With over a week of games in the bag and tons of early season story lines, the NHL season is underway and moving fast. This also means that for many fans the beginning of their quest to reign supreme over their friends has begun in Fantasy Hockey. Unfortunately, the beginning of the NHL season can be one of the most confusing and frustrating times to be a fantasy GM. Great fantasy hockey teams are built on consistency and the first week of the NHL season is about everything except consistency. The first week of the NHL is a week where a starting goaltender is just as likely to get a shutout as he is to let in 6 goals, injuries will seem to annihilate whole teams in 5 days, the media will lambaste a team for losing two games and thus call the season a wash, some players seem to have a little less jump in their step (Riding in golf carts for 4 months is hardly staying in shape), and new faces try to make an impact in the hopes of staying in the big leagues. All of this is exciting, especially to a fan, but it can wreck havoc on your fantasy hockey team. As a fantasy hockey GM at the beginning of the NHL season you are most likely to either have one of the best or worst weeks of your fantasy season. This along with all the stories emanating from the NHL during the beginning of the season can easily overwhelm a fantasy hockey GM and result in hasty decisions that could be short-sighted. So should you practice patience or panic?
Insane production or no production? Most forwards will fall into one of these categories at the beginning of the season. Those that had good offseason training and fitness will take advantage of rusty goalies and skaters. Look at Crosby for example, currently he has a 2.33 point per game average, this cannot possibly be sustained over a season. In my experience, a lot of league records for production have been set in the first weeks of the fantasy hockey season. On the other hand there are some players who take a month before they really get back to form and produce. The best way to handle the anomalies forwards experience during the first couple weeks of the NHL season in your fantasy league is to look at history. If someone has a history of being a slow starter but has proven to produce latter in the season he might be worth hanging on to. If someone seems to be producing beyond their capability at the beginning of the season they might be having a career year, but more likely than not, this is not the case and you might be better off selling high. No matter which of these anomalies is affecting your forwards, do not panic, this is typical for the beginning of the season. Take the time to analyze that player’s historic trends to see if they are worth keeping around or letting go. Hasty decisions can lead to horrendous errors. Case in point, if you didn’t hold onto Claude Giroux last year because he had a slow start to the season you would have lost out on his monstrous rest of the season where he was producing more than Crosby at times.
In fantasy hockey, I have found that defensemen don’t seem to be as affected by the craziness that is the first couple weeks of the NHL season. Their production may be up a little bit due to rusty goaltenders and their plus/minus might be lower than expected due to defensive zone breakdowns from lack of practice time but for the most part defensemen tend to avoid the roller coaster ride that other positions feel at the beginning of the season.
In most fantasy hockey leagues, goalies count for the largest amount of your score each week in terms of impact of the performance of one player, so one can be right to worry that their goaltenders started the season off on a bad note. Who would have thought that a Vezina finalist like Varlamov would have a 3.80 GAA after 3 games and be on the IR before the season started? There really is no need to panic yet. The first 2 weeks of the NHL season are known for their awful goaltending. Whether it be lack of summer training and staying in shape during the offseason or simply just slower reaction times, the rust will slowly flake off after they get back in the grind. The NHL is a fast paced league and even the most veteran of goalies can take some time to get used to the speed again after the slower paced lifestyle of the offseason.
The rookie, will he be a golden boy or a bust? Well there is no way to know for sure. Production for rookies is an interesting paradigm. The average rookie actually tends to become less valuable to a fantasy hockey team as the season goes on. This is due to a drop in production. Most rookies seem to play well at the beginning of the season, bringing lots of energy to the table, but as soon as the veteran players get back into form the rookies tend to have a hard time sustaining success. If you drafted a rookie, keep them as long as they reward you but always keep them on a short leash. If you see a drop in production coming it might be the time to sell high before it’s too late. If a rookie is producing well at the beginning of the season, they might be worth picking up in some cases (see Injuries section below) but always know that it can be a risky investment.
When you have a bunch of people kinda in shape but not in great shape and then those people get thrown into 60 minute games of grueling hit filled hockey after 4 months of offseason, you get all the injuries that happen the first 2 weeks of the NHL season. Sometimes is seems like half of an NHL team is on IR. Depending on your league rules, this can really put a damper on your team and limit your success at the beginning of the fantasy hockey season. It can be especially tough if you have some star players that were high draft picks fall prone to injury and don’t have enough IR space for them all. Depending on severity of injury it might just be best to let them go if you have run out of IR space. However, there is some positive to injuries on your fantasy hockey team. It affords the opportunity to try something riskier like picking up an unproven rookie or someone on a surprise hot streak. Who knows, maybe one of these players way be at the beginning of a breakout/career year.
Patience is a Virtue (In week 1-2 anyway):
No amount of analytics will ever give a definitive answer, and such is the case in hockey and fantasy hockey. Sometimes it is best to go with your gut. You drafted the players you did for a reason, so don’t let the first week throw you for a loop. If your gut had confidence in your team to start sit tight and see if things change back the way you thought they would play out. Don’t let your confidence slip because of one week.
Cover Photo: Fantasy Hockey. Photo by: games.espn.go.com