LAFAYETTE, La. — The dog days of summer are thankfully coming to an end. Never mind the 100-degree temperatures across the southeast and the tropical systems dotting the Atlantic, y’all. October is right around the corner, and it’s high time to start picking your fantasy hockey teams.
I typically join a couple of NHL fantasy leagues run by fans around the SPHL and our website, usually with disastrous results. Last season, I decided to try something completely new and rope in my fellow TSB writers into a fantasy hockey league comprised of only SPHL players.
We kept the rules in this fledgling SPHL fantasy league extremely simple. We each selected three forwards, two defensemen, and a goalie before the start of the season; then we sat back and let the fantasy points rack up. I drafted the wrong Peoria goaltender and wound up playing runner-up to Dana Barker, and promptly sent him down to the Federal league.
Still, the concept of playing in an SPHL fantasy league turned out to be a lot of fun, and I decided to ramp up for season two. However, rule changes had to be made over the summer.
First, our initial seven-team league was in dire need of expansion. I want to thank my initial gang of Guinea Pigs (Barker, Brad Harrison, Matthew Harding, Anna Headley, Kori LaVire, and Ronald Hagood, Jr.) for playing along with this mad endeavor of mine.
Okay, I didn’t really demote Barksie to the FPHL. He’s more than welcome to defend his title. The title defense worked for the Huntsville Havoc last season, but I suspect Barker will not be as fortunate.
Nevertheless, we have some additions to our SPHL staff (Geoff Nichols, J.T. Russell, and photog Bill Kober) so our happy little league will now consist of 12 teams. We will have some openings available, and we’ll put out feelers soon so we can fill out our league.
Next, I felt the team size of five players was far too small, and the inability to make adjustments to rosters became a quick hindrance. Last year’s inaugural fantasy league was more experimental than functional. Variables like injuries, callups, and waivers were unaccounted for. This season, we’ll allow one roster change per week. Also, we will enable a couple of reserve spots on rosters to account for players getting called up or going on the injured list.
Finally, no fantasy league is complete without playoffs. We’ll let teams rack up fantasy points over the first 22 weeks of the season. Afterward, we’ll seed up the top eight teams and let them duke it out, mano y mano, for the postseason crown.
An eight-team playoff, you say? It’s the Southern (by God) Professional Hockey League, and eight-team playoffs are how we operate.
Unlike the league, who decided to forgo the two-year Challenge Round experiment in favor of traditional postseason bracketing, we’re going to keep the innovation alive in fantasy hockey.
Scoring in our little fantasy hockey league is pretty simple. Fantasy points are awarded for specific stats which players rack up during the season.
- Goals: 6 points
- Assists: 4 points
- Special Teams Points: 2 points
- Plus/Minus: 2 points
- Penalty Minutes: 0.5 points
- Shots: 0.9 points
- Goalie Wins: 5 points
- Goals Allowed: -3 points
- Saves: 0.6 points
- Shutouts: 5 points
Now that y’all know the basics of SPHL fantasy hockey, let’s get to the real reason why you clicked on the link.
Goaltenders Will Go Lightning Fast in the Draft
Four netminders went in the first round of last year’s draft. Harrison had the first overall pick last year and promptly went with Macon’s Jordan Ruby, who quickly went to the Greenville Swamp Rabbits.
Ruby seemed like a solid pick at the time, and the 2017 SPHL Playoff MVP racked up 16.4 points per appearance in his 12 starts last year. Had the Rublin Wall played in the SP all season, Harrison would have been on pace for 656 points from Ruby alone.
Even with Ruby’s gaudy projections, he would have finished the season as the second-best fantasy goaltender. The now-retired-and-fishing Mavric Parks was the workhorse for the Birmingham Bulls last season, leading all SPHL goaltenders in fantasy points with 678 points.
Hagood is still kicking himself for taking Mike DeLaVergne over the homer pick.
Fantasy hockey rewards goaltenders who are clear #1 starters on their teams are highly coveted. Look for Huntsville’s Max Milosek to go very high in our upcoming draft – if not the top overall pick. Milosek averaged 13.24 points per appearance last year – not quite Parks’ gaudy numbers, but Milosek should get 40 starts if he remains in the SP this season.
Even a goaltending stalwart from a team down in the standings can be a fantasy stud. Quad City’s Peter Di Salvo made 38 appearances, second-most in the league last season. Di Salvo wound up fourth in fantasy points among goalies with 396.8 points, which is what happens when you see more rubber than I-74.
