This guide describes a method of quality drafting and use of tactics to achieve consistent Stanley Cup success.
This is a many-faceted game. Inside, we’ll cover Scouting, Drafting, Player Development, Goalies, Personal Tactics, Team Tactics, and Practice. This is not completely comprehensive as there are other aspects to managing a winning team, but this will get to about 80 or 90% of what’s really needed.
– When making trades or signing free agents, you need to know what you’re getting into and what kind of player you’re acquiring.
– International leagues can be a fantastic source for player acquisition, so you need to keep an eye on them.
– Most obviously, you need to be able to draft successfully.
An NHL team in this game is allowed to have 15 scouts. Rather than permanently assign a scout to a particular beat, I scout different areas of the hockey world at different times, using all 15 scouts on these assignments. The best way to know anything about the makeup of a particular player is to get more than one eye on them. The cycle of each season is the same.
July and August:
Beginning in early July, I assign all 15 scouts to various North American leagues at random. We want to try and make sure the same scout is not looking at the same players all the time. Two scouts each are sent to the QMJHL, OHL, and WHL. Four scouts each are sent to the NHL and AHL, and one is assigned the ECHL.
The purpose of this trip is to scoop up as many players as possible. We’re not going to do anything specific with this information; the goal here is to try and develop a book on as much of these leagues as we can, so that later on, especially at the trade deadline, we have an idea of the makeup of various players that other teams might offer us. These trips are all set to Intensive, so they last the two summer months.
By now, the international leagues are settling into their seasons. Again at random, we’re going to send 15 scouts to the following leagues:
KHL (Russia – 2 scouts)
SHL (Sweden – 2 scouts)
Liiga (Finland – 2 scouts)
DEL (Germany – 2 scouts)
Tipsport Extraliga (Czech Republic)
EIHL (Great Britain)
GET Ligaen (Norway)
In some of these leagues, the chances of finding a useful player are remote, but they’re still worth a look. In others – particularly those we’re scouting with two scouts – NHL-caliber players can frequently be found. Here’s an example of a player I found toiling away in the Swiss league:
Maier is 36 now, but he was once an elite athlete and can still play. He’s got nearly 1,000 games under his belt as a lockdown defensive winger. I’ve dug up starting caliber-goalies in Russia and Sweden and a top-notch second- or fourth-line winger in Germany.
This scouting trip need not be intensive; good players will be found quickly. You can run this as a Normal trip that takes three weeks in September.
September 26 through January 1:
Here we return to scouting the NHL and AHL exclusively; again, we are trying to develop a useful book on the rest of the league. This time, each scout will be assigned at random to an NHL or AHL team. Self-scouting is crucial! So to start, two scouts each should be assigned to your own team, two to your AHL affiliate, and two more to your ECHL team if you have players there. This trip starts on September 26 for a specific reason: your roster must be trimmed to 23 and anyone assigned to the minor leagues will be there. The remaining 11 or 9 scouts will start scouting NHL and AHL teams – I assign them at random, so the same scout isn’t looking at the same team every year. Scouting a team takes two to three weeks, so once a cycle is complete, you can reassign them to another 15 teams. You should wrap this up by New Year’s Day; it’s OK if not every team is covered, but the goal is to get to as many as you can.
January through April:
Here we will scout the draft. I used to scout the draft all season long, but found it largely unnecessary. All 15 scouts will be assigned to “Scout NHL Draft” – and I typically put the upper age limit at age 18. You will scoop up some 19 year olds because the players they scout will be 18 at the beginning of the assignment, but this prevents you from scouting too many overagers who are still draft eligible but have less projection in them.
All 15 scouts should scout the draft Intensively, which will last a little more than two months. You’ll record the results, then send them on a second, identical trip, which will change some of their opinions and pull in a few new players as well.
May and June:
On your scouting trips, some players will be seen by all 15 scouts and some will only be seen by a handful. For those players who seem promising but have been missed by too many scouts, this is your time to gather up those last bits of info. Don’t use the option to scout the player on the player screen! “Any scouts available” will only get you three looks, and you don’t get to control which scouts see him; it could be one who already has. A better approach is to put all such players on the shortlist and then tell all 15 scouts to “Scout the Shortlist.” The downside is, you can only do this for about 15 players; any more, and they won’t finish before the draft.
– The “notes” section on a player is limited, and there’s no way to sort all the players you made a particular note for. Say you want to note a player with good consistency; you can do it, but you can’t find all players with good consistency.
