Fantasy hockey keeper league guide: Rules, rankings, strategy & advice

·10-min read
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - DECEMBER 01: David Pastrnak #88 of the Boston Bruins celebrates after scoring a goal against the Montreal Canadiens during the third period at TD Garden on December 01, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Bruins defeat the Canadiens 3-1.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Fantasy Hockey season is upon us. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

It's time to talk keepers.

Now past the halfway point of September, fantasy hockey drafts will be ramping up with less than one month to go until the puck is dropped on the 2021-22 NHL season.

Keeper league rules

One of the most common formats in fantasy hockey is keeper leagues. For those who are unaware of the rules, here's what you need to know:

  • Keeper leagues are a type of fantasy league that allows you to keep players from year to year.

  • The number of players you're allowed to keep is typically decided by your commissioner or league.

  • Keeper leagues differ from dynasty leagues as you're only keeping some players, not the entire team.

  • Most keeper leagues allow managers to trade draft picks, which adds another layer of strategy.

  • Some keeper leagues enforce draft pick penalties that correspond with the round you selected a player.

  • Others have no draft pick penalty, which allows a manager to keep a player without having to sacrifice a draft pick.

  • Some keeper leagues limit the number of years you can keep a player on your team.

  • Players kept by managers are removed from the draft pool.

That pretty much sums up the rules of a keeper league, now let's dive into some strategy.

Keeper league strategies

As mentioned above, there is an added element of strategy in keeper leagues that differentiates it from other formats.

From trading picks to deciding who to keep, there are a number of decisions managers in keeper leagues must think about that those who play in other leagues don't have to make. Here are some important tips that'll help make you a better keeper league player.

Think about the future, but not too much 

Unlike redraft, fantasy managers are forced to think about the future in keeper leagues. It's important not to think too far ahead and treat a keeper league like a dynasty league, however, as most of the players on your roster one year won't be there the following season. In a keeper league, fantasy managers should be focused on the current year and the following one. This will allow you to try to put the best team together this season while also being mindful of your draft pick situation the following season.

All or nothing

The goal in a keeper league is to win a championship. Nobody plays fantasy sports to finish in fourth or fifth place, which means you should be striving to either win your keeper league this season or the following one. The best way to do this is to be very strategic with your draft picks. 

In a season where it seems like you have a legitimate chance at capturing a title, don't be afraid to part with draft picks in order to put yourself in a place to win. Do what needs to be done to win a trophy. In any fantasy league, the odds are stacked against you, so why not try to win when the opportunity presents itself?

It's also important to be self aware in a keeper league, and this works both ways. Yes, you should go for it when a window presents itself, but you also have to realize when your chances of capturing a title look bleak. If there are a few absolute powerhouses running roughshod over the rest of your fantasy league, try to deal some of your better players to these managers in an attempt to improve your draft capital as much as possible. The more draft picks you have in the early rounds of your fantasy draft, the more you improve your chances of drafting impact players that can help you win a championship the following season.

If your league allows a smaller number of keepers (three or less), don't think twice about dealing someone who you may be planning on keeping for the following season if you get an offer that completely blows you away. Your No. 1 goal should be to have as many early selections for the next year, and if that means parting with a potential keeper, then so be it.

Know your league mates' rosters

As mentioned above in the rules section, keeper leagues have a maximum number of players each team is allowed to keep and bring into the following season. 

Hypothetically speaking, let's say you're in a fantasy hockey league that allows three keepers per team. At the end of the season, you sit down with your pencil and notepad and crunch numbers to determine who your three keepers are. The next thing you should do is the exact same thing for the other managers in your league. This will allow you to see who will be exposed to the draft, but it'll also create a potential opportunity for you to make a trade.

Because each team can only keep three players, there may be some managers in your league who are absolutely loaded with quality talent, but they won't be able to keep all of it. If you see a team that won't be able to protect a player who presents an upgrade over the players you have on your roster, try to make a trade for that player. The manager will likely accept an offer for much lower than what the player is worth as it beats the alternative of receiving nothing in return for a player they'll have to expose to the draft. Don't ever overpay in a situation like this, as you're the one who holds all the leverage.

Here's a more practical example:

Team A Keepers:

Matthew Tkachuk

Jakob Chychrun

Blake Wheeler

Team B:

Connor McDavid

Brad Marchand

Mika Zibanejad

Dougie Hamilton

Mark Schiefele

Team B can only keep three of those five players, meaning two will be exposed to your league's draft. Any two of those players would be better keepers than Chychrun or Wheeler for Team A, which presents an opportunity for Team A to improve its keeper situation by trading with Team B after the season and before your league's draft.

Be mindful of draft positioning and keepers

In some keeper leagues, managers must sacrifice a corresponding draft pick in order to keep a player. For example, if you drafted Kyle Connor in the fifth round of your draft, you may need to have a fifth-round pick at the end of the year in order to keep him depending on your rules. This means that when you're making trades, try your best to hold onto your fifth to ensure you can keep Connor for next year.

Some leagues require managers to part with a pick one round ahead of where the player was selected. So in the case of Connor, you'd need to have your fourth-round pick handy at the end of the season to keep him.

