Fantasy Hockey Draft Tips: Veterans vs. Youth

The Chicago Blackhawks won their 3rd cup in 6 years to cap off an amazing 2015-16 NHL season full of memorable goals, saves and plays. Now its time to do it all over again.

Understanding how each player is valued by other people can be extremely helpful in accomplishing your ultimate goal. In particular, there are many examples throughout the league where a player’s perceived value is nowhere near the true value he brings to your fantasy roster.

The most obvious factor that skews a player’s worth is his age. Of course, NHLers tend to show improvement early in their careers until they reach their prime years before eventually declining as they get older. Unfortunately, many people over-commit to this logic and make shortsighted decisions that hurt their fantasy teams.

Typically, veterans are skipped over at the draft out of fear that their inevitable career declines will be rapid. However, in many instances the drop-off happens much more slowly, especially with proven stars. Instead of keeping things in perspective many poolies are willing to go with younger, less productive alternatives.

Frankly, younger players also experience ups and downs. Year 2 was not very friendly to Nathan MacKinnon, was it? How about Jeff Skinner seeing his point total cut nearly in half last year? Yet somehow the older age group gets pushed down year after year. Here are some examples of veterans who were drafted later than they should have been, according to the outcome of Yahoo drafts this year:

Name Age Avg. Draft Pos 2014-15 Rank (Pts)
Jarome Iginla 38 117 54
Daniel Sedin 35 65 8
Henrik Sedin 35 82 10
Joe Thornton 36 140 26
Radim Vrbata 34 123 35

It should be noted that the average draft position is for all league formats, not just those based on points. The drafts also include defencemen and goalies. Forward positions play a role as well – centre is a deep position so they tend to stay on the board longer than wingers. Still, these examples illustrate a real trend of prolific veterans slipping far down draft boards.

Based on their respective productivity last year and their overall track records, the five veterans in the graphic above are viable fantasy options this year. Even if they decline a bit they will still provide you with solid, reliable contributions. If you are feeling lucky, you can even wait an extra round when a player in his mid-30s or older is at the top of your board. This will help maximize the total value of your selections at your fantasy draft.

As it turns out, the opposite does not hold true in drafts for one-year leagues as younger players tend not to get picked too early. While there will be instances in all drafts where someone will roll the dice on a potential breakout player, for the most part proven production will be prioritized until there are signs of decline.

This is a great year to observe how poolies react to the superstar rookie hype in one-year leagues for Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel. In Yahoo leagues, McDavid’s average draft position is 34 while Eichel’s is 123. Clearly people are not reaching for these two. As with all unproven players, you shouldn’t be afraid to select them. Just make sure you don’t reach. In fact, in this instance you could argue both of these players are staying on the board longer than they should, especially Eichel.

Still, there will be young players with a lot of potential available late in your draft. Most of them are at risk of not playing in the NHL at all this year, but possess a lot of upside if they do stick in the big league and get on a roll. Sure, there will be more proven options available even with your late picks, but similar players will be available on the waiver wire all year. Why not gamble on some boom/bust guys?

Most leagues allow a fairly high amount of signings and drops throughout the year. If you end up being wrong you can quickly move on to another fringe player with upside. Worst case scenario is you pick up the same caliber of proven depth player that would have been available at the end of your draft anyway.

The age bias also extends to the trade market. Given that one-year leagues are about immediate production, your up-and-comer will not have any trade value unless he is having a productive year, or at least a good stretch of games. If you feel this player’s numbers are unsustainable it’s a good opportunity to take advantage of your opponent and sell high.

On the flip side, there will be opportunities to buy low on veterans who start the year off slow. It takes some guts to pull the trigger on these deals. But if the vet has a proven history you should be rewarded. Keep this in mind when Iginla is slow out of the gate like he is most years.

The key point to remember is the need to understand how your opponents feel about different players in your fantasy league. In one-year leagues your window to improve your team is limited so you will have to seize every opportunity to give yourself the best chance to win. Knowing about the age bias or even knowing when to draft goalies can go a long way.

Follow Eric on Twitter (@DH_EricDaoust) and be sure to check out his Eastern Edge column at DobberHockey which covers a variety of fantasy hockey topics in the Eastern Conference. And as the perfect supplement to your Sportsnet Fantasy Guide check out Dobber’s 10th annual Fantasy Guide here.

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