Hockey is definitely a niche DFS sport. The NHL may not be the most popular sport, but I believe that’s a good thing. Where even the pros you fear in NFL and NBA are learning the nuances of the game, you have an opportunity to get ahead of the curve. You might even have the edge if you learn to build a solid NHL lineup. As skill-based gamblers, and much like poker, we love playing when we’ve identified an edge for ourselves. If you are winding down a solid, or not-so-solid, NFL season I ask you to give the NHL a go.
Let’s quickly cover the basics of building an NHL lineup.
I already mentioned the lack of mainstream popularity may actually serve to give you an edge. It certainly serves to limit the number of experts you encounter. There are very few “experienced players” on the sites I would avoid, even in H2H contests. It’s also hard to research the sport on the internet. Finding quality information or starter’s guides is difficult and limited. Lacking free, mainstream educational content means the NHL is currently a sport in which most players know very little of the fundamentals. I aim to change that for our readers in the DFS Army as I learn the game myself.
Follow me on Twitter @ChoppoDong and ask me questions both there and in the DFS Army under the same name. As a contributor and coach, I specialize in research and eliminating the growth curve for beginners and intermediates. We have coaches in our community for the experts, but that’s just not my wheelhouse. I will serve to cut your time down by doing that grunt work for you. If you like what you see, I urge you to give us a shot. Sign up at dfsarmy.com and you must use my code 10-OFF. Using that code entitles you to a lifetime, grandfathered discount of 10% for as long as you stay a member. All DFS sports are covered, and the real value is in our real-time coaching from our VIP Only slack chat forum. Both coaches and experienced regulars put ego aside (mostly, I mean it is sports) to develop you into a competitive, winning player. Add in our stats spreadsheets, elite lineup optimizer and player picks and you’ve found one-stop-shopping for not only NHL lineups, but all of DFS. Give us a look!
When building NHL lineups, you will find this sport is loaded with variance. The ups and downs might make the faint of heart ill, but most of us that play baseball are accustomed to that aspect already. In fact, NHL compares very favorably to MLB when it comes to variance. We carry a little larger bankroll and trust that our process will win out over the week, month, or season. Higher variance, to me, makes those consistent players we covet even more valuable.
If you’ve followed my writing, you know I’m a cash gamer at heart. I love 5050s, double ups, triple ups, and quintuple ups. I don’t do a lot of GPP chasing because I just don’t think like that type of player. My goal is to grind up very steadily with occasional shots and exposure to the higher ROI (Return On Investment) contests. Don’t get me wrong, I expose myself to them. I just don’t do so with much of my daily outlay. I would rather win more often than endure long swings of losses. It’s a mental thing I’m just not cut out for. This article will largely be focused on building a fundamentally sound cash game NHL lineup.
You will hear “build from the net out” when building an NHL lineup. Why? Well, think of your goalie as your starting pitcher or quarterback. He’s the most involved and your steadiest source of points. We can debate value starting pitchers and certainly quarterbacks, but I don’t think we can debate goalies. You need an elite netminder. Vegas will direct you towards the player of the night, but I can count on one hand the number of slates I wound up using a goalie outside the top 3 salaries. When you see a Vegas favorite of -200, you will see me rostering that goalie nearly without fail. I’m also looking for a goalie that will see shots but sits in net for a team that doesn’t allow a lot of quality chances. I might get into some key stats a little later. For now, realize you need that victory from a goalie. When a win is 3 DK points and a solid score is 30 points, that 10% matters in a big way. Spend up to lock those points in for your cash games. Save taking cute chances for your GPPs.
GAMES TO TARGET
In many DFS sports, we look to Vegas as our guide. We like point spreads, money lines, and game totals and we like them to tell us what the intelligent minds in Sin City think will happen in our games of choice. However, in the NHL, I will say Vegas is great but they are only a rough guide. They are merely suggesting which games might be higher scoring. I mean a 5.0 and a 5.5 isn’t a huge difference. If you think about it, what does that really tell us? Not much. I do lean more on the money lines to help spot a goaltender when making my NHL lineup. Anything over a -160 will start to get my attention. I can look at an 8 game slate and immediately spot 3 choices just by this method alone. For cash, it’s quite the time-saver.
