How to win DFS hockey and win big

how to win dfs hockey

If you’ve been following me on Twitter, then you know I’m big into DFS football. I love it. As I’ve gotten better at it –I actually had to add earnings from DFS last year to my tax return– I’ve transitioned to trying to apply what I’ve learned into how to win DFS hockey, or an NHL DFS strategy guide. Interestingly enough, there is a lot of overlap.

A lot of what I’ve learned about DFS football, and what I’m applying to how to win DFS hockey, I learned from Al Smizzle and the amazing discord community there. 

If you’re expecting to see lineups and me telling you who to pick, then you’re going to be disappointed. The goal of this is to educate on the process for how to win DFS hockey, so you can start thinking more wisely about your lineups. This was the biggest thing I’ve learned from Al and that community – it’s the process that matters, not copy/pasting a lineup.

As a reminder, this is just how I play. If you don’t like it, don’t do it. I will be putting out posts for my DFS games to target and players I like. You can feel free to take that advice, or don’t. I won’t hit 100% of the time, but I will have a steady flow of winnings throughout the season.

1. Know your league’s scoring

The most important rule is knowing the scoring for the site you’re using. There is a big difference between DraftKings and FanDuel. DK has bonuses (left), FD (right) does not, specifically for shots and blocks. If you take anything away from this article, it’s this.

Know how your preferred leagues scoring is. FD awards goals and points (and wins/shutouts). DK awards these plus volume.

One wrinkle: DraftKings does not give bonuses for powerplay points. FanDuel does.

2. Know your bankroll and pick the proper contests

Everyone has a different style of play. Are you playing large field tournaments to win big money? Are you playing small cash/head to heads to build a bankroll? Both? Play within your means. How to win DFS hockey is heavily reliant on the contests you pick, which are related to your bankroll.

In DFS football, I play 50 $1 head to head matchups, and so far this year (150 contests total), I’ve lost 30. In week 2 i went 50-0. This is the fastest way to build a bankroll, and it works for me. I am not here rolling in money to play $5,000 plus per week on DFS. I wish I was.

Update: NFL Week 4 was my roughest week, going 31-19 in these $1 head to heads.

The higher bankrolled games are usually where you’ll find the “pros” at this. I play the $1 head to heads because that’s usually where I can get an advantage of people who aren’t as educated in the process. For building a bankroll, head to heads are your best friend, especially at lower dollar amounts.

In addition to the head to heads, I play 4-5 lineups in big money tournaments. The goal in a big money tournament is to place in the top 1%, and there is a completely different strategy for these games versus head to heads or smaller field cash games (double ups, 50/50s, etc).

My approach for DFS hockey is going to be extremely similar. Hockey doesn’t have the big payouts like football does, but it also has far fewer people that know how to work the system. That is my goal across this post – educate on how to work the system so you can win as much money as possible.

3. Cash games require a different strategy than large field tournaments (GPPs)

This is where I will lose some people in how to win DFS hockey. Sometimes it is as simple as play the best players with the highest points-per-dollar cost. Most of the time, it is not. Our goal is to put us in the best position to win, while also knowing that random chance and injuries will play a role.

Cash is different than large field GPPs. In cash, you’re aiming for the highest floor possible. In GPPs, you’re aiming for the highest ceiling possible. Ownership percentage of certain players is also a big input into GPPs.

3a. General strategies for how to win DFS hockey cash games

Cash games are usually straight forward. Aim for high floor and little risk. You want “guaranteed” points. This ties into #1, the most important rule, which is knowing the scoring. I prefer DraftKings because it awards volume in addition to scoring and goaltending wins.

Naturally this will impact your strategy. You obviously want the top guys like Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, etc. They are no brainers. But how you fill out the rest of the lineup matters. If you can find cheap players that have high shot or shot blocking numbers, they still add points.

Something else to keep in mind: Sometimes it’s worth it just to ‘block’ at a position. If, for some reason, Igor Shesterkin winds up at a $6,000 price tag, then everyone will be on him. That’s fine, as he’s the best bargain and has a high floor with little risk. You don’t gain by going elsewhere just to be different. Sometimes, the chalk is fine.

