by Johnny Fantasy
The fantasy season has ended. We fantasy managers are now leisurely watching the NHL playoffs (Go Rangers! Caps! Bol…Sharks!) and some of us are already looking forward to the next fantasy season. In doing so, I can’t help but wonder what new features my platform of choice (Yahoo) will introduce. There’s usually one or two new things each year, but Yahoo does have some catching up to do compared to some of its competitors. And further, as the supposed “official partner” of the NHL, shouldn’t Yahoo strive to be the market leader here? With that in mind, here is my wish list of new features and ideas that I’d like to see them incorporate for next season.
New Stat Categories
The age of analytics has arrived for hockey. Even the NHL is now providing advanced stats (albeit poorly) on its website. When will those stats arrive for fantasy? Fenwick and Corsi could be the most important potential additions (and should be made available as both relative percentage stats and a cumulative differential stats) so we have an alternative to the much maligned and flawed +/- stat. An even better option might be the ability to choose situational filters for such stats (all situations, 5-on-5, even strength, etc.) And speaking of situational stats, goalie statistics could greatly benefit from similar filters. For example, being able to choose even strength save percentage would filter out (the more team-based) penalty kill effects.
Now, I hear that not all fantasy hockey managers are as obsessive as others. For example, when on vacation, I understand that some people would rather look at their loved ones rather than set their lineups on their phones. Yahoo already has an innovative (although not personally often used) “start active players” feature (on its mobile app at least). Let’s take that feature another step further. Allow an option by which a manager can flip on a “vacation mode” switch and have the ‘start active players’ button automatically hit every day, so if you go away for a week, you don’t have to check your lineup every day or set your whole week in advance. Bonus points to Yahoo if it can take advantage of its starting goalie information (^) and automatically replace goalies that aren’t starting with ones that are. Even better if it can do the same with players that are injured or suspended (the feature could perform its roster readjustment a few minutes before the start of each game (to have the most updated information on player status)). Obviously this isn’t going to save anyone from missing out on picking up a hot free agent while they are away, but at least it could prevent an embarrassing loss (and an unearned victory for an opponent).
Better Team Customization
What should be a very easy change: permit more than 20 characters for team names. It doesn’t have to be the length of a tweet, but just once I’d like to be able to call my team “Gary Bettman’s Commissioner-ing is Bad and He Should Feel Bad” without abbreviating. Don’t stifle our free expression Yahoo!
It would also be great if we could customize our team page with a banner image. I’ve seen some great photoshop work by different managers over the years to craft a team logo or other photo mockup which perfectly fits their fantasy team. The shame of it is that those mostly go unnoticed by the rest of the league since the team picture is so small. A background banner image can really do a lot to make a page feel more customized. Why not give each manager the option to do that for their team page? Facebook’s done it, Linkedin has even done it. Yahoo can do it.
Fixes to the Goalie Appearance Problem
As I’ve discussed before, the best goalie stats are percentage based and thus, in order to prevent a manager from riding one or two really good goalie performances at the beginning of a week, a (stat categories) league either has to include less desirable cumulative goalie stat categories or have a minimum number of goalie appearance rule.
The problem with minimum goalie appearances is that either the minimum is set too low, and thus the ‘riding a hot start’ problem is not sufficiently solved, or the minimum is set too high, resulting in possible forfeiture of all goalie categories if a manager can’t reach the minimum (for example, because of injury or a low number of goalie-games that week). But, what if we had the option to require that a fantasy goaltender always has to be activated? In real hockey, you have to put one of your goalies in net every game.
The feature would be simple: option that, if selected would not allow goaltenders to be benched. If a manager owns a goalie, its stats are counted for every game on its schedule. There would be no ‘riding a hot start’ problem, since managers would essentially have to drop their goalies into free agency in order to prevent them from playing in games later in the week (which presumably managers should be unwilling to do).
