Ben Schimidt is a former Faceoff Factor writer. He has joined the “Beat The Experts” fantasy hockey league and will chronicle his rookie season as a fantasy hockey GM.

I’ve never done fantasy hockey before, so when Faceoff-Factor decided to start a league, I thought, “why not?” Well, the season hasn’t even started yet, and I’ve already learned a few lessons the hard way, and I’m sure I’ll got through many more as time goes on.

I thought I might well share these hard-learned lessons as we go through the season. At the very least, it will provide some laughs at my expense from the more experienced fantasy GMs out there, and who knows, maybe someone else will learn from my mistakes.

To start, here’s the context: I’ve joined the Factor Conference in the Faceoff-Factor League. The details of how this fantasy league works can be found here

I knew I wasn’t going to be able to make it for the live draft, so I had to pre-rank my players. I’ve never done this before. I figured that I have my opinions on who was good, and who wasn’t, and I knew what was being used for scoring, so I figured I’d just go ahead and give it a shot.

The first thing I tried doing was going through and ranking all the players. Yeah, that didn’t last long. After that, I settled for taking the suggested rankings and tweaking them a bit. One of the main tweaks I made was to remove players I knew wouldn’t be in the NHL this year – out go Alex Radulov and Martin Straka. I then down-ranked a few players who I knew would be on long-term injury reserve. Thus, Ryan Whitney gets downgraded from his ranking.

Then I twiddled a bit with some of the individual player rankings. For instance, I think Sidney Crosby will get more points than Alex Ovechkin this year, so he takes #1, with Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin in 2 and 3 respectively. I then up-ranked Niclas Lidstrom to #4, since he’s good for both points and +/-. I brought a few goalies up higher in my rankings. I moved Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane a little higher, since I think they’ll be better this year.

I moved a couple other players higher, such as Jordan Staal, Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski, since I think they’ll produce more this year with increased responsibilities. (For the record, I also moved up a few players from other teams for similar reasons, but I figured I’d stick with the Penguins examples as being the simplest to explain).

I finished a basic ranking, and then let it go. The next day, I checked to see who I drafted. And discovered my first mistakes. Here’s the team I originally drafted, in draft order:

  • Evgeni Malkin, C
  • Nicklas Lidstrom, D
  • Martin St. Louis, RW
  • Jonathan Toews, C
  • Jason Pominville, RW
  • Dan Ellis, G
  • Jay Mouwmeester, D
  • Jordan Staal, C/LW
  • Brian Rolston, LW
  • Dustin Byfuglien, D/LW
  • Brent Seabrook, D
  • Josh Harding, G]
  • Scott Munroe, G
  • Phil Kessel, RW
  • Milan Lucic, LW
  • Alex Goligoski, D
  • R.J. Umberger, C
  • Jonas Enroth, G

At this point, the experienced fantasy drafters are probably all laughing at me. I’ve got a pretty good top 6 forwards, and a reasonable blueline corps, but I really did poorly in getting goalies.

This was lesson #1: Rank goalies a lot higher than the defaults in general. People who are there for the draft can decide to snag a goalie earlier, but when pre-ranking, you’re likely to end up getting forwards in the early rounds when you should be getting a goalie, simply because the goalies you ranked highly were already all picked.

Lesson #2: The pre-ranking system lets you rank by position. Make use of it, especially for goalies. The default rankings can put a player like Craig Munroe, who isn’t likely to even play in the NHL this season, over players that will definitely at least be backups this season.

The other thing people will notice was the odd choice on my blueline. I ranked Dustin Byfuglien a bit higher, because I knew he’d been switched to wing, and had done well in that position. I’ve seen a few places predict him for a top 6 role. From the description of his game, I also got a mistaken impression that he’d help out in PIMs. This leads to the next lesson –

Lesson #3: If you’re going to move a player out of their default ranked position, do your research, and don’t do it based on hunches alone. I hadn’t realized that the system would rank Byfuglien as a D, and it turns out I was wrong about what he might bring in PIMs, so I ended up dropping him to pick up another defenseman.

This brings me to the last point for this entry – adding and dropping players. If one looked at my transaction list, they’d notice a decent amount of movement, including an instance where I added a guy only to drop him the very next day. That brings me to the final lesson for today:

Lesson #4: The default rankings are not actually set all that well for your league’s settings. A goalie who is a great prospect won’t count for much if they’re going to be in the AHL all season. A backup who may not be as good of a player is likely to be a better choice, simply because they’re going to count for the stats needed in the NHL. Make sure you dig further down the lists of available players, in case someone you think is a better choice is available instead of picking up someone who isn’t likely to play in the NHL.

I ended up dropping Scott Clemmenson and adding Dany Sabourin, since Clemmenson is stuck behind Martin Brodeur and Kevin Weekes in New Jersey, while Sabourin, at least, ought to get a few starts in the NHL this season. I also picked up Antti Niemi, as I think it’s likely that Nikolai Khabibulin will get moved from the Blackhawks, with Niemi taking his place. There really wasn’t a lot left in goalies by the time I was able to correct the mistakes I made in drafting via pre-ranking.

As of my latest changes, my team currently looks like this:

Starters:

  • C Evgeni Malkin
  • C Jonathan Toews
  • LW Jordan Staal
  • LW Brian Rolston
  • RW Martin St. Louis
  • RW Jason Pominville
  • D Nicklas Lidstrom
  • D Jay Bouwmeester
  • D Brent Seabrook
  • D Mike Komisarek
  • G Dan Ellis
  • G Josh Harding
  • G Dany Sabourin

Benched:

  • RW Phil Kessel
  • LW Milan Lucic
  • D Alex Goligoski
  • C R.J. Umberger
  • G Antti Niemi

I still think my skaters are reasonably solid, but I fear that my goaltending may be the horrendous weak spot in my team.

Join me throughout the season as I share my thinking behind my team moves, and feel free to laugh at my mistakes as I make them!