Kukla's Korner

Know Your Opponents; A Draft Day Gambit

Sun Tzu may not have coached in the National Hockey League, but his Art of War contains a nugget of wisdom that any NHL head coach would be wise to follow: “One who knows the enemy and knows himself will not be in danger in a hundred battles”.  Fantasy hockey managers need to heed this warning as well; knowing the preferences and tendencies of your competition can help identify opportunities to land that one additional player at the position you need to make your fantasy hockey team a success.  It takes some cold calculation and a bit of daring, but the reward can outweigh the risk…

Most fantasy leagues use a serpentine draft order, where the 1st team in the odd rounds is the last team in the even rounds, reversing the order with each pick.  For the manager who is drafting in that 2nd or 3rd spot from either end, every 2nd round presents a scenario wherein their pick is followed by 2 picks from only 1 or two other managers, after which he’ll get another selection.  Understanding how those competitors are likely to act can help inform a more effective decision early on.  Let’s take a look at a fictional example.

Fantasy manager Johnny Suntzu is drafting in a 12-team league, split simply between Forwards, Defense and Goalies, and is drafting 10th in the first round (and thus 3rd in the second and succeeding even-numbered rounds).  He’s followed by Gordie Maplesyrup in the 11th spot, a diehard Canadian fan who loves his hometown Hamilton Blackberries, and Vinnie Bigapple, a big-city hockey nut who thinks the entire league revolves around his favorite rivalry between the Gotham Goombahs and his beloved Metro Maulers.  So as we approach the end of the 3rd round, Johnny’s cheat sheet looks like this:

 Forwards TeamTotal Rank  Draft Order Selection
 Ilya Ilyavitch Gotham53  J. Suntzu 
 Eddie Erp Hamilton56  G. Maplesyrup 
 Alfie Arnason Las Vegas65  V. Bigapple 
 Viktor Vantzit Saskatoon68  V. Bigapple 
 Uwe Uwe Seattle74  G. Maplesyrup 
 Claude Couscous Quebec75  J. Suntzu 
 Floyd Farpo Hamilton79   
 Henrik Heinie Metro79   

So what’s Johnny Suntzu to do?  Presented with this list of 8 players, how can he maximize his next two picks?  Recalling that Gordie Maplesyrup is a Hamilton homer, and that Vinne Bigapple can’t stand the Gotham Goombahs, what Johnny may want to do here is draft Eddie Erp first.  His projected value is very close to that of Ilya Ilyavitch, and it sets up an opportunity to get additional value with his later pick.  With Eddie Erp off the board, it’s a pretty safe bet that Gordie will use one of his two upcoming picks on Floyd Farpo, the other prominent player left from his hometown team, and that Vinne Bigapple will use one of his two picks on Henrik Heinie, the star of his Metro Maulers.  That means that the worst Johnny will do on his next selection is Viktor Vantzit; and out of the top 8 players left on his board, he came away with #2 and #4 (Tot Rank 56 & 68), despite picking 1st and 6th in this example.

If he had taken the more straightforward route of selecting the best player available (Ilya Ilyavitch) first, what would likely have happened?  Well, Gordie would have happily snapped up Eddie Erp, and with his next selection, wouldn’t feel compelled to reach down for Floyd Farpo, since he already has a hometown star. 

 Draft Order SelectionTot Rank Draft Order SelectionTot Rank
 J. Suntzu Erp56 J. Suntzu Ilyavitch53
 G. Maplesyrup Ilyavitch53 G. Maplesyrup Erp56
 V. Bigapple Arnason65 V. Bigapple Arnason65
 V. Bigapple Heinie79 V. Bigapple Heinie79
 G. Maplesyrup Farpo79 G. Maplesyrup Vantzit68
 J. Suntzu Vantzit68 J. Suntzu Uwe74
 Suntzu Total: 124  127

Using this gambit, then, Johnny Suntzu walked away with slightly better value than would have been the case with a typical, best-on-the-board strategy, by leveraging his knowledge of Gordie and Vinnie’s preferences.

It’s important to note that this situation only really applies to those drafting near, not at, the beginning and ends of a round.  If you’re getting the last/first consecutive picks, then everybody in your league will pick twice before it comes around to you again, and with so many picks taking place these opportunities to take advantage of individual preferences simply shouldn’t occur.  Similarly, if you’re stuck in the middle of the draft order, you’ll have anywhere from 5-9 other managers picking twice between your selections, so again, the choice pickings are likely to get swiped up.  I should also warn that this is a dangerous game to play, and that a few caveats apply:

1)  You should be comfortable with whoever you’re taking as that 2nd-best choice early on; it should be a case of picking between two equals, not reaching down to try and make a play;
2)  Take into consideration which players your opponents have chosen.  They may already have satisfied their personal preferences and won’t overdo it;
3)  Some fantasy hockey managers check their sentimentality at the door, and save their homerism for the late-round roster fillers.  Look for the guy who wears his jersey to the draft and groans as other managers pick his favorites ahead of him.

With those guidelines in mind, keep an eye out for this type of situation to pop up during your upcoming draft.  It may pop up just once, but when it does, it may provide the chance to garner that extra bit of value that puts your team ahead of the pack.  And don’t forget the second half of Sun Tzu’s dictum; “know yourself” as well.  Keep in mind how your biases are affecting your decisions, and don’t be the guy that others are taking advantage of.  Like I’ve mentioned before, save those homer picks for the very late rounds, where they won’t burn you badly if they perform poorly.  Besides, it’s more fun cheering for your favorite 3rd-line mucker to contribute to your fantasy team than your hometown star; the expectations are lower and it makes the rewards that much more enjoyable.

Filed in: Fantasy Hockey, | On the Forecheck | Permalink


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