Hockey – it’s one of the most majestic sports on the planet, yet has one of the smallest fan bases, especially when compared to the three other major sports in the US. One of the reasons for this is that it is hard to follow. Those of us that watch the sport religiously probably have some tie to it somehow or another, which makes the game very easy to understand. For those who rarely watch the game, it can look like the guys on the ice do not know what they are doing at all times. The high speeds at which the game is played, combined with the rules that a new spectator would scratch their head at, make this one of the tougher sports to get to know. Don’t worry, though, I am here to help!
Welcome to my hockey 101 feature! In the following sections and articles, I am going to take you through all of the basics of hockey, and then how to relate this information over to DFS. Many factors come into how to play DFS hockey, and we will get to that later on. The first thing I will say is to watch a few games here or there. It can get a little wild, take your breath away, and keep you on the edge of your seat for the entire game. In the end, you may just become a fan for life, and who knows, maybe we can help you win some money in your new-found love of hockey.
The NHL consists of 31 teams, soon to be 32 (they have approved a team for Seattle in the 2020 season). Some of the more famous teams you have already heard of, and it is likely that you have a team at least somewhere near you. The NHL started out with an “Original Six” that included the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, and New York Rangers. Often, you will hear “original six” and these team names in the same breath. Over the years, the original six continued to expand. The first NHL expansion was six teams, doubling the size of the league, and bringing in the St. Louis Blues, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota North Stars, and the Oakland Seals. Over the years, teams have relocated, and the league has expanded now to (soon-to-be) 32 teams.
The 31 NHL teams are divided into 2 conferences, East and West, and then further divided into divisions. In the Eastern Conference, you have the Atlantic and Metropolitan divisions. In the Western Conference, you have the Pacific and Central divisions. Over a season, a team plays 82 regular season games. They play their division teams at least four times through the season, and will play every team in the league at least twice, once at home and once on the road. Each team plays 41 games on the road and 41 in their home arena.
NHL games are 60 minutes long, divided into three 20-minute periods. Between each period, there is a 17-minute intermission. If, after 60 minutes of play, the score is tied, the game will go to a five minute 3-on-3 overtime period. This overtime period is sudden death, so whoever scores first wins. If there are no goals scored in the five-minute overtime period, the teams go into a shootout. During the shootout, each team sends one skater in on the opposing goalie uncontested (penalty shot, essentially). Each team has three chances, and these chances are similar to baseball’s innings. If the first skater scores, the second one has a chance to tie the shootout score. After three rounds, if the shootout score is still tied, the teams continue the shootout in sudden death format, and go until someone scores, winning the game.
There are no ties in hockey. A team’s record consists of wins, losses, and overtime losses. A team is awarded 2 points for a win, 1 point for an overtime loss, and no points for a loss in regulation. Throughout the season, the team will accumulate these points. At the end of the season, the division winners are based on the number of points. Each of the top three teams in each division automatically qualify for the playoffs, based on the number of points they accumulated through the year. From there, the next two best teams (points-wise) in each conference qualify for the two wildcard spots. There are 8 teams in each conference that go to the playoffs and 16 teams total.
Each team consists of forwards, defensemen, and goalies. I will get more in-depth about these in the upcoming section. The forwards’ roles consist of multiple aspects of the game, but their primary role is to score points. The defensemen are there to help defend their zone and net, and are less likely to score, but can play a large role in setting up scoring plays. The goaltender’s only job is to stop pucks from entering the net.
In a game, a team can have no more than 5 skaters on the ice at one time, unless they pull their goalie (we will get to that in the goalie section). If they are caught with more than 5 skaters on the ice at once, they will be assessed a bench minor, which is a 2:00 penalty. At times, the LINES
Each team has four forward lines and three defensive pairs. Outlined below is how they are set up.
A forward line consists of two wingers and a center. If looking at a faceoff at center ice, the center will line up to actually try to win the faceoff, while the wingers are lined up to the center’s left and right.
Generally speaking (but can vary), the first line is considered the best offensive combination on the team. They are responsible mainly for the scoring.
The second line can be responsible for defensive needs or scoring as well, depending on the team.
The third line is generally considered the defensive line.
The fourth line is considered the “energy line” and you will not see a ton of them until the top three lines need some rest.
**It is very important to note that this is not how every team sets up their lines. They vary team-by-team, and based on the coaches or talent levels.
For DFS purposes, usually only the top three lines are considered to be in play, with some exceptions.
Each of the defensive pairs skate a majority of their time together, and are considered separate from the forward lines. For example, defensive pair 1 will skate a lot of the time with forward line 1, but may also see some ice time with the second line or even energy line, depending on the flow of the game. Many times, defensive pairs are rotated to mainly keep them fresh, but certain scenarios call for certain defensive pairs.
Defensive Pair 1 is considered the top defensive guys on the team.
Defensive Pair 2 is considered a good pair, but may not be out there in clutch situations.
Defensive Pair 3 is almost looked at as an energy pair, but can be out there for a good part of the game.
**Just like the forwards, this is not a hard and fast setup. Each team is different and has different strategies on how to play their opponent.
During every game, lines will rotate. While watching a game, you may see the guys from one team clear the puck out of their defensive zone and then all skate over to the bench while players from the bench jump onto the ice. This is a line change. There are multiple reasons that teams change their lines. The primary reason is because it would be impossible for a player to skate 60 full minutes and actually be any good. In fact, the normal hockey player, even professional, is dog tired after about a minute and a half on the ice in a hard shift. The other reasons teams change their lines is to get certain matchups that the coach wants to exploit. They can create plus matchups for their teams, thus affording them better opportunities to score.
