Tips For First-Time Fantasy Hockey Commissioners

This year more than ever it seems people are giving their first go-round to fantasy hockey. I’ll attribute this to a couple things. Firstly, the prevalence of fantasy sports is growing at an exceptional rate overall, so people branching out shouldn’t surprise many. Secondly, the timing of the end of the NHL lockout put it after the end of the regular season in the NFL (and the end of many fantasy seasons) and a bit earlier than most people prepare for their fantasy baseball seasons. It’s a perfect storm for people to take on fantasy hockey for the first time.


Be flexible with your leagues. No one wants to be this guy. (Commissioner Gary Bettman)

Be flexible with your leagues. No one wants to be this guy. (Commissioner Gary Bettman)


Along with people trying their hand at FH for the first time, it’s the first time for many commissioners. I have had questions from a couple people now with regards on how they should set up their leagues. How you want to set up your leagues depends on a few things that I touched on in my guide (Real-time stats like hits and block, points-only leagues, rotisserie or head-to-head). I will discuss these issues in three parts:


  1. Format – Rotisserie or Head-to-Head?
  2. Category Inclusion – Which stats should you use in your leagues?
  3. Roster Sizes – How many teams are there and how many players should be on the roster?


I’ll go through these one by one.




I’ve never liked head-to-head in any sport. An entire season of research and line-up tinkering can be undone with one bad week that you have no control over. For this reason, I recommend rotisserie leagues. But if you really want to put yourself up against your league-mates, then that is completely up to you. If you go the head-to-head route, a few things to keep in mind:


  • Make sure there’s a minimum number of goalie starts for a week. I would recommend absolutely no less than three (assuming two goalies start). This is to avoid someone starting one goalie, getting a shutout, then not starting anyone the rest of the week to ensure they win at least two of the categories (goals against and save percentage).
  • I would cap roster moves at a fair number, say 20-25 maximum. This is to avoid people streaming players and goalies to max our their stats as best they can. The winner should be the person who drafted the best team, not the person who can click their mouse the most.
  • Have a low percentage of teams make playoffs. I would say roughly one-third of the league size (4 in 10 or 12 teamers, 6 in 14 or 16 teamers with first-round byes for top finishers). This ensures that even if someone loses in the first round, it’s not a complete fluke. If you want to include more teams in playoffs for the purpose of “keeping people interested” I can understand that too.


Although I’m not a fan of H2H leagues, I would instill these rules as a guideline. Talk with your league-mates about anything else you might want to include.


For rotisserie formats, here’s a couple things you might want to consider:


  • Make sure your games limit for each position is set at 48. It wasn’t until a few days ago that Yahoo! made the adjustment for the lockout shortened season and it reduced the maximum number of games from over 100.
  • The 48-game limit should be for all positions. This includes goalies. I know they won’t start all 48, but that’s where back-ups and waiver wire plays a role. It also forces people to draft smarter e.g. three starting goalies possibly.


Remember, these are just guidelines and are things you need to discuss with your league.


I love me some rotisserie.

I love me some rotisserie.


Category Inclusion


I’ve already talked about a couple of the goalie stats. But this is what I favor:


  • If you want to get into actual “fantasy” hockey, I would recommend the stats I used in my draft guide. For skaters, this means: Goals, Assists, Shots On Goal, Penalty Minutes, Plus/Minus and Power-play points. For goalies: Wins, Shutouts, Goals-Against Average and Save Percentage.
  • I don’t like real-time stats (hits, blocked shots, face-off wins), again like I said in my guide, because what actually constitutes a “hit”, for example, is a subjective opinion of the statistician at the home rink. I feel that fantasy sports should be as objective as possible and real-time stats undermine that completely.
  • Although I don’t mind Short-handed Points, I’m not a fan. A defenseman clearing the puck off the glass on the penalty kill who has the puck picked up by a forward who left the zone too early and scores, gets that assist and he shouldn’t. Also, it diminishes the value of some players because typically a team has no more than 5-6 penalty-killing forwards and 4-5 penalty-killing defensemen.
  • Some people have inquired about including Losses as a goaltending statistic. With the advent of the shootout, I can’t endorse it. Johnathan Quick lost nine games last year despite allowing just one goal against. This is pathetic. It’s not a reflection of his goaltending rather his team’s inability to score at least one goal in 60 minutes. If you want to prevent people from streaming goalies, don’t include losses, use the roster moves cap I discussed earlier.
  • I don’t like using game-winning goals and hat tricks either. GWGs are complete luck (in my guide I talk about this with Radim Vrbata) and hat tricks almost completely exclude defensemen from an entire category. Also with hat tricks, in a 48-game schedule, there won’t be too many of them and it just creates a lot of ties in rotisserie scoring.
  • If everyone in your league is new to fantasy hockey, I would recommend a points-only league. This would be just goals and assists for skaters and wins and shutouts for goalies. This is a way to keep the complexity of a true roto league to a minimum and affords the newly-baptised puckheads the time to familiarize themselves with the players. After a season of a points-only league, then maybe the league is ready to go through the gruelling challenge of a full-year roto league. And it is gruelling; In a typical year, the regular season lasts 6 months.


Again, those are just my recommendations. But I think they are the simplest set-ups for leagues to either A) get accustomed to roto leagues or B) for new players to familiarize themselves with the NHL’s players.


Roster Sizes


Roster sizes are completely up to what the league wants to do. But I’ll go through what your rosters should be based off 10, 12 and 14 teamers. If your league is 16+, likely you know enough about fantasy hockey that I don’t need to tell you what to do.



For a shallow league, I recommend this set-up: two Center, two LW, two RW, two Defensemen, two goalies, four bench spots and an IR spot. Some people have one goalie leagues, but I think that’s completely ridiculous. Regardless of whether you want a shallow or deep league, two goalie slots are necessary.

I never really understood the IR slot in hockey, because it’s rare a team ever does it. But it’s better to be safe than sorry. This set-up gives each team a stacked roster and can make it more fun for those less familiar with the games. If you don’t want to make it quite so shallow, add two defensemen, a (F) position and a utility spot. It’s still shallow, but not “Matt Moulson on your bench” shallow.



For a deeper league, I would go like this: 3-C, 3-RW, 3-LW, 2-F, 5-D, 1-Util, 2-G, 6 Bench. This empties the waiver pool to a significant extent and puts that much more focus on your draft. You can only make a 10-team league so deep without having 25-30 players on your starting roster and that’s just a bit ridiculous. But with this set-up if you’re in a 14-team league, now you’re looking at 350 players being drafted and that’s getting into deep territory. You can always make it as deep as you want (I have a writers league where 18 teams drafted 612 total players), but at a certain point it’s just blindly throwing darts in the dark and that really doesn’t prove anything.


Finally, I want to touch on one last point. If you’re in a money league, there should be a payout structure. I found the one to be the best is a simple 60%-30%-10%. This is applicable more to the H2H crowds than the roto crowds. If your rotisserie league (or points-only league) wants to give 100% to first place, I can’t really argue with that. But in a head-to-head league where there can be so much variance in a one-week winner-take-all, there should be a cushion just in case. It also makes the consolation games in the playoffs something worth playing for.


Remember, these are all just guidelines. But I feel it’s important to get this information out there to first-time commissioners. Always check to see what your league wants to do. Maybe you want to have deep leagues to enhance the draft experience, but perhaps your league mates don’t. Figure out what they want to do and keep my guidelines in mind. There’s no need to have 16 categories for your very first fantasy hockey league. It can get confusing at times even for those familiar with the game.


As always, you can reach me on Twitter @SlimCliffy for your fantasy hockey questions.

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