Can’t go pucking around with fantasy

If you read my last article (“An ode to ice hockey”, October 27) you should be aware by now that I quite enjoy the sport. Hell, not even just the sport, but everything to do with it. Between the video games, the McDonalds trading cards, and street hockey with my buddies, it has been all over my life from a young age.

I’d like to add that I have always been interested in what goes on behind the scenes—in particular the roles of the president, general manager, coaches, and scouts, and how they all interact in achieving their goal of winning a Stanley Cup. I always thought the effort that goes into making the team was just as interesting as what goes on when the skates hit the ice. What can I say? I was a weird kid.

Most of my friends would pretty much exclusively watch Don Cherry’s Rock ’em Sock ’em Hockey tapes (they have made them for over 25 years now). And don’t get me wrong, I loved and watched them too, but my favorite hockey film was something different. It was called Gold Rush 2002. And it was all about the Team Canada executive board as they meticulously combed over every detail and statistic they thought relevant in choosing their team. This team would go on to win Canada its first gold medal in men’s ice hockey in 50 years.

In recent years, we’ve seen the rise of “advanced stats”. There are two that are most worth looking at: Corsi and Fenwick. Corsi is achieved by taking the sum of all shots directed at your opposition’s net (goals, shots on goal, blocked shots, and missed shots) and subtracting the sum the opponent gets on your net. Fenwick is the same, but without factoring in blocked shots. These two stats help one analyze offensive zonetime and puck possession. If one ever wonders whether there’s too much fuss over them, here’s one case to think about: the Los Angeles Kings, who currently lead the league in both, won the 2014 Stanley Cup despite finishing only sixth in the Conference prior to the playoffs.

In the modern game of hockey, where there is talk of the “enforcer” player being removed from lineups for good, you have to factor in these stats when making your team.

And I would once have humbly submitted that I could probably put together a better team than most people. Fantasy hockey has taught me otherwise.

For the first time ever, I’m participating in fantasy hockey. And to put it bluntly, it has taken a month for me to get the hang of it. I have to log in every morning and set my roster for the day. Like any normal human, I forget to do things sometimes and I forgot to move some players off my bench and into “active” slots. My opponent for that week’s matchup did not. I am now in second-last in our division and in a fight for my life every week since to stay relevant.

You see, the way fantasy hockey (via ESPN/TSN) works is that every week you’re placed in a matchup with another team in your league. Throughout the week, you move players to and from “active” to try and achieve the highest numbers in a wide variety of stats. Goals, assists, hits, blocked shots, faceoffs won, game-winning goals—you name it, we’re fighting over it. Your team is allowed to have many more players sitting on your bench than just the ones active for that night. And that’s where the balancing act comes in.

You simply don’t know. You have limited space for active left-wingers (as well as every other position) and you’re at a loss. How are you every supposed to know if Max Pacioretty or James van Riemsdyk will get more points on a single given night? You are not guessing about total point outcomes for the end of the season (which in actuality is a fair bit easier), but whether or not JVR will outscore Pacioretty on one particular night. You can make an educated guess, sure: “Pacioretty is playing the Sabres (a horrible team) at home tonight and JVR is on the road against the Blackhawks (a championship-caliber team).” All evidence would point you to choose Pacioretty, but in reality he might very well end up being a -4 and rack up penalty minutes while JVR can get a solid goal and two assists.

That said, I’m actually doing all right. After the initial troubles I had in the first three weeks of the season, I’ve started to turn the ship, so to speak. Last week I demolished my opponent and I’m on track to do the same this week. How did I manage this? Well, let me explain.

I realised that Phil Kessel is the streakiest player in the league (he’s on my team), and I can use this to my advantage. When he’s “cold” I don’t play him, and when he’s “hot” he’s the first name on the lineup. By doing this, I make sure that I make the most of his 80+ points per season and avoid losing out on the points my other right-wingers are getting. Learning when your players are “hot” and “cold” will save you lots of heartache.

Also, learn how to say goodbye to your players. It is tough. I grew quite attached to Patrick Elias because I thought he was such a steal for being a 15th-round pick. A few weeks into the season, though, I found this guy named Tyler Toffoli on the free agency. He’s a second-line right-winger for LA on one of the best lines in the game at the moment. I claimed him, but I had to give up someone, and that someone was Elias. But in all honesty, it’s the best thing that could have happened. I got this guy who’s on track to be one of the highest scorers in the league, and all I had to give up was an aging by-product of the New Jersey Devil glory years.

In my honest opinion, if you want a sports hobby that’s cheap, fun, and excruciatingly painful to participate in—because of the trauma of learning you are not God’s gift to the fantasy hockey pool—I totally recommend joining a league. It’s some of the most fun you’ll ever have. Here’s to hoping my team comes out of the ashes like a phoenix to recapture the glory.

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