Updated: Aug 21
Underdog Fantasy Best Puck
If you've dabbled in the newest fantasy football craze, best ball, then you know that Underdog Fantasy is the industry leader in the format that allows you to simply draft a team and forget about it. No in-season roster moves, no setting lineups, just draft an oversized roster of players and hope they perform optimally throughout the season to accumulate the most points for you.
The hockey version - best puck - is a growing format in the fantasy hockey world as well, as it eases the burden of managing an 82-game season by freeing you of weekly (or even daily) updates to your lineup over a six-month span. It's clear that our friends at Underdog Fantasy have contests that are lightyears ahead of their competition and are dominating the fantasy hockey space as well.
With that being said - they were not ready for us last season.
The Thought Leader
I was proud to launch our subscription packages last season, which were set to include exclusive access to advanced betting and daily fantasy hockey analysis. Season-long fantasy rankings were also available, but more as a courtesy since the interest seemed to be largely non-existent.
Then I brought in D.J. Mitchell, who many of you know from The Morning Skate Podcast or by one of his aliases - @dj_mitchell94 on the X (formerly known as Twitter) or DJSABRES on Underdog. He was fresh off a second-place finish in our playoff hockey betting tournament, the PuckLuck Cup and eager to share ideas.
D.J. had mentioned to me that Underdog has a hockey version of Best Ball Mania - that hugely popular fantasy football contest that leans toward an extremely top-heavy payout - known as the Best Puck Classic. He was wondering if we pushed the contest enough with legit analysis and rankings that we may be able to really grow the sport, the contest and our site. The Best Puck Classic was in its second iteration, with a $10,000 payout to the winner.
So we got to work. D.J. teamed with his Morning Skate Podcast co-host and friend of PuckLuck Matt Moody to dissect the data from Best Puck Classic year one, and I applied PuckLuck's extensive player projections to their findings.
The result? Rankings that changed the entire landscape of the contest.
Make no mistake about it, Underdog Fantasy does great work and they have an amazing team over there churning out their own projections. But, as you know, hockey is unique, extensive, and extremely difficult to predict. I have nearly a decade of experience working in hockey analytics now, and am proud to say my betting and fantasy predictions routinely produce winners.
And that's what we did.
For those who trusted us and used our free rankings last season, I just want to say thank you. It was evident that the word spread quickly when each player's ADP (average draft position) started to drastically move until the end product was nearly identical to our rankings.
For those unfamiliar or curious to how they were formed, here's a little peek behind the curtain:
Using my model, I was able to produce projections for all Underdog scoring categories (goals, assists, powerplay points, shots, blocks, hits, wins, saves, and goals against) for each player. In doing so, I then calculated a cumulative and per-game Best Puck projection for each player, if their score were to count each week.
D.J. and Matt identified the ideal lineup structure to draft, since only one center, two wingers, one defenseman, one flex player (center, winger, or defenseman) and one goalie score each week. D.J. wrote about the ideal roster construction in his article, NHL Best Puck Classic: The Four Pillars of Drafting.
Matt was then able to determine the value of each position by using PuckLuck's projections to show a replacement-level value, assuming ideal roster construction, and an average value. This set a baseline for us to adjust the projections for gaps in positional value, and allow you to properly identify which players should be drafted where based on production over players of the same position.
Then, I applied my own little adjustment for current ADP. This was done to ensure you weren't as likely to draft players too high, since there was such a huge disparity at the start between our rankings and Underdog's on certain players. This was key in drafting strong value picks such as Erik Karlsson, Josh Morrissey, and Adrian Kempe much later then our rankings would suggest and allow you to still accumulate higher drafted players beforehand.
This is where the NHL Thought Leader really demonstrated his value. While Matt did an amazing job dissecting the data and I provided the predictive analytics, D.J. lapped the entire field by applying his uncanny sense for draft strategy.
His Four Pillars of Drafting article previously mentioned discussed value-based drafting and the importance of sticking to ADP to maximize value. It also mentioned the style of player that succeeds in Underdog's scoring system, which puts an emphasis on shooters and boosts physical players.
And while stacking players is a Best Ball Mania staple, D.J. introduced its fluctuating importance to the Best Puck community by noting the juggling of line combinations, powerplay correlation, and varying number of games for each NHL team in the weeks allotted for the Best Puck playoffs.
He also noted a draft position point that likely remains true heading into this season: drafting from positions 1-4 is very different than drafting from 5-12 thanks to the obvious staples at the center position - Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Nathan MacKinnon, and Auston Matthews - setting themselves apart from the rest of the group.
In applying this methodology to his drafting, D.J. produced results Best Ball Mania experts can only dream of.
First off, hats off to everyone who made it to last year's Best Puck Classic finals. I had a whole slew of teams in the Best Puck playoffs and made money on the contest, but didn't draft enough teams to optimize my finals chances. My big money aspirations died in the semis.
Matt Moody also found plenty of success and saw two of his teams reach the finals. Plenty of you were able to convert our rankings into monetary gain as well, so congrats!
D.J., however, found six(!!) of his teams in the final round. If you were following along, you know by now that he won the entire contest. He didn't stop at the $10,000 however. His other five teams finished 5th, 11th, 24th, 34th, and 36th to net him $1,025 on top of that.
Now, I can brag on D.J.'s behalf because I'm happy for him and proud of the work we did. We're back at it already this season with our Best Puck Rankings already up on the site. You will also have plenty of additional analysis in the form of articles, social media posts, and statistical analysis and graphics on the site.
All subscribers have access to these rankings, and we've added a new Draft Kit subscription package for $50 flat that includes all of our Best Puck-related content.
We're going more in-depth this year because, well, there's an even bigger prize pool of $125,000 this season for Underdog's Best Puck Classic. To make things even better, we've worked a deal with Underdog Fantasy that if you sign up for the first time using the code PUCKLUCK, your first deposit will be matched up to $100!
$100 dollars gets you 20 bids at the new top prize of $25,000. Now who wouldn't want to sign up for that?