Valencia’s Introduction to NHL DFS and Keys to Success


Let’s play NHL DFS! NHL DFS is an exciting sweat because one late goal can completely alter the leaderboard, whereas the fantasy scoring in NBA is a lot more gradual. NHL roster construction is most similar to MLB and soccer. I prefer tournaments to head-to-head and double up contests in NHL because there is so much correlation in this sport that you can quickly build smart tournament lineups by stacking lines.

I’m going to present this article (mostly) from a game theory perspective, in the hopes that the content will be valuable throughout the season and you can apply these lessons regardless of the slate size and site you play on. We’ll start with the basics and work our way into general DFS lineup tips. One last thing before we drop the puck, interacting in the Discord chat is a great way to grow our DFS community, so don’t be shy! Let’s learn from each other and celebrate our big wins! 

Hockey Basics

To help us construct GPP-winning lineups, we need to first understand the basic game flow of a hockey game. There are three 20-minute periods in a regulation NHL game. If the score is tied at the end of regulation, in the regular season, the teams will play a five-minute, sudden-death overtime period. If no one scores in those five minutes, there’s a shootout to break the tie. In the playoffs, the format is sudden-death overtime. Overtime is played in 20-minute periods until someone scores. 

A game starts out with five skaters and one goalie on the ice per team. The goalie will play the entire game most of the time. For fantasy purposes, we assume this will be true with the goalie we roster because a goalie is a good source of fantasy points, like a starting pitcher in baseball. The most likely reasons a goalie wouldn’t complete the game would be for poor performance (coach’s decision to put in another goaltender), an ejection, or an injury.

The forwards are the three skaters that line up in the center of the ice when the puck is first dropped by the referee to start the game, a new period, or after a goal is scored. These skaters score the majority of the goals. The forwards are labeled as a left wing, a center, and a right wing, but in fantasy, the left and right designations don’t matter much. Just like a left fielder and right fielder can be used in the outfield (OF) MLB fantasy slots, any left or right wing can be used in a wing slot in a fantasy hockey lineup. The wing skaters are also known as “wingers.” In between the forwards and the goalie are two defensemen. The defensemen help the goalie prevent goals by blocking shots and join the forwards in the offensive zone when their team has possession of the puck.

All teams substitute skaters on and off the ice in short, regular intervals. This is known as a “line change” because the same forwards tend to rotate off and on as a unit and the defensive pairs do likewise. Typically, a team has four different even strength lines, at least as far as the forwards are concerned. The defensemen don’t always play even strength with the same forwards because there are only three defensive pairings.

Now, let’s take a step back and go over the terms “even strength,” “power play,” and “short handed,” because they are a crucial part of fantasy hockey success. When a player receives a penalty, he is sent to the penalty box and the opposing team “goes on the power play.” The team with the player in the penalty box is playing “short handed,” because they have one less skater on the ice. The team on the power play has an extra skater on the ice, and as you might have guessed, teams are more likely to score a goal on the power play than when both teams are at “even strength.” Because a penalty results in a two-, four-, or five-minute power play, teams try to put their best players on the ice as much as possible during the power play. What this means is a power play line may not include the same forwards and defensemen as at even strength. However, teams consistently stick to two power play lines, so for these lines, it’s more predictable which skaters are on the ice together than at even strength. We’ll need to keep this information in mind when building NHL DFS lineups. 

Roster Requirements

Just like with the other team sports, FanDuel and DraftKings offer Classic and Showdown Captain, or single-game, NHL fantasy contests. The roster requirements for these contests are straightforward.

  • FanDuel classic:
    • Players from at least three different teams.
    • Maximum of four players from any single team.
    • One goalie and eight skater roster slots (C, C, W, W, D, D, UTIL, UTIL, G).
  • DraftKings classic:
    • Skaters from at least three different teams.
    • One goalie and eight skater roster slots (C, C, W, W, W, D, D, UTIL, G). 
  • FanDuel single-game:
    • Must roster at least one player from each team.
    • Captain roster spot has a 1.5x fantasy point boost.
    • One Captain (CPT) roster slot and four utility (UTIL) skater slots.
    • Can’t play the same player in both CPT and UTIL roster slots.
  • DraftKings single-game (Showdown Captain):
    • Must roster at least one player from each team.
    • Captain roster spot has a 1.5x fantasy point boost.
    • One Captain (CPT) roster slot and five flex (FLEX) slots.
    • Can’t play the same player in both CPT and FLEX roster slots.

