NHL Should Embrace Fantasy Hockey More. Deal With DraftKings.com Is A Good Start.

Big news this week on the fantasy hockey front. The NHL has partnered with Draftkings. Draftkings is a daily fantasy sports website where you can compete head-to-head or against multiple other players. From the press release:

“Hockey fans will be able to take part in free to enter daily sports fantasy games on DraftKings.com for a chance to win numerous prizes, including trips to premier NHL events – 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic®, 2015 NHL® All-Star Game, 2015 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series™ and 2015 NHL Awards”

Per the details of the announcement, Draftkings will have ad placement on multiple NHL platforms. We can all expect to get really tired of Draftkings commercials by the end of the season, but at least it’ll give us a break from the same Enterprise commercial the NHL has been showing for the last four seasons.

This move should be good for not only hardcore fantasy fans, but the NHL as well. Fantasy sports increases your brand awareness because people learn who the players on teams are. When you look at how the NFL has embraced fantasy football, and the way that fans now know players on every team in the league, it’s not hard to see how it’s helped to grow their game.

Aside from the NFL, sports leagues have failed to properly embrace fantasy players and the revenue they can generate from growing the market. The NFL realized early on that cultivating the fantasy fans would lead to not only a more knowledgeable fanbase, but also more recognizable stars in the league.

Often times when people ask why hockey isn’t more popular you’ll hear sports pundits state that it’s a faceless sport. That outside of Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin nobody knows any hockey players. How even star players are only on the ice a third or half of the game. But football players are only on the field for half the game right? So why don’t more people know hockey players?

As fantasy players we all know third and fourth line players on teams we don’t follow and maybe only watch once a season. That’s because playing fantasy sports makes you a more knowledgeable fan. You not only learn who is playing for what teams, but also the strengths and weaknesses of players. You learn to appreciate the guys who do the small things like winning face-offs because you see their value on your fantasy team and can mentally associate that player with how they fit on their real team.

While some people aren’t big fans of fantasy sports because they don’t like rooting for players who aren’t on their team, it’s very easy to disassociate your fandom from player and a team. Everyone who isn’t a Ducks fan hates Corey Perry. But when he’s on your fantasy team, you still want him to score. And when he doesn’t score, you can hate him for not scoring, just as easily as you can hate him for scoring against your team. It’s part of the fun of fantasy sports.

The NHL partnering with Draftkings is a great move and I hope to see more fantasy coverage from the NHL network in the same way the NFL and their network have made fantasy coverage a big part of their game day coverage.

When you’re watching the NFL’s fantasy coverage you’ll see them announce how many fantasy points a player scored that day. That would be such a great thing to see from the NHL as well. They already have a partnership with Yahoo on their fantasy page. If the NHL Network would begin running actual fantasy leagues through NHL.com like the NFL is doing, it would go a long way to improving fantasy hockey across all sites.

It would be nice to see the NHL start unifying fantasy hockey scoring as well. For years now fantasy football has had two scoring types, Standard and PPR. Also, every week in football is a head-to-head matchup. Fantasy hockey has too many league types and scoring systems across the multiple sites that run games. There are Standard Roto leagues, Limited Start Roto Leagues, H2H Points, H2H Categories, etc. All of these leagues can have different scoring categories as well. Some leagues counts Penalty Minutes, while others don’t. Goalies sometimes score in three categories and other times score in four. All of this causes confusion for beginner fantasy players.

The NHL needs to create their own fantasy hockey site and hype it the way the NFL does. Make the rules and categories for the standard league simple and easy to understand for new players. You’ll see more fans interested in more players, and learning more about the game. It’s a win-win for fans and the league. Let’s hope that his deal with Draftkings is just the beginning of more fantasy coverage from the NHL.

Looking Back on The Forward Pass

Vancouver Millionaires 1914-15
This week I’m looking back at the invention of the forward pass in hockey. Way back when hockey first started out, players were not allowed to pass the puck forward. Hockey was played in a similar fashion to modern day rugby, where players would line up and pass back and forth to each other trying to spring a player who could skate the puck up the ice past the defense and create scoring opportunities.

As you can imagine, without the ability to pass the puck forward the flow of the game was considerably slower than today’s game. This meant that players didn’t tire as quickly as they do today. There wasn’t the frantic pace to the game that we see today, and most good players at the turn of the 20th century would play 50-60 minutes a game with only a couple substitutions per team. The longer a game would go the more important fit and fast players became. Players able to speed past defends and generate scoring opportunities were essential to good teams.

In 1913 Frank Patrick, and his brother Lester, were running the Pacific Coast Hockey Association (PCHA). A league they had started in 1911 which they hoped would rival the National Hockey Association (NHA); the precursor to the NHL. Always looking to innovate the game, the Patricks decided to allow forward passing within the center third of the ice. What we now call the neutral zone.