Check lines and powerplay units as well (Left Wing Lock has them regularly). There is nothing worse than picking a player who is scratched or picking a goalie who isn’t starting.

3b. General strategies for GPP tournaments

Playing your cash lineup in a GPP tournament will not get you into the top 1% and win you big money.

Go back and re-read that sentence two more times.

It seems counter intuitive, but I assure you it is not. It is not an absolute, as there are certainly times where the perfect scenario arises where your cash lineup with little risk and a high floor will win. But those times are few and far between. This is about putting you in the best position to win big money. Your cash lineup will not get you there.

To win GPPs, you need to build a high ceiling lineup. One that has risk, but has a realistic chance of hitting that ceiling. For hockey, this means exploiting matchups, reading betting lines, and finding the best bargains. I only pick from 3-4 games tops when picking a GPP lineup.

It is easier to be right on 2-3 things than it is to be right on many individual things.

Again, re-read that sentence two more times.

Pick players from the games with the highest total goals that project to be close games. Once you’ve identified the games you want to target, you pick your players from that game. This also means stacking your lineups.

Stacking means picking more than one player from the same line/powerplay unit in your lineup. Think about this logically: If Mika Zibanejad scores, it is likely that Chris Kreider will be on the ice, especially if it’s a powerplay. You can double or triple dip on the same goal by stacking.

Stacking is how you build high ceiling lineups and how you can set yourself apart from 90% of DFS hockey players. Pick the right games and the right stacks, and you’re in the money.

4. Specific cash game strategy, by position

Going forward, this will be a DraftKings only strategy. I only play on DraftKings, so my strategy has to match accordingly.

Monitor the morning skates, specifically PP units and starting goalies to ensure you get best value. Ownership percent in cash doesn’t matter, its about building the high floor. To reiterate, sometimes you just need to ‘block’ and play some of the same chalky plays and differentiate elsewhere.

Centers: Centers are priced up usually, so this is where you’re going to spend a good amount of money in your lineup. This is where you’ll want to target your big names. Whatever you do, make sure whomever you pick also plays on the powerplay. High scorers are important, but don’t disregard high volume shooters.

Treat your centers like you would QBs in DFS football. Start here, and build out.

Wings: Your best value plays are likely to be at wing. Think of all the no-name wingers that Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have carried to big stat lines. You also want to target high volume shooters here.

Defense: Defense points are tough to predict for the most part. PP QBs are nice, but you can punt the position with high volume shot blockers (read: penalty killers) as well. When in doubt, focus on TOI. You can’t get points if you’re not on the ice. You can find some good value plays in the $3,000 range that put up 15 mins a night and block 3-4 shots a game.

Goalies: Since DraftKings is big on shot volume, you have a choice to make. Do you take the goalie with the best chance at a shutout, or the goalie who is going to face a ton of shots?

Goalie A costs $9,000 and makes has a 27 save a shutout (28.9 points on DraftKings). Goalie B costs $7,000 and makes 38 saves in a 2-1 loss (22.6 points).

Neither are bad choices, but can that extra $2,000 be put to better use on skaters in your lineup? Remember, lower risk with higher floor is better for cash games.

5. Specific GPP strategy

GPPs are where your betting lines really matter. So do your research. I target games with an O/U of at least 6, and preferably with a close spread. This is all about game flow and optimizing your chance for success. A high game total means the game has a higher chance of shooting out. A close spread means both teams will keep their foot on the gas, thus more offense.

This is where I will lose many people – stacking and how to win large field GPP tournaments. The goal is to win, which means taking risk on high ceiling players that have a path to double digit points. If your goal is to just min-cash, then play cash games and follow the strategy above.

Alexis Lafreniere is an example I will use here. He may not be an attractive play in DFS because of the uncertainty of his ice time and powerplay usage. However there is a path to big minutes on the Rangers top line and top powerplay unit, and since he hasn’t been there yet, his price should remain low. He’s a risky play, but has a very high ceiling on a nightly basis.

