Expansion Teams in Dynasty Leagues: A Case Study

by James Anderson on April 23, 2015

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Expanding dynasty leagues can be a precarious situation. Here’s how to do it seamlessly.

Expanding your fantasy hockey league is, undoubtedly, a daunting proposition. Trying to find the incredibly fine balance between giving the expansion teams enough to be competitive without pillaging the current teams of all of their talent is nearly impossible, and with very little room for ‘trial and error’, you, as commissioner, may be risking a lot to make it happen. When we first considered expansion in 2009, it brought about some of the most heated debate our gentlemanly league had ever seen. As commissioner, a lot was riding on the decisions I made at that time. Decisions which, realistically, were just guesses. Now, after five full seasons, our two expansion teams are an interesting case study and, in my opinion, an absolute success. If you’re considering expansion, I hope that you can use some of what you read below to assist you so you’re not just flying blind.

First, some basic details about the league as it was in 2009. We were a 12-team, salary cap dynasty league. We used real NHL salaries and contracts – when a player became a UFA in the NHL, he became a UFA in our league. Otherwise, you had a guy for as long as his contract lasted.

Each GM managed a 21 player “varsity” roster (rigidly 12 forwards, 6 defensemen, and 3 goalies), along with a 25 player “junior varsity” roster (skaters under 92 GP, goalies under 60 GP). Only the varsity roster counts against the salary cap. Scoring categories are pretty normal.

The league started in the 2008-2009 season.  In August of 2009 (just prior to season 2), we collectively agreed to expand to 14 teams.

Phase 1 – JV Teams

After the prospect draft in 2009, the expansion teams were introduced and their JV rosters were opened. This allowed them to sign free agent prospects, and to start making trades for other prospects and future draft picks. They did not have varsity rosters at this point. For the entire 2009-2010 season, the expansion teams were like partial participants in the league – active on the forums, getting to know the intricacies of the rules, but just managing their prospect rosters. This year required a lot of patience from the expansion GMs, but in the end I think was what made our expansion so successful. 

Phase 2 – Expansion Draft

June 1, 2010 was the date we decided upon for the expansion draft. The draft was set at 17 rounds (remember, varsity rosters are 21 players, so this draft doesn’t quite fill the rosters). Draft order was determined by a coin flip. The draft order was straight (non-serpentine).

The player pool for this draft was derived from two sources. First, all players who were FAs are the time were available. This included some decent-but-overpriced guys who had been sitting on the waiver wire all season long (Martin Havlat, Tomas Vokoun, Scott Gomez – remember, this was 2010). Second, each team made 8 players available, including 1 defenseman and 1 goalie. As the draft progressed, once a current team lost 3 players, the rest of their players were protected.

So: each team makes 8 players available, and no team can lose more than 3 players.

Phase 3 – Draft Lottery

The expansion teams were then entered into our draft lottery for our typical autumn drafts. We have a prospect draft, which in 2010 featured the likes of Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin, Jeff Skinner, etc. A couple weeks after that, we have a “Re-Entry Draft”, which features the top players who were lost as UFAs. In 2010 that was Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrick Marleau, Jiri Hudler, etc. Each expansion team was given a 5% chance of winning the 1st overall pick. They wound up drafting 2nd and 4th overall in those two drafts.

Phase 4 – A summer of trades

With all of the expansion drafting taken care of early in the summer, the expansion teams had the opportunity to spend the summer re-shaping their teams. They used a combination of prospects, future draft picks, and cash (in the form of salary cap space) to acquire talent and improve their teams. By the time the season began, one team had made 11 trades, and the other had made 7. Most of these trades were minor, but it was an extremely formative time for the identity of the expansion teams  — one went in the direction of “win-now” (acquiring M-A Bergeron, Mike Knuble, Matt Carkner, Bryan McCabe), while the other focused on building for the future (acquiring Jiri Tlusty, Simon Despres, and Cory Schneider). The two strategies led the teams down very different paths in the years to come.

Phase 5 – Autumn Drafts

By the time the drafts rolled around in September, our expansion teams had built up decent rosters and acquired lots of picks to make them competitive (or nearly-competitive). In the amateur draft, one team selected Seguin, Cam Fowler, Emerson Etem and Justin Faulk while the other picked up Brett Connolly, Jack Campbell and Calle Jarnkrok. They followed that up with the Re-Entry Draft, taking Ellis, Corvo and Malone, and Roloson, Colaiacovo and Ryan Wilson, respectively. By the time the season began on October 7, these GMs, who had been with us now for almost 14 months) had built their teams into formidable opponents.

So how did it work out?

Five full seasons later, it’s safe to say that our expansion teams were given every opportunity to succeed, and quickly. While one team has struggled to be competitive (and has since switched GMs), this can be chalked up to a few poor decisions, and Rick DiPietro. The other team took off and has improved every year. This season, that team finished 3rd overall out of 70 teams across our 5 leagues in terms of overall statistics.

Below you can check out the season-by-season results. I’ve included both the regular season and postseason finishes, but also the third column, “stats”, looks at how they finished among the league’s 14 teams in overall stats:

Team A

Reg Season

Playoffs

Stats

2010-2011

12th

11th

14th

2011-2012

14th

DNQ

14th

2012-2013

13th

DNQ

14th

2013-2014

14th

DNQ

14th

2014-2015

9th

TBD (up to 7th)

10th

Team B

Reg Season

Playoffs

Stats

2010-2011

14th

DNQ

13th

2011-2012

8th

8th

10th

2012-2013

6th

2nd

6th

2013-2014

2nd

1st

7th

2014-2015

2nd

TBD (up to 1st)

1st

For more information on our leagues, visit www.capwisehockey.com. For more information on expansion, feel free to contact me at [email protected]