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NHL Daily Fantasy Sports Primer and Opening Night Preview

Our resident DFS "expert" giving a primer on how to play, and setting the table for a weekly segment that will feature this season.

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins-Championshp Parade Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

It seems like yesterday that you couldn’t turn on the TV, pick up a magazine or newspaper, or walk down any city block without seeing, hearing, or reading a daily fantasy sports ad. Season-long fantasy sports leagues – you know, the ones you round up a bunch of your buddies and have a schedule drafted and all that good stuff – have been around for ages. But in 2015, the “daily” industry’s two major players – FanDuel and DraftKings – spent over $205 million in combined advertising. No, you didn’t just imagine seeing those logos on every corner, you actually saw them. All of them.

With the allure of no season-long commitments, generous sign-up bonuses, huge potential prizes, and the gratification of instant payouts, the daily fantasy sports – or DFS – industry really took off. Now there are several different sites, with FanDuel and DraftKings still being the Big Two, and players can enter contests from almost any sport they desire.

But you’re reading this article on this page for a reason. Like me, you’re a hockey fan. And, maybe also like me, you love fantasy sports. If you can check both those boxes, but you haven’t given NHL DFS a shot yet, I absolutely recommend doing so.

Okay, enough of me trying to sell you on NHL DFS. Let’s get to the point.

Every Tuesday throughout the season I’ll be featuring some type of analysis/picks/DFS preview article of sorts right here. This works out perfectly because almost all of the big NHL DFS slates (in terms of both contest selection and $$$) usually fall on Tuesdays. Since the first action of the 2017 season falls on a Wednesday, and is a short four-game slate, the first article (this one) will be a bit different from the others.

And since this is a new feature on the site, and we may have some fresh faces to NHL DFS, or DFS in general, I figured it’d be best to give a quick intro/primer to NHL DFS as well as a player preview for the first night of games.

Note: This is by no means a comprehensive review. I could spend hours, if not days, getting into the intricacies of daily fantasy sports. This is only meant to serve as a basic preview for NHL DFS. If you decide you would like more info, I would be happy to point you in the right direction –you can find my Twitter info at the bottom of this article – I just don’t think Pensburgh would appreciate this being a 20,000-word article. Let’s get to it.

The Most Important Piece of Advice I Can Give You

There’s no right or wrong reason to play DFS. Some people play strictly for entertainment while others play to make some extra cash. Some players conservatively grind it out, winning little by little, while others take a high-risk approach trying to land a big prize. No matter what your reason for playing DFS is, it is absolutely crucial that you know what your motive is before even making a deposit.

The Second Most Important Piece of Advice I Can Give You

Just like the above, this has nothing to actually do with NHL gameplay itself. Contest selection is the most important aspect of DFS outside of bankroll management (which is what I touched on above). While you may only be playing for fun, or to grind out small wins, there are players out there who take DFS very seriously. In fact, there are even DFS pros — yes, people who play fantasy sports for a living #DREAMJOB!

Like many areas of DFS, I could go on forever about the importance of contest selection. Instead, I will leave you with the two big takeaways.

Select the type of contest best suited for your DFS style/bankroll management strategy.

Contests essentially break down into two groups: cash games and tournaments. Winning a basic cash game requires you to beat a single opponent or finish in the top 50% of a larger field of players. As you can imagine, this is the lower risk, “grind it out” path.

Tournaments (or GPPs) can have upwards of 50,000 entrants (or several hundred thousand depending on the sport) and are extremely top heavy when it comes to payout structure. In tournaments, usually the top 20% finish “in the money” with the first-place finisher getting the big bucks and “min cash” payouts coming in around double the cost of contest entry. In large-field tournaments, even a second place finish can be a significant drop-off in prize money. For example, if first place wins $25,000 you can probably expect the second-place finisher to win about $10,000.

Use entry limits to select the appropriate contest(s) for you.

On each of the major sites, you will find entry limits for contests that range from one to 150. If you are not a max multi-entry player – a player who enters the maximum lineups allowed into a contest – it is highly advisable that you avoid 150-entry limit contests, unless you are okay with assuming a large amount of risk. In the large-field style tournament referenced above, there will be dozens of entrants that play 150 lineups. These players will typically lock in a tight “core” of players – a handful that they are very high on – and fill in around this core using hundreds of variations. I’m not telling you to NOT play these type of tournaments. Just make sure you understand the risk of these types of tournaments before you start firing in entries.

The Last Important Piece of Non-Hockey-Related Advice I Can Give You

Know the site you are playing on. Both major sites, as well as the smaller ones out there, will use different parameters for roster construction, salary restrictions, and point scoring. For those of you that play fantasy football, think of this like PPR versus standard scoring or playing in a league that uses a flex spot. Learn the rules and systems that each site uses and play on the one you are most comfortable with.

Enough with the boring (but super important) stuff, let’s actually talk hockey.

While this may not be the final “look” of these articles in the future, the content will mostly be the same as you’ll see here. I talked briefly above about the different game types – cash games and tournaments – and I will give my thoughts on one player at each position that is best suited for both contests.

The general idea here is that your cash game plays should be consistent, high-floor players in terms of production. In tournaments, the idea is to maximize your score.

Remember, the payout structures are extremely top heavy, so you will want to get the most upside possible into your lineup. Players listed as tournament (or GPP) plays carry more risk (ex: in a tougher matchup, not on the team’s first line, etc.), and for this reason, I wouldn’t advise them as cash game plays. However, the higher risk is likelier to deter ownership (the % of entries in a contest that roster this player) which means if these guys have a big night, you could put yourself way ahead of the field.

