Fantasy Hockey Psychology and Strategy

Tips and tactics to help you in fantasy leagues by capitalizing on trends and habits of other managers.

When it comes to fantasy hockey, having a deep understanding of the sport and the athletes is obviously priority #1, but another aspect that often gets overlooked by casual fantasy players is an understanding of the makeup of the fantasy league including the other managers competing against you.

Based on years of playing and commissioning fantasy leagues and pools, I was able to compile a list of a few psychological strategies I consider. Call it mind-games if you will, but I like to think they give me a slight advantage so why not use them?

The Hometown Advantage:

The case for this tip and some others only really apply when you are familiar with the other managers in the league. In a random, public league this probably won’t apply.

Being from the Greater Toronto Area in Ontario, Canada, the Toronto Maple Leafs are obviously the most popular team around. With the fandom comes the predictable overestimating and biases towards the team and the players. I try my best not to mix business and pleasure so while I consider myself a Leafs fan, I don’t value them any different because of it. That is not to say you shouldn’t draft Auston Matthews or Mitch Marner, just do your best not to create emotional attachments to your hometown team.

Claude Giroux, Source: Toronto Sun

With that being said, it does happen in all of our leagues. I am in leagues with Flyers fans, Capitals fans and Penguins fans just to name a few. Taking this info into consideration on draft day and in trade talks is important. Chances are these other managers have an emotional connection with Claude Giroux or Nicklas Backstrom for example, and will overvalue them from a fantasy-perspective. Are these two centers the 100-point players they once were? Probably not, but you know Flyers and Caps fans will remember they once were.

Knowing the regions and/or the favourite teams of your competitors should already be known or revealed during the season, allowing you to target other managers with the appropriate players.

The FAAB Finesse:

For those of you unfamiliar with FAAB (Free-Agent Acquisition Budget). It is an alternative to your typical waiver wire in fantasy leagues. Instead of a simple claim being processed to the lower waiver priority, FAAB bidding allows any manager to bid on available players with the player being acquired by the highest bidder. Each team is given a set budget for the year and must manage their FAAB amount accordingly.

There are pros and cons to this style of waivers, but if you’re in a league with FAAB, there’s ways to approach bids that will maximize your auction wins.

Think of the last player you bid on in any fantasy league. Maybe it was in football? Chances are it was a multiple of 5. Likely $10, $25, $40 for example. Many managers are the same way in which they bid on a five or a ten digit. Once you have determined the player you want and the price you are prepared to pay, raise your bid by $1. That is all, just one single dollar could be the difference between you claiming the player or not.

Let’s assume there was other managers gunning for this free agent too and your buddy bids $20. If you bid $21, you get the player you wanted for $1 extra than what you wanted to pay. I have never once hit my maximum budget in a FAAB league so in my case I am not worried about a dollar or two.

If you think other managers are aware of this method, bid $2 extra! Don’t let a few bucks be the difference between claiming this year’s Adam Fox and being stuck with the leftovers.

The “Last 7 Days” Sorter:

This is another type of manager similar to the hometown team guy. Those managers that put way too much emphasize on recent performance as opposed to historic data or even season-long stats.

For example last season saw Mikko Rantanen lead the league in goals during the month of March. We also saw Joonas Donskoi tally nine goals, just four less than Rantanen. There is two different approaches I would take to these players. Donskoi’s production is slightly unusual and probably not sustainable. Rantanen’s is just another month at the office. If I have identified a few managers who look deep into recent games, I would look into trading Donskoi to them.

Knowing if managers prioritize recent performance on their roster is tricky unless you are really familiar with their hockey knowledge. A good way to gain some insight on this is to monitor their transaction log. Are they claiming a lot of players that go on hot streaks? In turn, are they dropping players they drafted because they started the season off cold?

If there is one thing all of us at FantasyPuck hate seeing and have noticed too much of is managers being too quick to drop or move on from players they drafted high. If Ryan Nugent-Hopkins goes pointless in his first 10 games for example, I am not going to drop him. Unless he gets injured long-term or is suddenly dropped to the 4th line, I don’t plan to part ways with a player drafted in the first 10 rounds. Rant over.

Back to your fantasy league. It is important to look at all aspects of the streaking players’ game. Is he getting more minutes? Is the production sustainable? Was he on your radar on draft day? These are some questions you can ask yourself and that we are here to help you with on Twitter (@fantasy_puck) or in the FP Discord. If the player is a fluky middle-six forward who has had a great last seven days, I would look into trading him at peak value. You don’t need to get away with robbery in a deal, but recency bias will come into play for many managers and you want to capitalize on it.

The Early Rebuilder:

Similar to what FantasyPuck tells our viewers and followers about hot/cold player starts, the same could be said about your fantasy team as a whole. Not panicking after a 0-3 start is tough to do but at the end of the day the NHL “plans” to play a full season. There is plenty of time for your team to figure it out and get you back in the hunt.

There will still be those managers who crave the rush of a trade and will be quick to make moves the moment things don’t go their way. If I’m being honest I like active leagues and these kind of managers are necessary in order to keep things entertaining and fun. But you personally do not want to be that manager.

Rather than calling these basement-dwelling managers a target for you, I’ll call them rebuilders. Eventually if their season continues in the wrong direction it will come to a point where they need to decide how they go about things. Either stop playing entirely or make some dramatic trades. You want to be on the receiving end of these because usually big pieces are being moved. If you notice one of these managers whining about his team or realizing his is losing precious weeks, toss a couple of trades his way to test the waters and see what he/she is looking to do with their roster.

This strategy is more directed toward redraft leagues where a new roster is built every year as opposed to keeper leagues. If things aren’t going my way in a keeper league I pack it in for the season and rebuild for next year. In redrafts it’s all or nothing and capitalizing on teams outside of the playoff picture can help solidify your roster before playoffs.


Thanks for reading another FP Don article. This one is a little different than usual where there is no specific player targets or statistics. But I felt an article like this was overdue to help new fantasy hockey managers with some advice while also providing some strategy and tips to experienced players in order to maximize their success. At the end of your day, knowing your competition is important in fantasy sports. Perhaps you don’t agree with pulling out these strategies in a friendly $20 league with your buddies and that is totally okay. But when there are hundreds or thousands of dollars on the line, I am willing to take whatever (legal) advantage I can get and you should too!

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