If you enjoy fantasy hockey and are willing to put your money where your mouth — or, rather, your mind — is, then you need to discover Draft Kings.
This new daily sports betting sensation offers free games as well, but the thrill is taken to another level altogether once you pay to play. This isn’t an endorsement for gambling as much as it is entertainment, but the two go hand-in-hand if done with moderation. As the slogan goes, know your limits and play within them.
What is Draft Kings?
Fantasy hockey is constantly evolving and Draft Kings is truly the next generation. It incorporates the best of both worlds — from rotisserie and head-to-head leagues — and allows you to pick new players on a daily basis. Everybody ices a 9-man roster comprised of 2 centres, 3 wingers, 2 defencemen, 1 goaltender and 1 utility positional player (C/W/D) on a $50,000 salary cap. You can change your lineup on the fly, up until one minute before the start of each game. Then the puck drops and chaos ensues.
The scoring system features several weighted categories, from goals and assists to shots and saves. Like it or not, goals are worth more than assists (3 fantasy points to 2). Even shootout goals are worth a fraction of a point, while a hat trick tacks on another 1.5 points to your total. It all adds to the fun factor, and the best part is the scoring is tracked in real time.
There are more than a handful of different formats or game types, from challenging a friend or stranger in head-to-head, to joining a league with thousands of randoms. Some are 50-50, meaning half the total entrants get paid, while others are multipliers where the top teams triple or even 10-times their buy-in.
Entry fees can range from as little 25 cents to as much as $1,000, with plenty of $1, $2, $5 and $10 games every day. Of course, the more you bet, the more you stand to win for the most part.
How I Got Hooked
I’m still new to the game, having just signed up this week after hearing friends claim of “easy money” and then seeing a link on Twitter from Allan Mitchell (aka Lowetide). I read the rules, it sounded like a good time with a low-risk and potentially high-reward, so I took the bait and clicked Enter here.
I finally got my first “big” win on Friday, finishing first overall in a 25-team league with a $1 buy-in that returned $6.75. Cha-ching! For those curious, Ryan Johansen and Curtis McElhinney keyed my victory as Columbus clobbered St. Louis 7-1, while Patrick Kane, Jaromir Jagr, Duncan Keith, Dustin Byfuglien, T.J. Oshie, Rickard Rakell and Jonathan Toews chipped in with smaller contributions. Toews was shockingly shutout, held without so much as a shot on goal while playing in his hometown of Winnipeg, but fortunately others picked up the slack for him.
The full slate days — typically Thursday and Saturday — are always the most intense because with so many NHL games, anything can happen in fantasy. There is a luck factor to single-day betting, but that element will work for and against you over time.
Overall, I’m breaking even through five days of playing a few games per night. It’s a nice little distraction from my two keeper leagues where I’m out of the regular-season money but have secured playoff spots in both, thus just fine-tuning my rosters in preparation for that second season.
Where It All Began
This phenomenon of fantasy hockey was born about 30 years ago when a group of guys would gather in the same room to pick their teams. They would watch the games on their boob-tube TVs and wait until the weekly stats update was published in their local newspaper, then bust out their trusty calculators to tally the points and post the results on a bulletin board somewhere in town.
The Internet took fantasy hockey to the next level in the mid-1990s when Officepools.com became the go-to drafting website. Rotisserie was still the only format and the majority of leagues were points only.
Then Yahoo came along, offering a head-to-head experience and live online drafting rather than in-person. You could do daily transactions at the click of a mouse, which appealed to the masses as more and more people started playing.
By the turn of the century, keeper leagues were popping up and becoming the preferred option for hardcores — I joined my first keeper exactly a decade ago.
I believe CBS Sports was the first to implement a salary-cap system and an Auction style of drafting. If you’ve never participated in an Auction draft, you really need to try it and I’d bet you won’t go back.
All these advancements led us to where we are today, with Draft Kings taking the torch and running with it over the last year.
It is only a matter of time — possibly as early as next season — until advanced statistics are introduced as fantasy categories. Yes, we’re talking Corsi and Fenwick, among others, so it’s imperative you gain an understanding of them or risk getting left in the dust sooner than later.
With their inclusion, two former staples — plus-minus and penalty minutes — could be facing extinction. Plus-minus has long been considered arbitrary, and penalty minutes no longer packs the same punch now that fighting is also going the way of the dinosaur. Don’t be surprised if your leagues end up making those swaps in the not-too-distant future.
It’ll be an adjustment for everybody, but it’ll ultimately leave less to chance as these relatively new stats are based on measurable data and consistencies. You can totally build a team around players with impressive PDO numbers or Corsi percentages and expect to see positive results more often than not. It is proven — scientific, really — and it’s about to drastically change the way we play fantasy games again.
Larry Fisher is a sports reporter for The Daily Courier in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. Follow him on Twitter: @LarryFisher_KDC.