I mentioned key stats earlier. Let’s dive into a couple I’ve come to love. Corsi and Scoring Chances. Corsi is simply anything resembling a shot directed towards the net. It doesn’t matter if it’s on goal, wide, deflected out of play, or blocked. If the puck gets thrown at the net, it tallies a number for Corsi. We can quickly adjust these numbers down to a “per 60 min” number and give us an average per game of how often a team fires in the direction of the net. Shots are opportunities to score points. It stands to reason we want actively shooting teams. I’m going to watch CF60 and CA60, which stand for Corsi For per 60 minutes and Corsi Against per 60 minutes, respectively. I want high numbers “for” when picking skaters and I’d prefer to see them matching up against a team carrying a high “against” for obvious reasons. If our skater is on a team firing lots of pucks and they go up against a team that allows a ton of shots, it’s a great spot for us most nights.
Scoring Chances work a little the same way. A “scoring chance” is determined by the shot and from where it originated. There is a graphic you can find around the web that shows it, but I’ll skip it this time around. Just know that it’s roughly an area between the faceoff dots and inside about 20 feet of the goal. So, logic dictates the closer you are and the closer you are to the center of the ice (straight on), the more the opposing goalie is likely to crap himself when he sees you. Rebounds factor in as do “quick release” type shots, but mostly a Scoring Chance is like selling real estate…..location, location, location. We look at SCF60 and SCA60. If you need the names spelled out a little, Scoring Chances For and Scoring Chances Against per 60 minutes are the formal titles. Again, we are looking for skaters on teams that generate a ton of quality scoring chances, and we’d prefer them be facing teams that tend to give them up (suggesting poor team defense around the net).
These two statistics, in my opinion, are vital for finding offenses to target in cash games on a nightly basis. I want to build an NHL lineup that is already set up to succeed. Then, I will look for players within those games I want to roster. I’m not into getting cute in an already highly volatile game like hockey.
More Key Stats to an NHL Lineup
Another time we can dive into Minutes Played (important like NBA) and SOG (Shots on Goal) and even BS (Blocked Shots) with how they build your skater’s floor. For now, let’s leave it at this: More minutes on teams that shoot a lot from a skater that likes to shoot, too, build opportunity and from there it’s simply a numbers game before a puck or two squirt off a pad and knock that Gatorade bottle loose for us. Fair enough?
Choosing the skaters from games featuring high Corsi and SCF numbers, facing teams that give up high Corsi and SCA numbers will serve to dramatically cut down your slate and save you time. It often goes a little against Vegas, but that’s fine because it also gets you a little off the herd rostering the name brands in the sport. I love the chalk as much as the next guy, but I don’t mind getting away from it when a logical method leads me in a slightly different direction.
I’m finding I like to build my NHL lineup from the back (goalie) to the front (wings and centers). I don’t know why. Maybe because I find I like to dig for value at defense and recover the premium I paid for my goalie. By recouping a little of this cost, I see my avg salary remaining jump to levels I feel a bit more confident grabbing a higher priced winger or centerman. It’s not the only way to build a lineup, but you will find most pundits stating “Defense is where you find your value.” I will counter with “it depends,” but that’s because I tend to build a balanced NHL lineup and build from a higher floor as a priority.
I will add, though, if you are looking for seriously deep value, most times you will find it back here. Minutes (look for 20/gm with defensemen) and involvement on the power play units are paramount to giving a defenseman the opportunity to bring you some points. We want to avoid taking zeroes as much as we can. I love defensemen that run the point on the power play because they tally assists from that spot well. They also throw pucks at nets for redirections, and these turn into shots sometimes. A defenseman that can fire pucks into the crease is a defenseman that is active enough within an offense for me to roster confidently at nearly any price.
SOG (Shots on Goal) and BS (Blocked Shots) are your floor from your defensemen. Look through a game log and see if the guy you are debating tallies a few of these stats on a nightly basis. If so, he’s fairly safe. If not, you are depending on him doing more scoring through assists and goals, and that just isn’t 95% of a defenseman’s game. It’s also why Brent Burns is priced like a winger. Again, cheap exposure to power play units can aid these stats nicely. If not on a PP unit, a defenseman is nearly dead to me.
Once you’ve picked a few teams on the slate to roster from, I want you to look at the schedule scoring lines. SC1 and SC2 (scoring line 1 and 2) are your priorities most nights. These players also find themselves on power play units for the majority of teams. (Side tip: In NHL, the home team gets to change lines on the fly after the road team. This priority means the home team is better able to match up their top line against the other team’s players. Example, if you find a team where the SC2 line does most of the damage, at home they can match up against pretty much whomever they want. On the road, they will be getting the best defenders from the home team. This tends to matter. Pay attention to it.)
