A week before the last NHL season began, I started FantasyHockeyHelper.ca and wrote a web app to help me optimize drafting multiple fantasy hockey teams with various pool settings. This year, I’m excited to continue that project, and I’ve been working hard all summer to get ready for the 2021–2022 season. The goal has grown from just helping me win a few hundred bucks in my own pools though. I also want to provide some value to the fantasy hockey community and continue experimenting with hockey statistics. This blog post serves as a short update on what I’ve been working on and some thoughts about the upcoming fantasy season.
1. Summer Changelog
1.1 Account No Longer Required
Good news! I have opened up the website to new visitors. You no longer need to sign-up to access the meat and potatoes of the website: Draft Center, Current Season Rankings, Team Schedules, etc. Previously I thought that website growth would come from forcing people to signup which enables some additional features related to actually drafting a team. I no longer think that is the case and I would like as many people as possible to be able to benefit from the rankings, regardless of signup.
1.2 Fantasy Team Strengths/Weaknesses into Fantasy Score
This feature was very important to me this summer. I thought about how I could dynamically rank players based on their actual Draft Center rankings and also based on the strengths and weaknesses of their drafted team as they drafted it. Now, every time you load Draft Center, we also load the player(s) in your in-progress team, determine the strengths and weaknesses for the configured pool categories, and try to determine which available players are strong in the areas that your team is weak and weak in the areas that your team is strong. The goal is to prioritize a well-rounded team that can win all pool stat categories. There is no point in absolutely dominating your opponent in goal scoring when you could have spread that player strength out so that you still win in goals and can also win in hits and the other non-scoring categories. Drafting based on just points is tempting and feels “right” but remember, fantasy hockey (at least in these categories pools) is very different than real hockey.
NOTE: This feature is only available when you are signed in since drafting a team requires being able to save team data to your account.
1.3 Age Curve
The Fantasy Score dynamically factors in the player’s age into the mix. This was on my list of things to improve after drafting Ryan Getzlaf mid-draft when in hindsight that was far too early considering his age and eventual output. As players exit the prime of their careers, it is standard to see a dropoff in performance. Now, we try to include that in the final rankings to help prevent drafting an aging player who had their last decent season last year, or at least don’t draft them too early!
1.4 Improved Schedule Analysis
A small win I decided to implement was to allow a user to get more insights out of the Team Schedules page. It now includes how many back-to-back games and how many off-night games a team has in a given week which can be something to consider when decided to pick up or drop a player and when deciding which players you start and which players you bench.
There is definitely more work that can be done here to factor in the strength of opponents into this and is something I’d like to explore further during the season. Perhaps some sort of schedule score can be generated based on current team power rankings and their upcoming week’s schedule and then factored into an individual player’s fantasy score?
1.5 Sticky Pool Configs
This was a big usability improvement for the site. Whenever you set your pool configurations via the Draft Center or Current Rankings pages, they persist across pages so you don’t need to keep defining your Fantasy Score algorithm every time you visit the website.
NOTE: This feature is only available when you are signed in since we need an account in order to save pool configuration data.
1.6 Things I Didn't Get To
I had an ambitious roadmap of work that I wanted to do this summer but I wasn’t able to get to it all.
I wanted to integrate closely with the existing Yahoo Fantasy Hockey app, but it was such a large amount of work with unknowns. It required the time to really scope and spike out to see what use cases were feasible. It's still on my wishlist to let a user login using Yahoo and import their current team roster for analysis and insights.
Adding in Goalies to the mix was also something I wanted to do. I’m a goalie myself, I think about hockey goaltending daily. Unfortunately for fantasy hockey, with the stats used and the type of role goaltending plays in setting your lineup, it just never became a very interesting problem to solve so it kept getting deprioritized. Goalies in fantasy hockey are based mostly on their team stats. Wins are a team stat counted towards goalies. Shots and GAA as well. Saves and Save Percentage a bit less so. Shutouts are very random. The solution is to pick 2 goalies you know were good last year who are playing on good teams this year in primary roles.
Lastly, as you’ve probably noticed if you had visited FantasyHockeyHelper.ca last season and just checked it out now, it looks about the same, its not the most pretty or modern-looking website. This is a side project with limited resources and I’m not someone who gets too excited about writing UIs and make list views pretty. I didn’t work much on improving the front-end and I hope you don’t mind! Maybe next summer…
2. How Will This Season Be Different?
2.1 Less Team-Games Lost to COVID
I ranted about this in my 2020–2021 season review blog: COVID was such a pain in the ass when it came to setting lineups. Some teams had no COVID issues, some teams didn’t play for weeks. If you happened to draft players from those teams, good or bad, their status was often unknown, they were unable to play for long periods of time, and Yahoo often didn’t make them IR eligible. It seems like this season will be much more normal due to high league vaccination rates, and with that hopefully comes some stability in the schedule and player eligibility.
As well, this season’s schedule should be much more normal and we won’t have some teams dealing with tough schedules containing many back-to-backs and 4 game-weeks. Hopefully, teams will not have to reschedule games due to outbreaks too. This will be a nice change of pace after last season!
2.2 Man-Games Lost To Vaccination Status
Some players are not getting vaccinated. This is something to consider when drafting players since they are are more likely to miss games due to illness/suspected illness and they will run into border issues. For example, Tyler Bertuzzi is a great player but he won’t be playing a single game in Canada including against divisional rivals Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa. That will also harm the success of the Detroit Red Wings, something to consider when drafting others from their team.
2.3 Seattle is an Unknown
Honestly, I’m not super excited about the roster they’ve put together in Seattle. It's a group of underdogs not unlike the Vegas Golden Knights a few years ago, but I don’t think they used their leverage over other teams like they could have as they made no pre-draft agreements with the other teams. They also left a lot of good players on the table and their big free-agent splash was Goalie Phillip Grubauer (who is solid, don’t get me wrong). I’d be wary of picking up players from this team early in your draft, there are many unknowns about who (if anyone) is going to step up on this team. Also, it will be interesting to see how another weak team in the Pacific Division will inflate the stats of the dominant Golden Knights as a team or an individual like Connor McDavid on the Oilers.
2.4 Olympics Break
The Olympics are happening in early 2022 and the NHL is going! As a hockey fan I’m excited! As a fantasy hockey manager, it's another factor to consider. Top players will be going to China for this intense tournament which can be a fatigue and injury risk. Really this is minor but notable considering the Winter Olympics only happen every 4 years and last time the NHL didn’t even go.