The 2021 NHL regular season, which will put the health and safety of players, staff and their families first, will be unlike any other. Empty or undermanned arenas, a concise 56-game schedule, a league limited to inter-divisional matches and 54 pages of COVID-19 championship minutes make this campaign a unique experience. No one knows how things will really go from week to week, and imaginary hockey fans will have to adjust.
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From selection to the final whistle in May, here are some all-season strategies for managers in management leagues and head-to-head championships. Starting with how to approach the changes in ESPN’s standard fantasy hockey game.
Honestly, it’s fantastic. The ESPN.com fantasy hockey team has been thinking about the default system during this long offseason and has found the best version yet. Shots and blocked shots are now included, rewarding physical and defensive play. The Blueliners are more rewarding than ever, especially those who block shots and score goals. Special team bonus points mean more offensive numbers in all areas. Gone is the plus/minus category, which – in my opinion – is openly or tacitly despised by fantasy hockey managers around the world (it’s still available as an individual option). But the biggest adjustment is in the goalkeepers. The 0.2 point reward for the save increases the value of the imaginary goalie to new heights. The busier and sleeker, the better. Especially now, it will be detrimental to you to ignore this position until the final stages of the project. You won’t win in any format, I promise you that.
Of course, fantasy commissioners can always bend leagues to their will. If commitment, timeouts and penalty minutes are your thing, go ahead. There are no wrong answers when setting up a competition, no matter how unusual. The final distribution of specialists by category determines who is contacted, depending on how the scores are calculated.
Squeeze. Fifty-six team games over 121 days will be more difficult for some players than others. We’re gonna find out who’s fit and who’s not. More skaters will likely fall with the pain. Some older people will tackle load control and skip the games – at least they should. Each time a draft is selected, fantasy managers must ask themselves the question: Will this guy break down regularly / not? Kings defender Drew Doughty, for example, played a total of three games during the 2013/14 season. I think his chances of success in this compact campaign are higher than those of a lesser player (you know who he is). Without sacrificing imagination, she focuses on creating these more robust types.
The difference between the two sets of each team must also be taken into account, especially when selecting the goalkeepers. The San Jose Sharks have 12, while the Tampa Bay Lightning, New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins only have six. It’s not nice to assume that goalie Devan Dubnyk – assuming he’s seen as San Jose’s No1 to Martin Jones – will sit more often than Tampa’s Andrei Vasilevskiy or New York’s Igor Shesterkin or Pittsburgh’s Tristan Jarry. In this short season, the difference between a goalie playing five to 10 more games than another will carry considerable weight in fantasy.
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Then there is the issue of resolving intra-divisional games. Perhaps the idea of Kings goalie Jonathan Quick, who regularly faces the Colorado Avalanche, the Vegas Golden Knights and the St. Louis Blues in the Western Division, is not very appealing to the imagination. Although parity in the NHL is higher than in many other professional sports leagues, some leagues are even more difficult. More than in any other regular season, it pays to have quality goaltenders who can go back and forth as needed. Especially if you’re in the standard ESPN.com game.
Health and safety
I don’t need to remind you that we are still in a pandemic. The health and safety of all NHL participants and their families remains a top priority. In accordance with regulations established by local health authorities, persons who test positive for COVID-19, exhibit general symptoms, or are suspected of being infected with the virus, shall isolate themselves for an extended period of time. The players will miss the games. The games will be postponed. It’s inevitable.
The best solution for fantasy in all formats is to expand the frame and add additional IR spots. This year real NHL clubs are betting on taxi teams, the same philosophy of expanding the roster can be applied to fantasy teams. This allows for greater flexibility in redeploying bodies due to injury, VIDOC-related absences, managing load/rest days, and even rescheduling matches. Another important point is the possibility for managers to adjust the range daily. League managers can add additional spots on the roster or in the IR even after the draft.
Finally, remember that fantasy hockey is a game within a game. It’s just for fun. There’s no point getting upset when the unexpected happens – be prepared to expect the unexpected. Take a breath and remember that there are much more important things at stake.
At this point: Here’s to a successful, entertaining and most importantly, safe NHL season.
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