Which fantasy hockey league is right for you?

Looking to play fantasy hockey? Here's how our leagues work, so you can watch Igor Shesterkin help your team win. Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

So you've decided to take the fantasy hockey plunge, joining millions of others in enjoying one of the sporting world's best game within a game. Welcome. Or perhaps you've already waded through these puck-friendly fantasy waters and feel inspired to dive into a different type of pool. Preseason greetings to you too. Either way, leaving other customizable options (roster size, lineup rules, bench flexibility, IR spots etc.) alone for now, here's a rundown of ESPN.com's variety of fantasy hockey leagues, available to suit any taste.

H2H Points

The most popular game in ESPN's fantasy hockey universe pits individual managers against others in weekly head-to-head fisticuffs with a slew of weighted points at stake. Most total points wins the week 1-0 - no fuss, no muss. While always customizable to your own statistical taste, our default 12-category game presents as follows:

  • Goals (G) 2

  • Assists (A) 1

  • Power Play Points (PPP) .5

  • Short Handed Points (SHP) .5

  • Shots on Goal ( SOG) .1

  • Hits (HIT) .1

  • Blocked Shots (BLK) .5

  • Goaltender Wins (W) 4

  • Goals Against (GA) -2

  • Saves (SV) .2

  • Shutouts (SO) 3

  • Overtime Losses (OTL) 1

In stride with this formula, skaters who shoot regularly, score plentifully, and contribute often on the power play, qualify as fantasy royalty. But those characters are limited in number. Once the elite are spoken for, especially on larger fantasy rosters, there's much to appreciate about prolific shot-blockers who also chip in on offense on occasion. Think New York defender Jacob Trouba. An evening's haul including an assist, three hits, four shots, and three blocked, and - without much obvious fantasy fanfare - the Rangers' newly minted captain is 3.1 fantasy points to the good. An above-average haul by any fantasy measure.

Furthermore, not unlike in the living, breathing game itself, goaltending matters. There are too many fantasy points at stake - in the red and black - to pooh-pooh the position. While having good goaltending won't ensure a triumphant turn by April, rolling out sub-mediocre players on weak teams most certainly guarantees the opposite. Doesn't matter who you have up front. Pay the role proper mind, or pay a sad fantasy price.

In considering any player, spending a few moments in assessing the individual, by doing a little bit of simple arithmetic - what is their potential fantasy sum? - is the most sure-fire way to earn rich fantasy dividends in H2H points leagues. Whether it's during the draft or in evaluating free agent/trade commodities through the season.

H2H Categories

Varying from the H2H points formula, so-called "each" category leagues also maintain a committed, loyal following. Managers engaged in this style of contest, where stat egalitarianism reigns, are best served by striving for competitive balance. Each category, in direct head-to-head competition, is equal to each other in that goals, hits, blocked shots, whatever-your-fantasy-fancy etc. counts towards the week's final score, accruing over the course of the season. You've earned 31 shots on goal and your opponent has 30? You win that category, full stop.

Again, margin of victory in individual categories, large or small, matters not. Beating your competitor in hits by a singular check carries equal weight to obliterating them in goals. Since defeating your direct rival 10-2 in a 12 category format is a significantly bigger victory than edging them 6-5-1, you want to give yourself a competitive chance in all/most aspects of the fantasy game. Top-tier, well-rounded players are extra valuable in battling for a favorable blowout, especially on small rosters. For example, Ottawa's Brady Tkachuk checks a bunch of valuable boxes, night in and night out, in fantasy leagues that reward both scoring and physical play. Loading up on specialists in one category is much less useful than in other forms of H2H play. A balanced smorgasbord of skilled contributors in all aspects of the game will provide you with the greatest chance of campaign-long success.

H2H Most Categories

This type of league operates in similar fashion to "each" category competition except - and this is a Zdeno Chara-sized exception - whichever manager emerges with the weekly victory wins 1-0. You win the week or you lose it, regardless of final tally. A 6-5-1 win is just as good as 12-0. In this case, the strategy of loading up on players who satisfy most stats, as opposed to striving for balance across the fantasy board, has merit. If you're rocking out in eight or nine of 12 categories, maybe don't sweat penalty minutes, or time-on-ice or the like too much. Securing a few "slam-dunk" categories at the expense of one or two others makes greater sense in this particular brand of fantasy play. Please don't draft a singular skater with an impressive plus/minus at the expense of nailing down shots on net. You're only increasing your odds of losing both categories.

It also bears repeating: Goaltenders cannot be shrugged off in any brand of H2H league, including this type, when more than two categories are devoted to the position. Please don't try to convince yourself otherwise.

Rotisserie (Roto)

Interested in a slow-burn, largely unforgiving league that can't be won in the first few months of the season but certainly can be lost? Willing to accept the challenge of assembling a roster with little margin for weakness, similar to how it's done IRL? Then this brand of fantasy play might be for you. As with H2H Categories competition, constructing and maintaining a balanced fantasy squad is vital in Roto leagues. Only more so. In direct competition with every other manager at all times, striving for a share of points available based on standings in individual categories, squandering one or two can prove catastrophically costly.

Sitting top spot in goals or ATOI or hits etc. in a 12-team/10-category league translates into 12 of a possible 12 points. Sitting dead last converts into a single point. That's a massive gap. Which is why ranking worst or near-bottom in a couple of stats, and subsequently earning only a point or two of a maximum of 12, is difficult to overcome, regardless of how well you're faring otherwise. By no means a gateway league, Roto competition best suits managers with strong fantasy stomachs. But that also means victory, when achieved, tastes all the sweeter after such a season-long grind.

Season Points

The ESPN.com version that most closely resembles the lesser-nuanced game of your elders, where everyone gathered at the pub for an evening, armed with a pen, paper, and magazine, and selected their players for the year. Teams accrued points based on scoring and goaltending, and whichever side finished with the highest total, won. Bob (Gainey)'s your uncle.

Of course, there are many ways to cyber-customize your points league with other categories, trades, free-agent acquisitions, roster limits, and varying lineup adjustment windows. Daily, weekly, yearly (set-it-and-forget-it) - it's up to you. But the founding philosophy remains the same: the best overall team by season's end sports the crown. While this style of league lacks the charm of despising another individual manager over seven exclusive days in head-to-head combat, it - unlike classic roto leagues - serves as an excellent introduction for newbie managers to get their feet wet. Especially those who don't want to devote as much time, at least to start.

Dynasty/Keeper vs. Single Season

There are advantages to both. While dynasty/keeper competition is more kindred to how real teams are run - management doesn't get to start from scratch every year in the NHL - with redraft leagues, there's the benefit of enjoying a clean slate the following season, no matter how badly a current campaign is unfolding. But there's inarguably a greater sense of satisfaction with enjoying fantasy success on the blades of a roster built over time, from rebuild to peak performance. In stricter dynasty leagues, where few bodies move in or out, it's often nifty to maintain relationships with players from their rookie debuts, well into the veteran years - substantial commitment and all. For many then, keeper competition - middle ground between an all-in dynasty and turn-the-page redraft play - suits best. Selecting six to eight keepers every campaign is a common tact, still allowing for improvement from outside help at season's onset. No one's going to relinquish Connor McDavid as a keeper in 2023, but some very good players will inevitably re-enter the draft in these modified leagues.

Again, there's no right or wrong way to play ESPN.com fantasy hockey. Depending on how much time and energy you want to invest - from the bare minimum to managing your squad as a quasi part-time job - it's all about customizing whichever league feels most up your own fantasy alley. And enjoying this great game through a fun bonus lens from late summer until it all wraps up in the spring.

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