Matt Paul: The last few weeks have been spent looking at individual players who could fly under the radar in some fantasy leagues. This week, we’ll shift our fantasy focus to designing the perfect fantasy league…at least in our eyes.

Joshua Neal is on vacation, so we’ll rely heavily on “the other Josh,” Josh Endsley, who has shared his knowledge within our fantasy hockey Lacing Up mini-series.

Josh, let’s start with the basics. One-year league or keeper league? Head-to-head, points-based, or rotisserie? What are your preferences?

Josh Endsley: Being the fervent hockey fan that I am, I generally prefer super-competitive fantasy leagues driven by multiple stat categories. So, for me, it all starts with the keeper league. I guess I just love the idea that my fantasy team will compete in a similar fashion to an actual NHL franchise. Keeper leagues are demanding; steadfast patience and long-term strategy are prerequisites – not unlike those required NHL General Managers.

In this setup, I typically establish a team that has a core group of players, then add various other secondary players that are focused on a specific style of play. Over the years, I’ll evaluate the value of my core players, then adjust my core and style of play accordingly. If I want to remain competitive, I need to be knowledgeable of the NHL’s risers, fallers, prospects, and sleepers, all the while “wheeling and dealing” with other league managers who are doing the same.

As far as scoring systems go, I tend to lean towards the head-to-head setup. Again, I think this comes from my desire to see my league reflect the competitive nature of the NHL. Head-to-head success ultimately boils down to the individual statistical matchups week-to-week. As such, any team could win on a given “night.” With deeper statistics, you might find a team built around goaltending (Wins, SVs, GAA, SV%, Shutouts) and another built around defense – (Shot Blocks, Hits, Faceoff Wins, ATOI) – both of them equally successful. Plus, there are the added elements of strategy, execution, and general unpredictability in the playoffs. For example, I might have the regular season’s best team, but winning in the playoffs could boil down to a sudden flux in +/- or who I start in goal on Saturday night.

Ultimately, though, I get the biggest thrill – if there is such a thing in fantasy hockey – from competing with people who love hockey as much as I do. I might prefer the keeper, head-to-head league, but nothing beats winning a league full of self-proclaimed hockey gurus. After all, I’d never turn down an invite to join a year-to-year rotisserie league with the likes of Bob McKenzie and Darren Dreger.

Where do stand on basic fantasy league setups, Matt? Agree or disagree? Moreover, what’s your preference for scoring categories – basic, deep, or somewhere in between?

Matt: I think we’re quite similar, Josh, which comes as no surprise, given that we both fill administrative roles within the UPJFHL, which is the sister league to Faceoff-Factor. For me, I want a league set-up that is going to breed activity and involvement. So, right from the start, a keeper league, it is. What better way to keep all members of a league active than to tell them that their team is relevant 12 months out of the year?

Breaking it down from there, I too like my leagues to mimic real hockey. Head-to-head leagues allow managers to “play” one another in weekly “games.” Points-based and rotisserie leagues create too much of an environment for the strong teams to get stronger, while the weak teams get weaker. In head-to-head leagues the competitive balance seems to last longer, given that any team can beat any other team (and possibly handily) in any given week.

As for scoring categories, I’m all about adding a variance. The more categories, the more realistic. We’ll get into this in a minute, but in the UPJFHL, we have deep rosters, which means the low-end guys find their way onto teams. As such, we’ve got to make them relevant — so utilizing blocked shots, hits, faceoff wins, and penalty minutes is a good way to give these “filler” players a role.

Josh, as I mentioned above, the UPJFHL is a league with deep rosters — 28 players and three additional minor league reserve spots, to be exact — but if we’re using minimally impactful role players to fill roster spots, what’s the benefit of such large rosters?

Josh: The biggest benefit that I see is that it rewards those managers who truly follow the entire NHL – not just the top players. With such large rosters, these “minimally impactful” role players suddenly have significant value – not unlike the value they provide to an NHL roster – which, again, harks back to our shared preference for a fantasy league that mimics the real NHL. Each manager must assemble a proper group of role players to supplement the scoring of the core group of keepers. As such, this demands a working knowledge of every player in the NHL, including prospects, grinders, and even enforcers. To me, this is how it fantasy hockey should be. Let’s face it – any casual fan could manage a fantasy squad with 12 roster spots; it takes a special kind of hockey fan to tailor a roster of 31 players and take it to championship.

Larger rosters also provide managers a mechanism by which he can rebuild (or reload) his team. The very nature of large rosters dilutes the obvious talent pool, so it is incumbent upon everyone to scout the up-and-comers and stash away a few of them. In the UPJFHL, we allow up to five keeper rookie exceptions, so these prospects always hold significant value. I think back a few years to Logan Couture, a player who was a minor contributor in parts of his first NHL season. Within the UPJFHL, a manager could stow him away and wait for the day when he would become a consistent 30 goal scorer – a highly coveted keeper player.

As you stated earlier, Matt, we are using this piece to design our “perfect” fantasy league. So far, we’ve built a head-to-head keeper league with large rosters. Now, let’s get back on the topic of selecting the right scoring categories. How many are too many? Specifically, if we ware trying to construct a league that closely resembles the NHL, what are the right categories for balancing the value of the grinder versus the value of goal-scorer?

Matt: Something we’ve “developed” in the UPJFHL is a way to break categories into three important groupings. The first being offense and the second being goaltending — both of which are what most think of when considering a fantasy hockey league. What we’ve done is added a third grouping, defense, to the mix, which places value in players like Brooks Oprik, for example, who throw hits, block shots, and accrue penalty minutes, while not putting up too many traditional fantasy league stats.

To me, the ideal categories break down like this:

Offense: Goals, assists, points, powerplay points, shorthanded points, shots on goal
Defense: Penalty minutes, faceoff wins, blocked shots, hits
Goal: Wins, saves, save percentage, shutouts, goals-against average

In a league as deep as ours, this places value on a wide variety of players, including shot blockers, fighters, and faceoff specialists. This might not be the ideal design for your run-of-the-mill league, but for those looking for a challenge, this surely creates an environment that requires research and close monitoring.

Before we put an end to our conversation, Josh, any last words on a league host?

Josh: As far as a host goes, I think there are plenty of nice options out there. Of course, you have the standards in Yahoo!Sports and ESPN. Having used those two myself in the past few years, I can say they both work adequately for your run-of-the-mill fantasy league. I’ve heard nice things about CBS Sports, too, but I’ve never used that website myself.

For a league as in-depth and customized as the UPJFHL, though, I have to say FanTrax is the best host I’ve personally encountered. Quite literally, the customization is endless. There are countless options for scoring options, a customized draft, salary cap options, and even the ability to manage league fees. Sprinkle in years of statistical history, live chat, live scoring, unique fantasy columns, a soon-to-be released mobile app, and excellent support from the staff, and you have nearly everything you could ask for in a fantasy league host. It really is a one-stop-shop for all your fantasy hockey needs.

For Matt Paul and the vacationing Joshua Neal, thanks for following our fantasy hockey mini-series, and good luck in the upcoming year! Keep an eye out for next week’s Lacing Up here at Faceoff Factor!