Not to steal a slogan from the U.S. Army, but when it comes to fantasy hockey, it’s truly important to “Be all that you can be” as a general manager.
That starts from the second you register for a league and continues right through to the final game of the season.
By now, your Inbox is probably filling up with invitations to join everything from box pools to live drafts to auctions to keepers hosted by the likes of Yahoo, ESPN, CBS and Office Pools.
My first advice is to decide how many leagues you want to be in and what type of leagues your schedule allows for. Know your limits and play within them.
Personally, I’m in two keeper leagues, both with CBS, and I typically join a couple box pools or rotisserie types closer to the season as time permits.
I’m a commissioner in the one keeper, which is really deep and advanced, featuring an auction, salary cap, contract extensions, rookie draft, etc., designed to replicate the role of an actual NHL GM in a head-to-head format. It is quite demanding but a fantasy experience second to none.
The other keeper is also H2H but offers a different appeal with a broader range of scoring categories and less emphasis on roster management or fiscal responsibility.
Box pools are the easiest and recommended option for beginners or those unable to commit time out of every day to maintain and improve their team.
Live drafts were all the rage until auctions came along in recent years, but both require quick thinking and difficult decisions in an intense atmosphere. If you enjoy live drafts and have never tried an auction, you really ought to give it a shot this season.
Keeper leagues are for the real hardcores who have a wealth of hockey knowledge and ample time on their hands. They can feel like a part-time job, and you almost have to make your team your baby in order to achieve success.
Regardless of the format, the same sentiment rings true: The more you put into it, the more you are likely to get out of it.
That makes for the perfect segue into my 10 Ways To Be A Better Fantasy GM:
1) Do Your Homework
Know what you are getting yourself into as far as the league setup and rules, so you can draft accordingly. If shots and hits are categories, for example, then Alex Ovechkin might be a better pick than Sidney Crosby.
Research, research, research. Never go in blind no matter how much of an “expert” you are. Twitter is as good a resource as any.
Every host website has different player rankings and projections, so familiarize yourself with them. Chances are, there will be some oddities as well as hidden gems.
2) Show Up To The Draft
I cannot stress this enough, especially for live drafts and auctions. Draft day is the most important day on the fantasy calendar and you need to be in attendance or you’ll be starting from a disadvantage.
Don’t put your trust in a robot under any circumstances, not even if you have pre-ranked your players. You won’t be happy with the results and you will be playing catch-up from the opening puck-drop.
3) Have A Plan . . . And A Back-Up Plan
As part of your research and preparation, make lists of who you want to pick and who you want to avoid. If it is an auction, make a budget for how much you are willing to spend on each player or position. Do the math and calculate the number of total players to be picked at each position, then make sure your lists match those totals.
Note the plural on lists, as in more than one, because live drafts and auctions rarely go according to script. If your desired targets are plucked from under your nose, say with the previous pick, you need to have a Plan B to prevent panic mode from taking over.
4) Stick To Your Plan(s)
Don’t waver from your lists as tough as that might be. There’s always temptations on draft day and you can get away from the game plan in a hurry if you aren’t careful.
Auctions are the worst for this because bidding wars are inevitable, and before you know it, your budget can be blown. Try to stay calm and carry on. Don’t get caught up in the moment.
5) Don’t Play Favourites
Draft with your head over your heart. Remember that the third liner on your NHL team probably isn’t a better pick than another team’s second-liner. If you have two players ranked equally, go with your gut, but if one is slightly ahead on your list, go that route or you’ll regret it later.
Don’t discriminate or boycott players off rival NHL teams. I’m a huge hypocrite on that front as I’ve always had a “no Flames” rule for better or worse. I’ve rejected several quality trade offers over the years, but admittedly that stubbornness goes against my better judgment and common sense.
6) Treat It Like Real Life
Take your role as a fantasy GM seriously and make your team a priority. If you aren’t, you can bet that somebody (if not everybody) else in your league is and the results will reflect that.
If you can’t be a dedicated GM, then don’t bother signing up for serious leagues, or any requiring an entry fee. Nobody wants to be a donator, but that’s exactly what you’ll become if you aren’t doing everything in your power to keep up with the competition.
7) Be Active And Proactive
Picking your team is only half the battle, especially in leagues with daily lineups. Once the season begins, make your presence felt. Constantly scour the waiver wire, watch for player updates and pay attention to moves made by your peers. Post on the message board and update your trading block.
If you see a need, be it short-term or long-term, address it ASAP. If you sit on your hands, somebody is going to beat you to the punch.
8) Maximize Your Games Played
This is a very underrated element of fantasy hockey. If your league utilizes daily lineups, bench players and injured reserve, you absolutely must stay on top of things. Forgetting to set your lineup is a cardinal sin. You are leaving potential points on the board and that can (and often will) come back to haunt you.
If a player is hurt or sick and expected to miss even a single game, get him on the IR and grab a temporary replacement from the waiver wire. If a player is sent to the minors, strongly consider swapping him out as well. Don’t waste roster spots on inactive players for the simple reasoning that any stats are better than no stats.
If your league tracks total Games Played, which I know CBS does, it’s no coincidence that the winners often lead the way in that category. Through four seasons in our big keeper, I’m fairly certain that has been the case every year.
9) Never Give Up
If you fall behind in the standings, stay the course and at least do the bare minimum to keep your roster respectable and competitive. Nobody likes a quitter and when a GM throws in the towel, especially in H2H leagues, they’re not just hurting themselves but the league as a whole. So don’t be THAT guy (or girl).
Keep setting your lineup, keep responding to trade offers and keep checking for waiver-wire upgrades. Don’t make buddy deals, don’t bench your best players and don’t ruin it for the rest.
It’s a long season, a marathon not a sprint, so even if you’re in last place at Christmas, you’ve still got a chance.
10) Have Fun
Above all else, this is No. 1. It’s a fine line when it comes to taking fantasy hockey serious but not too serious. At the end of the day, this is just a game, a cheap form of entertainment, and it’s not worth jeopardizing friendships over petty disagreements.
It’s vital to establish working relationships with your rival GMs in order to gain their trust for future dealings. You don’t want to make enemies or you’ll lose trading partners. So try to be fair in all aspects and treat others as you’d like to be treated. There’s a difference between talking trash in a playful manner and insulting someone’s intelligence. Pick your spots for poking fun and know when to leave it well enough alone. Keep it light and you should be all right.
Larry Fisher is a sports reporter for The Daily Courier in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. Follow him on Twitter: @LarryFisher_KDC.