Fantasy Scoring And Notes

DraftKings Classic:

  • DraftKings has bonuses for 35+ saves and overtime loss (goalies), but where the scoring is most different from FanDuel is with the skaters. Pay up for the forwards capable of achieving the 3+ points and 5+ shots bonuses. There are more cheap defensemen capable of getting the 3+ blocked shots bonus than cheap forwards capable of short handed points, shootout goals, and 5+ shots.
  • Goalies receive points for any goals or assists they accrue. The shutout bonus is for regulation plus overtime. Shootout goals won’t prevent the bonus.
DraftKings Showdown Captain:

  • The only game format of the four listed here that allows you to play two goalies. The whole roster should tell a story of how you envision the game playing out. Will it be a defensive battle with a goalie CPT and possibly multiple defensemen in the lineup, or a shootout with no goalies?
FanDuel Classic:

  • Focus on the goalie on FanDuel, as a win is worth as many fantasy points as a goal. Short handed points aren’t very predictable, but FanDuel’s power play point bonuses are an important category to pay attention to. Team power play percentages (PP%) and kill percentages (PK%) can be found on the NHL’s website.
FanDuel Single-Game:

  • Less game theory than on DraftKings, which has goalies in the player pool and one extra roster slot. This game style is all about stacking up the top-scoring line in the game and using the highest-scorer as Captain.

Contest Selection

  • “Cash games” are typically defined as contests that pay prizes to the top 33% of the field or higher. Head-to-head contests, 50/50s, double ups, and 3-man contests are examples of cash games. Target the safer, more consistent, players in your lineups for these contests. You won’t make a ton of money playing in these contests unless you’re playing a lot of volume. Most cash game players try to build one optimal lineup and use that same lineup across all of their cash game entries. This is true for all team sports.
  • “GPP” is the DFS acronym for “Guaranteed Prize Pool,” which just means that DraftKings/FanDuel will run the contest even if it isn’t filled to capacity and has to pay out the stated prize pool. A GPP contest is just a tournament, but the GPP lingo is commonly used for any contest that pays out less than one-third of the field. In terms of differences in how to build tournament lineups vs. cash games, the field size and payout structure should be used as guideposts to determine how much risk you want to take on. Since goals are the main source of fantasy points for skaters, and there are eight skaters in a classic DFS lineup, but only one goalie, we can take on more risk by stacking up more teammates from the same hockey lines. When those lines score multiple goals and assists, you have a chance to take down a tournament. The goal in tournaments is to finish at the very top because the payout structures are steep. 
  • There’s no “one-size-fits-all” method of deciding which types of contests to play. Some users only play in large-field tournaments. Some users don’t like to compete with other users who want to enter multiple lineups in the same contest. The sites have single-entry, 3-entry max, and 20-entry max contests to limit one’s entries, but the largest GPPs allow a single user to enter the same contest up to 150 times. 
  • Anyone playing 150 lineups in a contest is proficient at using a lineup builder to help set up their player pool and generate the combinations of players they want. This is an advanced skill that takes time to master and the strategy of it varies from sport to sport.

Keys To Success

  • Go through the key tenets of price, opportunity, matchup, and ownership to initially narrow down your player pool. This applies to any daily fantasy sport, by the way. 
  • Be consistent. Having a consistent research process, a predetermined range of entry fees to allocate per slate, and a disciplined lineup building strategy will help you survive the ups and downs throughout the season. 
  • Use the betting lines to determine which goalies are most likely to get wins, as well as to see implied team totals, and thus, which lines to consider stacking in tournaments.
  • Build correlation into all of your lineups. In hockey, there can be two assists on a goal and those assists have to come from players skating on the same line as the goalscorer. Checking projected lines is crucial to the lineup building process. FanDuel lists the projected even-strength lines for skaters, but isn’t always correct, so double check your sources.
  • Start cash game builds with the goalie. Look for a goalie that you’re confident will get the win points, and is projected to face a lot of shots on goal, or has a decent chance, relative to the other goalies on the slate, of getting a shutout bonus. Starting goalies are normally confirmed at least a couple of hours before the game starts.
  • Look for value plays after you’ve filled in the core of your lineup. Usually, a cheap defenseman or a third or fourth line forward that’s projected to skate on the power play makes for a solid value to round out your lineup.
  • Median fantasy point projections only matter if you’re playing cash games. You want to roster players with a high floor and consistency. A few stat categories to pay attention to in this case are ice time and shots on goal. Regarding matchup, the implied team total and linemates are your starting point for predicting where a team’s goals are going to come from in a given game.
  • Study and learn from the best. Look at the leaderboards in your completed contests. Analyze the results. Did the winning lineup get lucky by choosing the top four scorers on the slate from four different teams, or was there a lot of correlation built in? What were the ownership percentages of any teammates? Refine your strategy as needed.
  • Adding a defenseman or the team’s goalie to a full, three-man line stack in the scenario that the same line is responsible for multiple goals in a game helps boost your score, but it also increases your variance. You can maximize the probability of having all the goals and assists in a game, and with the goalie, he is more likely to get the win (and additional saves from the other team playing catch-up) if his team scores a flurry of goals. This type of roster construction should be reserved for large-field tournaments. It’s too risky for cash games.
  • Embrace the variance. Hockey is a high-variance sport. It pays to be contrarian in tournaments. We can predict the highest-owned (“chalky”) lines and goalies on a slate just based on the team totals. You’re going to be wrong a lot, but so is everyone else. Put yourself in position for the big payoff by zigging when others zag. Don’t be afraid to take a stand against the public perception and “chalky” goalies and stacks in tournaments.

Also Check Out: NHL DFS Tournament-Winning Strategies


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