Admittedly, a drawback of this rule (and using only percentage-based goalie categories) would be that managers may be incentivized to keep only one goalie (no matter how many goalie slots are permitted) and the resulting glut of quality goalies in free agency may result in some other managers opting to not carry a regular goaltender and just try to pick up a good start from a free agent at the start of each week. But, this could be mitigated with an additional rule, such as a limit (yearly or weekly) on acquisitions of goaltenders, or that all goalie categories are forfeited if a manager doesn’t have at least one goalie on its (non-injured) roster on each day of the week. Although this scheme might be more complicated, it would allow us to avoid using any of the questionable-to-bad cumulative goalie stats.
More Options for Goalie Scoring for Points Leagues
For points leagues, figuring out how many points goalie performances should be worth is difficult (even if you have a well-thought out, mathematically reasoned basis for your setup, there can still be huge volatility in the fantasy contributions from a goaltender each game). Rather than trying to figure out how many fantasy points a save should be worth (and how that weights against player statistics such that the goalies are not under- or over-powered), why not allow a specific number of points for a range of possible values? For example, a goalie earns 5 fantasy points for having a .920 save percentage or greater on any night, and -5 points for less than .900, etc. This shouldn’t be that hard for Yahoo to figure out; this is how fantasy football defenses work (not to mention that there are other platforms that have already mastered this).
More Games Played Information
A pleasant surprise from Yahoo has been the addition of certain informational statistics on the roster and free agent pages, such as time-on-ice per game. These are immensely helpful for determining on a quick glance how much opportunity a player has to put up points each game. One item in particular (that currently appears in the free agent list) is the number of games played. This should appear as the first column on every page that show’s a player’s stats (e.g., roster page, matchup page, etc.). Of course we can always switch the filter to show average stats or open the player’s profile page to see how many games he’s played, but it is much more convenient to have the games played number right there to be able to do the quick mental math.
And while we’re talking about convenient information to display, how about adding a man-games remaining counter for each matchup? I don’t know how many times during a key matchup I will figure out how many player appearances I and my opponent have left by clicking through each day of the week and counting. Tedious counting is the thing computers do best, so let’s get them counting remaining player appearances each week (bonus points to Yahoo if it can split this information by position and have the count consider when man-games will unavoidably be lost due to overfilled rosters on any given night). Again, fantasy football has this and while it is slightly more complicated for hockey, I have to imagine that Yahoo could figure it out.
Of course Yahoo needs to generate revenue, and of course they are not doing so directly from fantasy hockey managers (since it is a free platform), so I know that ads are going to be an inevitable part of every webpage involved. But, let’s get a grip here, Yahoo. I don’t know what it is about the style or programming of the ads, but they cause significant delays every time I open a new page. Fantasy sports is something that, in particular, involves a lot of clicks, reloads and new pages. With every one of those being slowed down by animated banner ads, it takes away from the overall experience. Sure, keep the ads and generate revenue, but maybe select ones that are less bandwidth intensive. Otherwise, your users start to get resentful towards the ads that are grinding the fantasy experience to a crawl. I’m not above boycotting a product simply out of spite (and/or eventually switching platforms).
More Draft Pick Trading Options
As the commissioner of a keeper league, I am hesitant to use Yahoo’s “allow trading of draft picks” feature, since it only allows trades of picks for the next season. Our league allows for the trading of picks in any future year – why not let the commissioner set how many years ahead picks can be traded? More customizability is better here. If there has to be a maximum, it should be no less than 5 years ahead.
Fantasy All-Star Game
Nearly every year, there is a break in the fantasy season, whether for a weekend due to the all-star break or for a few weeks due to the Olympics. Instead of doing nothing during those times, why not introduce a one-off contest within the fantasy league? Yahoo is constantly giving out ‘medals’ for doing dumb stuff like making trades, putting players on the watch list and actually reading emails in your Yahoo mailbox (probably) – let’s have a medal for the team whose players score the most fantasy points during the all-star game. For stat categories leagues, the winner can be determined with rotisserie-style scoring for that all-star game (or Olympic break). Leagues that don’t extend into the final week of the NHL season could even have another fantasy all-star game during that last week (I guess that one would be more of a Pro Bowl). Just like the NHL all-star game, there shouldn’t be any stakes to these; they’re just an easy way to inject a bit more fun into the fantasy season.