DFS: How to play and strategies for daily fantasy hockey

By Sasha Yodashkin, RotoWire

Special to Yahoo Sports

With the NHL's Oct. 12 Opening Night right around the corner, it's time to start preparing for another season of Yahoo Daily Fantasy Hockey. The focus of this column will primarily be on multi-game formats, but please scroll to the bottom if you're looking for tips pertaining to single-game contests, which will run throughout the 2021-22 NHL campaign after debuting late last season.

Before we go any further, let's review the rules:

Your lineup is constrained by the contest's salary cap and will consist of two goalies, two centers, three wingers, and two defensemen. No more than six players from a single team are allowed in one lineup, and at least three different NHL teams must be represented. Note that while some other formats only have one goalie slot and a non-goalie utility slot, Yahoo features two goalies and no UTIL.

As for scoring, skaters get six points for a goal, four for an assist, two points for each positive plus-minus rating point (and minus-2 for each negative), 0.9 points per shot, one point for a blocked shot, and two points for a power-play point. Goalies get five points for a win, minus-3 for each goal against, 0.6 per save, and five for a shutout.

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Yahoo offers a variety of different payout formats, but their contests can be divided into two broad categories: Guaranteed Prize Pool Tournaments (GPP) and Cash Games. GPP contest payouts are top-heavy, with massive prizes for the top spots. Meanwhile, Cash Games pay out half (50/50s) or just under half (Double Ups) of the contestants, with every winner getting the same prize.

With the basics now out of the way, let's dive into some strategies and tips that can help you find DFS success on Yahoo.

Play the matchups

Arguably the most important aspect of building your DFS lineup is targeting favorable matchups. Managers who consistently picked skaters facing the Sabres (3.50 goals allowed per game) found a lot more success last season than those that tried to pick on the Golden Knights (2.18). The chalk matchups to target involve obvious favorites taking on significant underdogs, but oftentimes the best values can be found in high-scoring clashes between two bottom-feeders.

The Vegas Golden Knights
It was tough to score on the Vegas Golden Knights last season, so DFS players did capitalize when choosing forwards against them. (AP Photo/David Becker)

Betting lines and over/unders are key resources when trying to optimize your lineup, as those can help illuminate not only the largest favorites but also which games are likely to feature more scoring (good for picking skaters) and which ones are projected to be goalie-friendly defensive battles. In addition to being excellent sources of information as you craft your lineups, these lines should also help give you an idea of which teams other fantasy managers will be rostering.

Know your contest

DFS lineups are rarely one-size-fits-all, and different contest types require different approaches. For Cash Games, you're just aiming to beat a little more than half the competition, which requires maximizing your floor. Doing so means spending big on chalk plays in net and diversifying your lineup by picking players from a few different teams while focusing on expected favorites over against-the-grain options. Conversely, GPP lineups should maximize your ceiling. That means high-risk, high-reward moves are encouraged, as is stacking (more on that below).

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While you're generally picking forwards for offensive production regardless of contest type, the calculus changes when it comes to the blue line. Defensemen with high block totals can generally be relied upon for more consistent fantasy production, but you'll want to roll the dice on blueliners with more upside if your goal is to beat everybody (not just most).

Employ stacking

Stacking is a standard part of the repertoire for seasoned DFS players, and it's especially pivotal in Yahoo formats given the rewards for positive ratings. A lineup stack involves targeting multiple players from the same team and, more specifically, the same line. This is generally done to capitalize on favorable matchups but can also result in big GPP wins if you go with an against-the-grain stack that pays off. Keep in mind that you can also stack multiple members of the same power-play unit, which can allow you to include defensemen in your stack of choice. While winning GPP lineups often feature heavy stacks of three-plus teammates, feel free to lock in two, or even all three, members of a line in Cash Games, as well, if you feel confident enough in their matchup.

The Sabres and Sharks should remain popular choices to stack against, just as they were last year, and the Coyotes are expected to join them in that bottom tier, while teams like New Jersey and Ottawa have set their sights on escaping that territory. Conversely, elite offenses such as Colorado's and Tampa Bay's will often provide the backbone of DFS lineups, using up a large chunk of your salary in the process.

Don't be stubborn

It's important not to overreact to small sample sizes, but going too far in the other direction can also hold you back. Some early season trends are just small-sample flukes but others are signs of things to come, and identifying the latter for both individual players and teams can help give you an edge against opponents who are slower to adjust. For example, the Flyers allowed a league-high 3.52 goals per game last season after making the playoffs in 2019-20, but it took a while for forwards facing the Flyers to start getting salaried accordingly, so those who picked up on Philadelphia's defensive struggles early were able to reap the benefits.

Felix Sandstrom #32 of the Philadelphia Flyers tends net
Scoring against the Flyers came in bunches last season. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Similar opportunities often arise on an individual level, as well, as breakout players who get off to hot starts often don't have their salary adjusted immediately. At the same time, don't chase past production — if a veteran player suddenly sees a $5 bump in valuation after scoring a hat trick, the time to target him in your lineup has probably already come and gone.

Capitalize on shifting information

While being on top of popular trends can help you gain an advantage for a few days or weeks, there are micro trends to capitalize on for almost every individual contest. Once the player salaries for a contest have been revealed, they're set in stone. That means you'll often find deals due to developments that occur on the day of the contest. These bargains most often manifest in the form of affordable backup goalies getting starting nods for favored teams, but injuries that clear the path for bargain-bin skaters to take on larger roles aren't uncommon. Locking in a $10 forward that's being tossed onto the top line for a game helps you gain exposure to that team's top players while simultaneously maximizing your available salary cap room to spend on other positions. Goalie information can also swing both ways — if a team with an elite goalie is giving that player the night off, opposing skaters suddenly become more enticing.

Single-game contests

Unlike multi-game contests that include all games from a particular day or portion of the day, single-game contests require you to form a lineup based on two teams playing in a single game. Single-game lineups consist of one superstar spot that earns 1.5 times as many points and four flex options, all of which can be filled by players from any position but must include at least one skater from each team. You'll generally want to go with a goalie or elite skater as your superstar, and locking in goalies from both sides is often a smart play depending on the cost. In most circumstances, you'll want to skew the majority of your picks toward whichever team you believe will win, grabbing either the goalie and a cheap skater from the other team (or just the affordable skater). A common strategy for this type of contest is building a stars-and-scrubs-type lineup consisting of the game's top players and a couple of affordable options with whom you're hoping to catch lightning in a bottle.