For cash, though, I avoid stacking at nearly all costs. Stacking TJ Oshie with Alexander Ovechkin is nice, but if they do nothing that night, two of your boys just took a crap on your paper. If teams score around 3 goals per game, there isn’t a lot of scoring to go around. In GPPs, I’d like to correlate my scoring and take that risk since the reward is an assist or two and the goal. But, for cash, I’d rather spread myself across multiple scoring lines and cast a wider net across those 3 goals. This might cap your upside when building an NHL lineup, but you will find it dramatically raises your floor. Look at the graphic below…
I want you to focus on the purple dots. Pretend for a minute we like BOS and STL for this slate. If I’m looking to grab exposure for cash games, I’m looking at the top 2 scoring lines when I can. And, I’m looking at exposure to the top PP unit. Look at how these players spread out my risk across the game. On the BOS side, I have exposure to the top line’s center and a winger off the second line. If a goal gets scored in 5on5 or 4on4 play, I’m liable to catch a piece of it. However, if it happens on the PP1 unity, I’m might get the goal AND the assist. I have exposure to two lines at even strength and the top power play. On the STL side, I have the quarterback of the PP1 in Shattenkirk along with Tarasenko off the SC2 line (STL’s best line btw….also note they are at home and can choose their opposing matchups frequently in this game) and Alexander Steen off the top line. I have a minutes-eating defenseman that plays across a few scoring lines along with the top two scorers off the power play. However, both happen to play on different lines tonight giving me access to nearly every line getting significant minutes tonight and both top power plays. If this game goes 2-1, I still score points. If it goes 5-4, I will certainly have pieces of it. My floor is set for this NHL lineup.
This doesn’t happen often, and it’s honestly quite cost-prohibitive in this screenshot. But, it does show you what a cash lineup is TRYING to do rather than stacking up everyone off the top line and hoping to get a goal from it. If you don’t remember, hockey is loaded with variance and bad bounces happen all the time. Like baseball, your top stud can post a 0 on you on any given night. I’d rather see you spread your risk across the game projected to score a few goals than concentrate it by stacking. Let’s save that for GPPs where we might need to accept more risk to get near the top of that leaderboard with boom or bust plays.
I will look through game logs frequently for players to pick out of these games I identify as good opportunities. Again, like baseball, NHL players are streaky. They can breathe fire and they can shit icicles. I rely on game logs, in cash games, to determine how a player is currently running. The news blurbs on Twitter, on the team websites, and in the logs also provide valuable insight. In my opinion, recency matters to an NHL lineup!
Look through the past 10 games and look for “a hard 3” on a site like DraftKings. (Obviously, this varies from site to site making it paramount to know your site’s scoring system.) A hard 3 is a player that doesn’t often leave you with a 0 or even a 1. You want a few points. If I find a player that scores 5, 4, 4, 3, 7, 1.5, 3 vs a player that scores 8, 1, .5, 2, 4, 2, 9, 1, I would be more inclined to roster the first type in cash and the second type in GPPs. The cheaper the player, the more I’ll see 1.5s and 2s instead of 4s and 5s. But, I’d still take those over 0, 1, 7, .5, 1.5, 0, 2 or similar looking game logs.
- Tend to pay up for goalies.
- Deeper value, most times, can be taken at defense.
- Don’t stack often, if at all. PP units are an exception when building an NHL lineup.
- Try to use different scoring lines to cast a wider net over a game. Use PP units for your “stacking” or correlation.
- SOG and BS are your floor.
- Minutes = Opportunity. 20/gm for defensemen. 18+/gm for other skaters. (Loose numbers for skaters.)
- Narrow down target teams with Corsi and Scoring Chances and attack the slate with these teams alone.
- Game log hunt the past 10 games. Recency matters in NHL.
- On DraftKings, 30 is a nice target score. That breaks off to 0.6 fpts per $1000 of salary cap on DK.
Hopefully, this gets you started building your first NHL lineup and dabbling in a sport I believe still has a large edge for the informed. If you have questions, I’m in our VIP slack chat (DFS Army) and on Twitter again @ChoppoDong. Remember, we also cover all the major sports with coaches and experienced regulars ready to help you in whichever sport you choose to pursue.