Consistent Players are Fantasy Gold
Goaltenders are the most productive fantasy players on a per-game basis. However, skaters appear in far more games than their netminding teammates. In fantasy hockey, quantity often surpasses quality. Identifying players who embody both quantity and quality are rare commodities.
Extremely rare. Only five players have scored over 300 fantasy points in each of the last three seasons. Three (Jake Hauswirth, Jake Trask, and John Siemer) have since retired. Huntsville’s Sy Nutkevitch and Peoria’s Alec Hagaman are the only two active players remaining.
Over the last three seasons, Nutkevitch (picked by Harding in the 2nd round last season) racked up 435.3, 488.8, and 385.1 points.
In Harding’s defense, he picked Trask in the first round.
Hagaman, picked by me with the last pick of the first round, scored 598.9, 651.6, and 342.2 points since the 2016-17 season. Hagaman led all drafted players in fantasy points last season.
I’ll be highly surprised if Nutkevitch and Hagaman don’t go in the first round.
If you’re curious, the best-ever fantasy season belongs to Fayetteville FireAntz legend Rob Sich. His fantasy stats are downright insane.
63 Goals, 35 Assists, +19, 213 PIM, 42 ST Points, 290 Shots — 1,007.5 points. The SPHL was a much different league back in the day.
Take a Chance on a Rookie
Last season, a total of three rookies were picked in last year’s fantasy draft. Given the lack of data on newcomers to pro hockey, we mostly went with established players last season.
Who knew a rookie (Peoria’s Ben Blasko) would lead the SPHL in scoring last season? Had someone with incredible insight taken a chance on the Rivermen forward, Blasko would have rewarded them with 528.6 points last season.
Upwardly-mobile first-year players can stall your scoring, as Headley found out last season. She picked Pensacola’s Tanner Froese as the first rookie selection. Froese (6G/5A) split time in the ECHL last season between Atlanta and Idaho and only appeared in 22 SPHL games last season.
Despite being a hit-or-miss proposition, rookies can be instant fantasy producers. Over the last three seasons, at least eight newcomers scored at least 35 points. In addition to Blasko’s scoring title, Mississippi’s Mike Moran led the league in points-per-game in the 2016-17 season.
Consider rookies as deep sleeper picks in fantasy hockey. Pick correctly, and you’ll be greatly rewarded.
Finally, Who Will be the Ministers of Defense This Season?
Having a high-scoring defenseman on your fantasy squad can mark the difference between a mediocre team and a title contender. Like rookies, finding that defensive gem is an elusive quarry. Consider the top-three scoring defensive players in the SPHL over the past three seasons:
- Louis Belisle (50 pts.)
- Nick Schneider (40 pts.)
- Nolan Kaiser (35 pts.)
- Dave Pszenyczny (50 pts.)
- Daniel Gentzler (44 pts.)
- Stuart Stefan (42 pts.)
- Travis Jeke (38 pts.)
- Doug Rose (34 pts.)
- Garrett Schmitz / Nick Neville (33 pts.)
As you can see, not one name repeats as an elite-scoring blueliner over recent seasons. Furthermore, no defenseman surpassed the 40-point plateau last year. The 2018-19 season was a changing-of-the-guard of sorts, with the departures of defensive scorers like Dave Pszenyczny and Stuart Stefan, both presently coaching in Quad City and Huntsville, respectfully.
Defensemen also tend to develop over a more extended time when compared to forwards, along with the significant differences between stay-at-home blueliners and defensemen who have a more offensive style.
If you’re going to discover that next fantasy defensive stud, you’ll have to do your homework. Find those defensive players who convert over from the forward positions, as they’re more likely to be more comfortable on the other side of the red line. Also, past performance is expected to dictate future results, so check out those historical stats.
Buyer beware, though. ECHL teams never hesitate to offer callups to puck-moving defensemen who excel on special teams. Your sniper of a blueliner who is boosting your fantasy team could wind up in Wichita for the rest of the season.
This league should prove to be bigger and better than ever. We will periodically talk about the fantasy hockey impacts throughout the season and update the league standings. We are about three weeks away from picking our squads for the second SPHL fantasy season, and I’m looking forward to sharing our draft results with y’all.
Follow Mike Campos on Twitter at @SinBinSPHL.