Forward passing did not sit well with many hockey purists of the day. Many felt that this would lead to more loafing. Loafing was a penalty at the time, as it was considered unsportsmanlike to stand around while your team is battling for the puck or trying to make plays. Purists felt that forward passing would allow players to loaf at center ice while waiting for a pass. Basically, they didn’t want cherrypickers. Also, it was felt that forward passing would ruin the strategy of the game and somehow make it less pure. Advocates for the forward pass made comparisons to lacrosse and American football as sports where forward passing didn’t hurt the overall game. (American football had just allowed forward passing in 1906 after 18 people across the country died due to mass scrums)

After the end of the 1913-14 season, the PCHA champion Victoria Aristocrats traveled to Toronto to take on the Toronto Blueshirts(now called the Maple Leafs) of the NHA for the World Champion and the Stanley Cup. Because the two leagues played with different rules, the series would be played with alternating rules per game depending on who was considered the home team. Not over did this mean that there would be no forward passing in Toronto home games, but at the time the NHA also played with a 7th skater, the Rover. Toronto would go on to win the series 3-0, but Victoria felt that goaltending was the difference and it wasn’t due to their style of play.

The following year, Frank Patrick would assemble a fantastic Vancouver Millionaires team which he both played for and coached. The star of the team was Cyclone Taylor, who had formerly played in the NHA and had once stated that he was opposed to the forward pass. However, it was clear that with his skill the forward pass would only help his game.

Vancouver would win the PCHA championship and would play Ottawa of the NHA for the Stanley Cup in 1915. Ottawa was the club Cyclone Taylor has played on when he first won the Stanley Cup in 1909. Ottawa was so sure they would win the Stanley Cup that the NHA didn’t even bring it with them to Vancouver.

At this point, NHA teams has been practicing the forward pass in anticipation of playing PCHA teams at the end of the year. However, since Vancouver was accustomed to it, they were able to come out flying. After taking game one of the series, playing with the forward pass, game two would be played without forward passing. However, because Vancouver had been used to playing a faster paced game all year long they were able to eventually wear down Ottawa. By the third period Ottawa was gassed and would go on to lose 8-3. The third game was even worse, as Vancouver won 12-3 playing with the forward pass, legitimising the strategy and rule change.

The NHA would fold after one more season, and it would take until 1918-19 for the NHL to adopt its own forward passing rule, but the PCHA changed the way hockey was played forever in 1913. Proving that the west coast is the best coast.

The Saddest News In Hockey This Week

On Tuesday EA released the list of game modes for their latest hockey game, NHL 15. This will be the first hockey game released for the PS4 and XBOX One consoles. Last year EA held off on releasing a hockey game for the new consoles because they said they needed time to perfect it.

So what did we hockey fans do about this? We bought NHL 14 and played it on our old systems all year. We’ve waited patiently all year for NHL 15 to come out so we can play it on our fancy new consoles. (God forbid EA ever release a new hockey game on PC.) Waiting in anticipation of how awesome NHL 15 would be. EA released Madden and FIFA last year on the next gen consoles, so it shouldn’t be that hard to make an awesome hockey game when you have a whole extra year of prep time right? Well, when you’re EA I guess anything is possible when it comes to screwing over your hockey fans. EA already knows that nobody else is making a hockey game right now, so they’re the only option we hockey fans have, and we’ll all end up buying their game because we have hockey cravings. This has been the case for several years now. With no competition in the market EA hasn’t had to compete with anyone and it’s lead to several versions of the game that have been less than impressive in recent years. However, this is the first time I’m seriously considering not purchasing their yearly NHL offering.

Why? Because I sold my old XBOX 360 system in anticipation of getting NHL 15 on my new XBOX One, and on Tuesday EA announced that the EASHL (EA Sports Hockey League) game mode will not be in the next generation versions of the game. Why would one game mode effect my buying decision? Because it’s the only game mode I, and a lot of other people I know, play.

For those unfamiliar with the series, the EASHL game mode allows you and up to five friends to play together on one team at specific positions against another team of players. It’s a great way to play with your friends because you’re all working together to beat someone else and you’re not getting upset with each other when you win or lose. You win and lose as a team which is always better.

As far as I know, I’ve owned every version of the NHL franchise since NHL 94. It’s my favorite video game series of all time. As a kid, it helped me to better understand hockey and get to know all the players names and positions. For years I would play against my brother or friends in versus games. However, as these last 20 years of playing video game hockey have gone by, I’ve found less and less time to play games. When I do though, I still like to play with my friends. The EASHL game mode was first introduced in NHL 09, and since then it’s been about 95% of what I play, when I play. I don’t even know how many hours I’ve spent playing it with friends and former hockey teammates over the last five years. Five years of playing with the same guys. I’ve met people from around the country while playing and ended up meeting a few of them in person as well. At times we have people disappear for awhile, as life happens, but almost everyone ends up coming back over time. We’ve all been there to hangout when someone breaks up with a girl or loses a job and just needs to get their minds off life by playing hockey and joking around. I’m going to be genuinely sad when I’m sitting at home itching for a game this season and won’t be able to shoot the shit with them for a couple hours.

Without EASHL I don’t see why I would buy NHL 15. Playing by myself would just make me sadder and miss playing with my friends. I guess I’ll just have to start playing real hockey more often!