Wednesday, October 4

Cash Game Plays

Goalie

Martin Jones, San Jose Sharks

Selecting a cash game goalie is not something you need to ever over think. You want to find the guy who is in the best position for a win, but should still see a decent amount of shots. Last year, Jones posted a solid .916 SV% and a 2.16 GAA on home ice, and gets a matchup with a Flyers team that, while many mark them for an improved year offensively, failed to generate much on the road last year, scoring only 2.32 goals per game away from home.

Defenseman

Oscar Klefbom, Edmonton Oilers

Normally in this spot I would recommend Brent Burns and not even bother writing him up (I think I played him in every single cash game last year), as his floor is too high, given the huge number of shots he fires per game, and he is usually too cheap across the industry. On this occasion, while I wouldn’t advise against rostering Burns, it may be tough to fit him and some of the forwards we definitely want to lock in. Klefbom will start the year QBing a potent Oilers power play unit, gets you exposure to a high-event game which should feature lots of scoring, and is simply too cheap. He’s a no-brainer at this price tag.

Winger

Patrik Laine, Winnipeg Jets

While the Toronto Maple Leafs are a great young team, I think they are still trying to figure things out defensively. Laine should start the year flanking one of my favorite young centermen in Mark Scheifele, and be joined by the always reliable Blake Wheeler, to reunite a line that was so explosive for the Jets last year. Last year the Maple Leafs allowed 32.6 shots per game and 2.85 GA/60. Laine has multi-goal upside in any matchup because of his shot, and since this one should be a back and forth affair, should have a shot floor high enough for your cash game lineups.

Center

Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs

I could just as easily have written up McDavid or Crosby in this spot, but with a cheaper price tag across the industry, and in a matchup with just as much upside, I think Matthews is the best center play on the board. The Jets allowed the 12th most shots in the league last year and took a ton of penalties. The Leafs figure to be one of the highest scoring teams on the night, and Matthews should lead the way both at even strength and on the power play. If you can’t tell, I am pretty high on both sides of this game.

GPP Plays

Goalie

Brian Elliott, Philadelphia Flyers

In his first game as a member of that team, Elliott heads west to take on a Sharks team that lost Patrick Marleau this offseason and isn’t getting any younger, with remaining core players Brent Burns, Joe Thornton, and Joe Pavelski all on the other side of 30. Elliott should get lowered ownership in this spot, as the Sharks are still perceived as a team with a ton of offensive firepower, and has the chance to get peppered with shots. If he posts the type of game we hope for, Elliott could be the highest scoring goalie on the slate, coming in as the starter with the lowest price tag ($7,000 on DraftKings).

Defenseman

Jacob Trouba, Winnepeg Jets

This one is pretty simple for me. Trouba should see depressed ownership in tournaments because of his price. He is currently sandwiched between Dougie Hamilton, Justin Schultz, Oscar Klefbom, and Mark Giordano on DraftKings, and I think many people will look to those options first because of the offensive upside of each. I already stated how much I love this game, and I think those targeting it will pay up for Byfuglien in this spot. Trouba put up some monster games to end last season, and I think he picks up right where he left off.

Winger

Ryan Strome, Edmonton Oilers

In his first game as an Oiler, Strome looks like he will be slotted to play on a line with Connor McDavid and Patrick Maroon. Despite Calgary’s super solid top four, they really struggled last year keeping the puck out of their own net. They also ranked second in the league in penalties taken, while posting below average PK numbers. Right now it’s not a sure bet that Strome will see power play time alongside McDavid as well, but he will still almost certainly get his fair share of time on the man advantage. If the two end up skating together at both even strength and on the PP, the upside here could be huge in what should be a high-scoring game.

Center

Mark Schefiele, Winnipeg Jets

Scheifele became a household name last season racking up 32 goals and averaging over a point per game. There was even a point in the season where he was the league’s leading scorer. This confidence carried over to the offseason where the young Jets centerman set some lofty expectations for himself. In this matchup he should slot between second-year goal scoring phenom Patrik Laine and Blake Wheeler, who is no stranger to putting the puck in the back of the net himself, in a game that will feature an end-to-end, wide open style of hockey. He comes in as the fifth highest priced center on DraftKings and FanDuel, but has as much upside in this home tilt as the guys priced higher than him. Scheifele has also had the Leafs’ number the last two years, registering nine points in the last four games.

Hometown Hero(s)

Jake Guentzel will once again flank Sidney Crosby on the Penguins’ potent Sid and the Kids line, and despite his stellar production last year – and leading the NHL in playoff goals – Guentzel is still priced below $6,000 on DraftKings. While I think the other centers on the board have a better matchup (McDavid, Matthews, Scheifele) playing Guentzel on DraftKings gives you cheap exposure to Crosby without paying his high price tag. Baby-faced Jake is a fine play in both cash games and GPPs.

On FanDuel, Gunetzel is priced more appropriately, but he is still in play for tournaments. While FanDuel got Guentzel’s pricing right, they forgot to account for Crosby’s other winger, Connor Sheary. We saw Sheary’s production dip last season, but he still plays a ton of minutes with Crosby and Gunetzel, and is priced too cheap for his spot in the lineup. I wouldn’t recommend Sheary for cash games until we see his production stabilize, but he still makes for a good tournament play at his price ($4,500 on FanDuel) skating on a line that has multi-point upside every game.

That wraps up the extra-long first edition of our new DFS preview weekly article. If you have any feedback or suggestions for the article moving forward, feel free to let me know! You can find me on Twitter @bmfischetti. I also try my best to retweet any injury news, starting goalie confirmations, and lineup changes I see, so make sure to check in before locking in your lineups.

Good luck and go Pens!