– The scouting reports on a player’s screen are limited to ten at a time; if all 15 scouts saw a player and have an opinion, you’ll miss five.
First, I highly recommend the following two pages:
While I don’t swear by every piece of advice on the pages, they’re indispensable resources for anyone needing to successfully draft a team.
Putting together your draft board can be as time-consuming or as efficient as you want it to be, but it’s important to at least focus on the right things. Here’s an example of mine following a draft (the top of it, anyway.)
We’ll focus on the skaters first. The traits I care about are as follows: mental traits of Aggression, Anticipation, Bravery, Determination, Teamwork, and Work Rate; all physical traits but particularly Stamina (we’ll see why later); and the hidden traits of Consistency, Decision Making, and Important Matches.
I also care how many stars a scout gives a player; what position they play; and their ISS ranking.
However, the most important factor is a player’s aggregate star rating. This is far from perfect – a player can easily be a consensus five-star and never develop – but very very few, if any, players can be consensus three-stars or below and turn into NHLers. We have all 15 scouts on this for a reason: they’ll find consensus on some and disagree on others. I eliminate all players from consideration who haven’t gotten at least a four-star rating from a majority of my scouts. And in practice, I rarely have to dip into the players who aren’t almost completely consensus four-stars. The lowest player on the particular board above has 7 four-star ratings, 1 three-star, and 4 two-stars, and I was never at risk of having to go that far down. In fact, I ended up leaving undrafted a number of players who had ratings such as 11 four-stars and 2 three-stars.
You can quickly see how your scouts feel about a player by looking at the Notes & Stats section of the scouting report. Beware though: only the most recent ten looks are shown. Here is an example:
This was my sixth-round pick in this draft. You can see that most scouts consider him “excellent” and a few others think he’s “decent.” A guide to their opinions is as follows:
“Excellent prospect” – 5 stars
“Good prospect” – 4 stars
“Decent prospect” – 3 stars
“Marginal prospect” – 2 stars
“Limited potential” – 1 star
“Did not believe he is good enough” – 0 stars
Again – Never mess around with any prospect who isn’t mostly a four-star.
There are numerous invisible player traits, the “codes” for which can mostly be cracked by looking at the player’s Report Card and checking his Mental Characteristics against the EHM Scouting Report Compilation linked above. I don’t use these for drafting; they’re mainly useful for figuring out how to treat a player as he plays out his career. (For example, a player who is Professional can often benefit from being disciplined for poor play.)
However, there are three traits that will only show up on a player’s Overview, and then only if you know what to look for. These are Consistency, Decision-Making, and Important Matches. I won’t reiterate here how to find them; the blurbs to look for are summarized nicely in the Scouting and You page linked above. Note that “Important Matches” has no “needs to improve” blurb; a player can be good at them, or not, but a scouting report will never say that he’s bad at them.
MENTALS AND PHYSICALS
Each player gets a formula for his mentals in which Determination counts double; Work Rate and Anticipation count 1.5, and Bravery counts half, with Aggression being subtracted from the total by the difference between 12 and the player’s actual number. (Thus, if his Aggression is 6 or 18, we subtract 6.) We want a player who has some aggression but isn’t a psycho, either. In the physicals section, Stamina carries double weight and Strength carries half. The style of team we’re building requires high-quality skaters in fantastic shape, but doesn’t demand Wrestlemania superstars. You should feel free to weigh the mental traits however you like.
Notice that we’re not looking at technical traits here. Those will develop over time, or not, but most draft prospects will be technically incapable of playing in the NHL right away. However, mentals develop slowly or not at all, and a player with low physical traits may see some improvement in them but will never be a physical specimen.
For the most part, I eliminate all players from consideration who have low consistency, and strongly downgrade the ones with low decision-making. But this, like everything else, is not an absolute rule. High determination is important. High stamina matters. But nothing is a deal-breaker. You will take greater risks with less ideal players as the draft wears on. Here are some examples:
Meet Arslan Levitsky. He’s lightning-fast and an unstoppable scorer. Last season, his age-22 year, he scored 92 points in 79 games while averaging an 8.11 rating. He also has very low Consistency. I drafted him at the tail end of the first round five seasons ago. I had already drafted a player rated much more highly on my board at #18 overall (using a pick I acquired from another team) and Levitsky, another consensus five-star and the #12 ISS player, fell to my spot at #27 overall. With a bird in the hand, I decided a risk on a low-Consistency player was worth it. The guy I took nine spots earlier has yet to leave the AHL; Levitsky is a rock star.