This league style also invites more strategy as in addition to skill, managers must think about draft pick compensation when deciding who to keep. This makes the later rounds of keeper leagues vital, as they present a massive opportunity to hit a home run and keep a player for much less than what they're actually worth. A good example of this from last year is Adam Fox. Fox held an ADP of 118.3 in Yahoo Fantasy drafts, making him a 12th round pick in 10-team leagues. Now owning an ADP of 25.5, fantasy managers who selected Fox in Round 12 in keeper leagues have a great value on their hands.

Top 100 Fantasy Hockey Keeper Rankings

These rankings are for those who play in keeper leagues that track the following categories:

Goals, assists, plus-minus, power-play points, shots on goal, faceoff wins, hits, blocks, wins, goals against, goals-against average, saves, shutouts.

Leagues that track stats such as hits and blocks are commonly dubbed "banger leagues" as they recognize and reward the high-impact components of hockey. I highly suggest people use these settings as it helps create more fantasy-relevant players and encourages more strategy.

Below are my top-100 fantasy hockey rankings for this format.

  1. C Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers

  2. C/LW Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers

  3. C Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs

  4. LW Artemi Panarin, New York Rangers

  5. G Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning

  6. C Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche

  7. RW Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning

  8. RW David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins

  9. RW Mikko Rantanen, Colorado Avalanche

  10. LW Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida Panthers

  11. RW Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks

  12. LW Brady Tkachuk, Ottawa Senators

  13. LW Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins

  14. LW Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

  15. D Adam Fox, New York Rangers

  16. C Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers

  17. RW Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs

  18. D Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning

  19. D Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche

  20. G Darcy Kuemper, Colorado Avalanche

  21. C Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes

  22. C Mika Zibanejad, New York Rangers

  23. C/RW Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning

  24. LW/RW Andrei Svechnikov, Carolina Hurricanes

  25. C Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins

  26. D John Carlson, Washington Capitals

  27. G Robin Lehner, Vegas Golden Knights

  28. LW/RW Alex DeBrincat, Chicago Blackhawks

  29. D Quinn Hughes, Vancouver Canucks

  30. C/LW Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado Avalanche

  31. LW/RW Kirill Kaprizov, Minnesota Wild

  32. C Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins

  33. RW Mark Stone, Vegas Golden Knights

  34. LW/RW Jake Guentzel, Pittsburgh Penguins

  35. LW Max Pacioretty, Vegas Golden Knights

  36. D Darnell Nurse, Edmonton Oilers

  37. G Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets

  38. C Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets

  39. C Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks

  40. LW Kyle Connor, Winnipeg Jets

  41. C Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres

  42. LW/RW Matthew Tkachuk, Calgary Flames

  43. D Aaron Ekblad, Florida Panthers

  44. G Semyon Varlamov, New York Islanders

  45. C/RW Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning

  46. D Dougie Hamilton, New Jersey Devils

  47. G Igor Shesterkin, New York Rangers

  48. C John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs

  49. D Shea Theodore, Vegas Golden Knights

  50. D Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins

  51. LW Ondrej Palat, Tampa Bay Lightning

  52. C/RW Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars

  53. LW/RW Nikolaj Ehlers, Winnipeg Jets

  54. C/LW J.T. Miller, Vancouver Canucks

  55. D Roman Josi, Nashville Predators

  56. D Alex Pietrangelo, Vegas Golden Knights

  57. D Morgan Rielly, Toronto Maple Leafs

  58. LW/RW Bryan Rust, Pittsburgh Penguins

  59. C Vincent Trochek, Florida Panthers

  60. G Cam Talbot, Minnesota Wild

  61. D Jakob Chychrun, Arizona Coyotes

  62. D Tyson Barrie, Edmonton Oilers

  63. C Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings

  64. D Jeff Petry, Montreal Canadiens

  65. LW/RW Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames

  66. D Charlie McAvoy, Boston Bruins

  67. C Ryan O'Reilly, St. Louis Blues

  68. G Ilya Sorokin, New York Islanders

  69. D Seth Jones, Chicago Blackhawks

  70. G Marc-Andre Fleury, Chicago Blackhawks

  71. C/LW Sam Bennett, Florida Panthers

  72. C/LW Roope Hintz, Dallas Stars

  73. C Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins

  74. D Miro Heiskanen, Dallas Stars

  75. LW/RW David Perron, St. Louis Blues

  76. D Devon Toews, Colorado Avalanche

  77. LW/RW William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs

  78. C/RW Martin Necas, Carolina Hurricanes

  79. C/RW Elias Lindholm, Calgary Flames

  80. G Juuse Saros, Nashville Predators

  81. D Neal Pionk, Winnipeg Jets

  82. RW Brock Boeser, Vancouver Canucks

  83. D MacKenzie Weegar, Florida Panthers

  84. C Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals

  85. D Alec Martinez, Vegas Golden Knights

  86. C Bo Horvat, Vancouver Canucks

  87. C/RW Joe Pavelski, Dallas Stars

  88. G Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens

  89. C/RW Ryan Strome, New York Rangers

  90. G Tristan Jarry, Pittsburgh Penguins

  91. C Mat Barzal, New York Islanders

  92. LW Jason Robertson, Dallas Stars

  93. C William Karlsson, Vegas Golden Knights

  94. D Justin Faulk, St. Louis Blues

  95. G Jordan Binnington, St. Louis Blues

  96. C/RW Sam Reinhart, Florida Panthers

  97. LW Taylor Hall, Boston Bruins

  98. G Frederik Andersen, Carolina Hurricanes

  99. C Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington Capitals

  100. LW/RW Zach Hyman, Edmonton Oilers

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