Disclaimer: The GPP strategy outlined is for slates that have 7+ games where you have more players and teams to select from. Adjust your strategy accordingly for smaller slates.

You will see many people talk about entering 150 lineups using a lineup builder/optimizer. These things cost money, and aren’t cheap. You can win without building 150 lineups if you know what you’re doing. I do not use a lineup builder.

Lineup Stacking – Lineup correlation drives high ceiling

Lineup stacking is the best bet and what I focus on in how to win DFS hockey. As mentioned before, if you have 2-3 players from the same line, you increase your odds of double/triple dipping on a goal scored. So instead of getting 10 points for the goal (8.5 + 1.5), you can get 20 points (5 points per assist). You can also add another 1.5 points if one of the assists was a rebound.

But it goes beyond goals and assists. We’ve all seen shifts where a team just dominates and gets multiple shots on goal. By stacking, you’re getting access to these shots on goal. Using the Lafreniere example above (assuming he skated with the top line and top powerplay unit), if the Rangers top line scores three times and you have Zibanejad, Kreider, and Lafreniere, you’re more than likely going to get 20+ points from each of them.

Stacking sets your ceiling in high scoring games. It creates lineup correlation to potential high scoring games. I will usually aim for 3 players from the same line/powerplay unit of the game(s) I choose. I always start with the center.

Again: This is not a fool proof strategy, and sometimes we will have games with an expected goals spread of 6.5 where a team wins 2-0. That happens, but the process was sound. There is a difference between bad luck and bad process. Create good process and you will have better overall results over the course of a season.

Bring back players and secondary stacks

One of the lower utilized strategies in how to win DFS hockey is bring back players. If you’re stacking a line from one team that is expected to be a close game with a high expected goal total on the betting lines, then you’re going to want a player or two from the opposing team.

The logic: If this game shoots out, you want players from both teams, not just one. Using the Rangers example above, if they shootout in a game against Toronto, you’re going to want some Leafs players too. You want games with a steady flow of offense, and pick the right players/stacks from that game. Again, it’s easier to be right about one thing than multiple things. If you get the track meet game right, you’ve increased your chances of winning exponentially.

More logic: Your bring back player from a game can be a high volume shot blocker. If the game shoots out, there will be many attempted shots, thus blocked shots. Picking a prime penalty killing defenseman that blocks 5 shots gets you 9.5 points (1.3 points per BS, +3 bonus for 3 BS) on DraftKings, and these types of players can usually be had at a discount.

Now you can’t fill your lineup with players from 1 game/2 teams. Neither site will allow that. So you’re going to pick a second game that has similar betting lines and repeat the process. Again, when it comes to how to win DFS hockey, it is easier to be right on a few things than many things.

In general, and this is again a generalized statement, I will look for a minimum of 4-5 players from one game as my primary stack, and 2-3 players from another game as a secondary stack. Correlation is how to win DFS hockey.

Goalies and island players

Goalie scoring is tough, since it’s not as simple as pick the goalie that will win. You can have a goalie win a game (6 points) but finish with negative points based on saves and goals allowed. Remember, know your scoring.

Something I like to do: Pick a primary stack from a projected track meet game and play just position players. Then in my secondary stack, pick a team expected to dominate and get a 1-2 skater and goalie stack.

You will likely have a few one-off players in your lineup as well, known as island players. These players aren’t a part of any stack. This is where you want a high floor/ceiling combination. It may also be where you differentiate from the field and find a player that you think won’t be as highly owned.

Ownership and leveraging the field

Ownership and leveraging the field is a key in how to win DFS hockey. Given most people will be on the same games/stacks, you want to differentiate yourself from the field by playing some lesser owned players that still have the same high ceiling.

Ownership percentages are difficult to track with DFS hockey since it isn’t a weekly game like football. There are sites that will have projected ownership, like FantasyLabs, but you’ll have to pay for that information. If you’re serious about how to win DFS hockey, then it might be worth it. I am not going to tell you how to spend your money.

