how to blow the roof off your competition – applying metrics that most of your league mates have no idea even exist. Then, tweak the numbers with your own Gordie Howe elbow smash of hockey sense. There is always a portion of fantasy hockey that comes down to intuition – players that look ready for a breakout, or a comeback, or a drop-off, even though there isn’t a stat out there that says it’s going to happen. Harness your intuition and apply it.

Fantasy Hockey Standard is the place to be as training camps start and break, and as the preseason schedule unfolds – right up to Oct. 6th. We’re covering who to start, who to sit, who to drop and who to pick up.™ Our fantasy hockey news columns cover all the recent and relevant hockey pool news, so check back often, and use our NEW search feature, which allows you to search our fantasy news stories for specific player news and fantasy topics. It’s why we’re the home of fantasy hockey.™

Good luck with your preseason research! We’ll crack a cold one for you at the draft table.

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