A fantasy hockey league is a group of people who create fictitious hockey teams often made up of players who, in reality, play on different teams, and then compete against each other to determine who has assembled the strongest group. Participants in a fantasy hockey league draft their team of players — usually those that play in the National Hockey League (NHL) — and compete based on the actual statistics that their players accumulate throughout the season. Many variations in how a fantasy hockey league operates exist, from the types of leagues, to scoring, to how winners and losers are determined. Some of the more common types of fantasy hockey leagues use either a head-to-head format, a points format, or what is known among fantasy league players as the "rotisserie" format.
A head-to-head fantasy hockey league pits individual fantasy teams against each other, just like the Chicago Blackhawks might face off against the St. Louis Blues. The team whose players generate the most statistics wins. A points fantasy league designates a certain number of points for hockey statistics, such as goals scored and assists, and the team with the most points at the end of the season wins.
Rotisserie leagues utilize a certain number of statistical categories, and fantasy teams are ranked at the end of each week. For example, in an eight-team league, the team that scored the most goals during the week would receive eight points, the second highest goal total would receive seven and so on. At the end of the hockey season, the team with the most points would be declared the champion.
Rules on a fantasy hockey team's structure also vary by league. Some fantasy hockey league rules allow rosters to be populated by a certain number of players without regard to position. Other leagues may restrict a fantasy roster to only two players at each position — one a starter and the other a reserve.
Fantasy hockey team owners use a draft to acquire players for their team. The most popular form of drafting is the "snake" draft. Team draft order usually is assigned by a blind draw or, in the case of a league that has been around for more than one season, by inverse order of last season's standings.
Teams select players according to the draft position they were assigned in the first round, but the order of selection reverses for the second round in a snake draft. A fantasy hockey team that drafts first in the first round drafts last in the second round. This "snaking" effect continues throughout the entire draft.
To many fantasy sports team owners, one of the most entertaining aspects of playing the game is trying to improve their team after the draft. Many owners will attempt to make trades to get a player they think is going to help them win the title. Additionally, these owners will regularly check the NHL player statistics, looking for an up-and-coming rookie or to replace an injured or underperforming player on his fantasy hockey league team roster.