One very, very important note about line changes is that the home team is always allowed to change last. This means that the home team can dictate the matchup on the ice by seeing who their opponent has put out there. For example, if a coach for a team on home ice sees that the third line has come out on the ice for the visitor, he can then put whichever line he wants out there to play against them. If the coach sees a scoring opportunity, he could put his top line out, or if he wants to play his third line against theirs, he can do that, too. While all of this sounds confusing, it is easy to grasp, once you start looking at it, and there will be a whole section dedicated to line matching later in this feature.
Goalies are considered the crazy bunch in hockey. I mean, it takes a little bit of crazy to be able to stand in front of a little frozen rubber disk that is coming at you at speeds of up to 100mph. These guys are one of the most, if not the most important players on a team. They are the last line of defense for a team. If the skaters on the ice are all doing their jobs, but the goalie is giving up goals left and right, the team stands no chance to win. On the opposite end of the spectrum, a goalie can pick his team up if they are playing poorly by making massive saves in clutch situations.
Goalies are generally on the ice for the entire game, except in some situations where the team is trying to tie the game. Teams are allowed to pull their goalie in favor of a sixth skater. In doing so, they leave their net empty, but have a 6-on-5 advantage for the time that the goalie is off of the ice. Generally speaking, you only see this late in the third period for a team who is down a goal, sometimes two. They are trying to press on the offensive side and score the tying goal(s). Sometimes this works, but most of the time, it results in an empty-net goal for the other team, who virtually seals the victory by scoring.
GOALS – a goal is credited when the puck fully crosses the goal line, between the posts of the net. When a puck completely goes into the net, the goal is then credited to the last person to touch the puck on the attacking team. For example, if a shot comes in from the point in the offensive zone, but is tipped in by someone right in front of the net, the goal goes to the attacking skater who tipped it. If the same shot hits off of a defensive player and into the net, it is considered a goal for whoever shot it from the point.
ASSISTS – an assist is a play that helped the goal scoring player put the puck in the net. Assists can be awarded to players who pass the puck to their line-mate who scores a goal, or anyone who touches the puck prior to the puck going in. Each goal scored can have a maximum of TWO assists awarded. Example: Player A passes to Player B, who passes to Player C, who then shoots the puck towards the net. There is a rebound, and Player D shoots the puck into the net for a goal. In this situation, Player D gets credit for the goal, while Player B and Player C are each credited for an assist.
Line matching in hockey is something that each coach does to create the better matchups for their team. Some coaches prefer to put lines together that are considered shutdown lines, while others consolidate their scoring onto one big line. Shutdown lines have the ability to score, but their main focus is to defend the opposing line. Scoring lines generally have three very talented players together on one line and get the majority of their scoring from their scoring line. Good examples of scoring lines are Boston’s top line and Colorado’s top line. Some of the best lines in hockey are good at both scoring and shutting down the opponent.
In the NHL, the home team gets the last line change. Basically, when the away team puts a line on the ice during a stoppage, the home team is then given the opportunity to put whatever personnel on the ice to go against the away team. This is very, very important, because we can use this knowledge to determine who plays against who in a given night. With this information, you can look at the home team and determine which of their four lines will match a given opposing line throughout. If a team hard matches all of their lines, then it would look something like this:
Home team L1 v. Away team L1
Home team L2 v. Away team L2
Home team L3 v. Away team L3
Some teams will match the second line to the opposition top line at home, while others’ the third, and some teams don’t even line match at all. More about line matching can be found in the DFS portion of this feature, as it is an extremely important portion of playing DFS hockey.
Various penalties can be assessed throughout the course of a game. Penalties in hockey result in manpower advantages and disadvantages. There are different types of penalties, but we will not go through all of them. For more, you can search for the NHL rule book to see the various penalties that can occur within the game.
Types of penalties include minors, double minors, majors, and misconducts. Of the four types of penalty, three of them affect manpower on the ice. For example, if a team is penalized with a minor, the most common penalty of the game, they lose the offending player for two minutes. During that two minutes, the team can only play with four guys. If the opposing team scores within those two minutes, the power play is over and the teams return to 5v5 hockey. For a double minor, the penalty is four minutes shorthanded, and a major is five minutes shorthanded, but the power play team can score at will on a major.
Penalties are a somewhat complicated part of the game, so we will not go too in depth on these. The main thing to remember is what is a power play and what is a penalty kill?
A power play is when a team has one or two more guys than the other team for a specific amount of time as a result of a penalty. During this time, the team on the power play generally has more puck possession and has an advantage. Teams that have good power plays generate more goals this way, so it is important to know who has a good power play.
Conversely, a penalty kill is when a team is shorthanded and is trying to defend the opposing team who has a manpower advantage. During this time, the penalty killing team can clear the puck out of their zone without being charged icing, and they have a specific amount of time to kill where they are trying to prevent the other team from scoring. On a penalty kill, you can have three or four guys on the ice, never less, never more. Teams that have good penalty kills shut down opposing power plays by preventing them from scoring goals.
Many different statistics are used in hockey. Below is an outline of the statistics that are most important, and also relate to DFS.
Skaters can be credited with the following statistics, as it pertains to DFS hockey: goals, assists, shots, blocked shots.
Goalies can be credited with the following statistics, as it pertains to DFS hockey: saves, wins, shutouts. (*On DK ONLY, goalies can also be credited with assists).
Thank you for reading, part 2 will feature more DFS breakdown!