Fantasy Hockey Impact: NHL Announces Return To Play Plan

Ian Gooding


NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has declared that the 2019-20 NHL regular season is now complete. The NHL will return on an undisclosed future date with 24 teams competing for the Stanley Cup, starting with a 16-team play-in round. For more, see

Deciding a winner (if any) in your fantasy league

When the NHL season was paused in March, Dobber provided his take on the possible scenarios. Refer to his Situation 3, where the season is cancelled and playoffs do happen. Situation 3 referenced Situation 1 (season ends now), from which I will post his DobberHockey stance:

70 games in? No debate. The season happened. The NHL considers it to have happened for their records – hand out your prizes for first, second, third, etc. as agreed upon. (He has clarified to me that he is referring strictly to points-only leagues here).

If you are in a roto-league or H2H league playoffs, the DobberHockey stance is that all participants still remaining in your playoffs have the prizes divided up equally. If it is a league in which all teams participate in the playoffs – I recommend (but don’t insist) that you nix the playoffs and award prizes based on regular season standings.

If your league involves the NHL postseason (as two of mine do), then this money should be refunded to the owners (or similar arrangements made, per a vote).

In the event that your league has games played limitations and different teams applied different strategies (used up their GP allotment early, or saved them up). If there is a way for you to divide the points by total games played and re-jig the standings that way, then I recommend doing this. If this is impossible, as in many roto leagues, then again I point you to the above: standings should be as is, and yes some teams get screwed, but that is the randomness of fantasy sports.

I can get behind Dobber's stance on the points-only leagues. There's enough of a sample size to determine a winner. It would be interesting to find out the probability that a fantasy team will win if it is in first place with 85 percent of the season completed. It's probably very high. The only pushback might be from the second-place team (or third-place, or below in a tight race) who moved heaven and earth to make a run for a championship. However, mortgaging the future doesn't guarantee a championship under normal circumstances.

Roto leagues could also declare a winner at this point if it is clear who that winner will be. However, keep in mind that some leagues have limits on games played. Some teams use them up before the season ends, while others pace themselves for the entire season to maximize the contributions of their top players. Dobber's recommendation of points per games played is ideal, although it may involve having to do a bit of math.  

Declaring H2H winners is less black and white. Because you have playoff matchups that are incomplete, dividing up the money based on 50/50 odds per remaining matchup might be the best solution. So if there were four teams left in your league, each of the four teams receives 25% of the winnings. Eight teams remaining, give 12.5% for each team. Teams that earn a bye should earn a greater proportion of the winnings. So if there are six teams remaining and two earned a bye to the next round based on strong regular-season record, give 25% to each of the bye teams and 12.5% to each of the other playoff teams. Whether to declare a winner is up for debate, although the next section may provide more insight.  

League providers have a say

Keep in mind that the league providers may try to take the decision out of owners' hands. Yahoo appears to be declaring regular season champions the league champions based on the following statement.

Due to the public health threat of COVID-19, the remaining NHL regular season games have been canceled. The NHL has announced the season will continue with a 24-team playoff format. As a result, the Yahoo Fantasy Hockey season has ended. We will apply the current standings as final.

For more questions, you are then directed to this update page. What that means is if you finished in sixth place in the regular-season standings prior to the playoffs, you'll finish the season in sixth place.

ESPN appears to be offering a similar stance, using tiebreakers to advance teams through the remainder of the season. For more, see ESPN's statement.

On the other hand, Fantrax is allowing (or forcing?) owners to make their own decision:

The NHL is opting to end the regular season and proceed directly to the playoffs. Therefore, since there will be no more regular season games, the season is officially over for this league (Playoff games cannot be included in regular season leagues). Your league commissioner is responsible for making any further decisions regarding your league.

At the time of writing, CBS has not updated its pages other than to say the current matchup scoring period has extended.

Of course, these league statements do not prevent you from deciding your league winner differently, whether it be by further playoff or "play-in" games, or through other criteria. You may store your league history elsewhere, where you could document different league winners than what the game providers list (and even hand the trophy to whoever you want!) This might be based on a commissioner's decision or a league vote, depending on how important decisions are made in your league.

It's quite possible that league members won't agree on who should be declared a league winner. So having the league provider (Yahoo or ESPN) decide for you may be your best option, kind of like a judge or an arbitrator in a dispute. This takes care of potential conflicts of interest such as the league commish competing for a title or being close friends/family with someone who is.

Added wrinkle in playoff pools

Playoff pool setups should hopefully include the five-game play-in round. Keep in mind that league providers may need to make software updates to allow this, so not all of them may include the play-in round and may stick to the usual 16-team format. It seems like the league providers will have at least two months to make these updates, though.

A 24-team playoff* will both increase the player pool and allow for additional strategies. For example, any of the eight bye teams will be safe bets for a playoff pool, as they will have already qualified for the round of 16. The bye teams will be even stronger plays if the round-robin seeding games qualify in playoff pools. However, picking players from one of the 16 play-in teams that goes on a long run could turn out to be a winning strategy – even more so than in normal playoff seasons because of the extra round.

*Only teams in the round of 16 will have qualified for the playoffs, according to the NHL. But I am using the term to describe the round of 24.

If you are planning to add the new playoff setup to extend your fantasy season (ie. combine your regular season with the playoffs), I provided some thoughts on that in the May 29 Ramblings.

Playoff brackets will sure be interesting as well – and more complicated. The NHL will be closer to March Madness than it has ever been. Picking a Stanley Cup winner will also become even more difficult, although the potential payoff is greater if picking correctly at the start of the round of 24.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that there is considerable work ahead for the NHL and the 24 teams. Hub cities have not been selected, nor have dates and times for the games. And of course, an outbreak of COVID-19 within a team "bubble" or a larger second wave in North America could kill the entire plan.

The new and confusing draft lottery

As for the Draft Lottery, the first phase will be held on June 26. It will include the seven non-playoff and eight placeholder teams (which will be filled later by the eight teams that lose in the qualifying round). For more on the format, see this article from the league on the Draft Lottery Procedure. Yes, it is difficult to understand.

In case you're wondering why the draft lottery couldn't just consist of the seven non-playoff teams, a team that loses in the play-in round should receive something for (technically) missing the playoffs. That could mean that a team comfortably in a playoff position like Pittsburgh or Edmonton could end up winning the draft lottery as a result of losing their play-in series. Given the Oilers' luck in previous draft lotteries, I wouldn't be completely shocked if that were to happen.

In addition, a play-in team could theoretically "tank" for a 12.5% chance at Alexis Lafreniere should one of the eight placeholder teams win the first overall pick. This information will be announced at the first phase, which happens before any games resume. Having said that, I'm not as sold on a play-in team suddenly turning into the 1983-84 Penguins if they have only a 1-in-8 chance at drafting Lafreniere. Not to mention that Lafreniere will need to turn into one hell of a player if he is a Mario Lemieux-level prize.

This revised draft lottery system seems a bit backwards, but remember that there is no ideal scenario at the moment.


Speaking of prospects, please note that the Fantasy Prospects Report will be released on June 12.


For more fantasy hockey information, or to reach out to me, you can follow me on Twitter @Ian_Gooding.


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