The goal with leveraging ownership is two-fold. First, if you pick a stack that isn’t as popular that hits, then you’re ahead of the field that didn’t play that stack. Put another way, if 40% of the field has a McDavid stack and you have a Matthews stack that is only 20% played, then you’ve put yourself in a leveraged position to beat those 40% if the Matthews stack hits.

Second, and perhaps most important, is avoiding splitting your winnings. One of the worst feelings is finishing first in a big money GPP, but having the exact same lineup as 300 other people. This happened to me last year for Cowboys vs. Bucs. I placed 1st in a contest where $1 million was handed out to first place. But I tied with 300+ other people, and “only” one $1,500. I was ecstatic, since it was my first big win, but annoyed since I learned about ownership percentages after the fact.

You can avoid this by finding 1-2 players that aren’t going to be highly owned. No one likes Rasmus Ristolainen, but I’m willing to bet he’s a decent buy in DFS since he blocks shots and will play in all three situations with Philly. Without some kind of lineup optimizer or ownership tool, this is exceedingly difficult to predict.

How to build your lineup

How to win DFS hockey really comes down to how you build your lineups. Here’s what I do:

  1. Review betting lines and select the games you want to target
  2. Isolate the centers you want to work with – keep your field of centers small to maximize your odds if your primary stacks hit
  3. Review line combos and PP units that use those centers and find the wingers and defensemen you want to use with your stacks
  4. Determine which goalie you want to use
  5. Fill in the roster from there

To give a way too early example on how I will build my lineup, Wednesday October 12 is the first day that the regular season has more than 2 games. If you’re looking for how to win DFS hockey in a tournament, here’s what I will do:

  1. Review the betting lines – As it stands now, COL/CHI, VAN/EDM, and TOR/MTL are all at 6.5 goals expected with the favored teams giving 1.5 goals. This will change by opening night. Again, way too early look, but these are the 3 games I want to target.
  2. Player prices aren’t out yet on DraftKings, but I’d likely target COL, EDM, and TOR primary stacks with bring backs from VAN and MTL. I likely will not have a bring back from CHI unless I can fit Patrick Kane into my lineups.
  3. Top lines/PP units from each (per Left Wing Lock as of 9/28, this will change):
    1. COL PP1: MacKinnon, Landeskog, Rantonen, Lehkonen, Makar. Only Landeskog isn’t projected to be on 1L at even strength.
    2. EDM PP1:RNH (3L), McDavid (1L), Draisaitl (2L), Hyman (2L), Barrie. This is tough to stack, may be lesser owned.
    3. TOR PP1: Nylander (2L), Matthews (1L), Marner (1L), Tavares (2L), Reilly. All of them will be high priced.
    4. VAN PP1: JTM (1L), Horvat (3L), Boeser (1L), EP (2L), Hughes.
    5. MTL PP1: Hoffman, Suzuki, Dvorak, Caufield, Wideman. Only Dvorak isn’t on 1L.
  4. Alex Georgiev is the goalie I will likely target for a low stress win in a stack. He may get a decent number of shots on goal from low danger areas too. Frederik Andersen from Carolina (vs CBJ) is another one I might look at.
  5. Without salaries, tough to fill in the roster, but this is what I’m looking at 3 weeks before the season starts.

There are other pieces to it, like ownership and leveraging the field. There’s also value in leveraging the late-swap and having access to changing your lineup based on the 7pm games. It’s a more nuanced detail to how to win DFS hockey, but it may be needed if you find yourself in a good spot after the early games. More on that in future posts.

Conclusion

When it comes to how to win DFS hockey, you’re going to need practice, research, and you’re going to have to lose a bunch. At the very least, you should be able to use this post to build cash lineups to help build a bankroll.

There are also free contests that you can try your luck with. Some will have payouts to a very small percentage of the field, others are just to get practice. If you’re serious about how to win DFS hockey and don’t know where to start, this is where I’d recommend you start. It’s free, after all.

Most importantly, have fun. It’s fun to have a sweat going. But play within your limits. I cannot stress that enough.

Disclaimer: Dave plays on his personal DraftKings account and utilizes the how to win DFS hockey strategies outlined above, but may deviate from the above strategies he advises.

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