I tend to really want players with high Determination; it usually means better success in big games (you know, like the playoffs.) However, not everyone has to be perfect. Hercules Styf, here, has awful determination, but makes up for it with an elite Work Rate (which governs how consistent a player is from shift to shift.) Styf was a second-round pick, this year’s Calder Trophy winner, and skates on the first line opposite Levitsky. And he picked up 16 points in 19 playoff games, too.
On my draft board, I will rank players against each other, considering their scouting opinions; invisible traits; and mentals & physicals. Scouting opinions take highest precedence; the others just tend to be a matter of opinion. How to rank a player with high mentals but poor decision-making against a player with good consistency, unknown decision-making, and average mentals? It’s more art than science. I tend to weigh the mentals highest, followed by invisibles, and then physicals, but it’s not a rigid method.
A final note about ISS rankings: their main use is as a rough guide to where a player will be drafted. If, for example, in the third round, and choosing between a player with a ranking of 50 or one that’s unranked, lean toward the ranked player; he probably won’t be there at your next pick. If you’ve turned on recommendations from your staff, know that the same thing is all they’re really good for.
– Junior players: 2 years
– College players: 3 years
– International players: 4 years
(The game glitches a bit and doesn’t quite know what to do with unattached players who ought to be going to college but instead get reams of offers from 18U teams that they can’t accept. This is a bug. You’ll start with two years to sign him; eventually, he may catch on with a college team and you’ll get his rights indefinitely.)
Sometimes, with a player drafted high enough (usually top ten and not much lower) a player will be developed enough to at least be ready for the AHL. However, if that player is a junior player, you’ll have to either keep him on the NHL roster or send him back to juniors, and college players often won’t sign until the end of their college careers unless they’re promised a major role.
More typically, you want to wait at least a year before signing a player. The general rule to follow is that a player ought to have an average rating of over 7 in his current league before bringing him up to a higher one. (The major exception is for defensively-oriented players, who find it very hard to top 6.5.)
You will also want to keep track of their skills as time goes on. Again, this is where a spreadsheet comes in handy. If, in May or thereabouts, a player’s traits (particularly his technical ones) are rising significantly – generally a yearly increase of two or more – he’s likely to be a high-quality player in the future, and should be moved through the pipeline without delay. He won’t get any more benefit from sitting in juniors, or college, or wherever he is.
This rule, again, isn’t universal, but still generally applies to all levels. A player with a rating of 7 or higher in the ECHL should probably be in the AHL. Likewise, a player struggling in the AHL (rating in the low sixes) should drop to the ECHL.
For skaters, most players are what they are by age 23 or 24. From then on, their development is mostly invisible (for example, their Important Matches trait may rise, but you’ll never see it.) A player destined for NHL greatness will usually show that by age 20. If he’s 23 and doesn’t look NHL-ready – his traits are poor and his average rating can’t get near 7 in lower leagues – slap the bust label on him and move on.
The result of good drafting and proper pipeline development?
Four of six players, all first-round draft picks, on the NHL 1st All-Star Team.
First, your scouts will almost never call a goalie a four or five-star. Second, your scouts and staff are horrible at telling you how good a goalie will be in the future. Third, the development timeline requires much more patience. Fourth, certain rules need to be discarded and others need to be adhered to more religiously.
Let’s start with the last. One problem with goalies is that trait scores that can get you by as a skater and turn a player into a solid NHLer, can be disastrous in goalies. Take Stu Oskroba here:
His technicals are solid. Traits like this could make a skater a respectable third or fourth-liner. In a goalie, he’s a respectable backup, nothing more. If you try to play him 60 games a year, he’ll sink you several spots in the standings. Is he good enough in stretches? Yup! When my starter went down, Oskroba backstopped me to the Stanley Cup this year. He also had a 3.37 GAA the year before. To succeed over a whole season, you need a guy with elite, best-of-the-best trait statistics. Like this guy:
Stepanov here has 20 Glove and 20 Blocker. His Agility is top-notch. He’s 36, so his reflexes ain’t quite what they used to be, but still quite good. He used to be on my Vegas team, so why did I let him walk to the Rangers? Because in five seasons he only once (and then just barely) had a save percentage over .900. The reason: Consistency!
Skaters can sometimes get by with bad Consistency (although, really low Consistency is a deal-breaker – and you don’t know just how low until you use a player with fantastic traits for a season or two and he can’t poke his average rating above 6.6.) Goalies cannot! Stepanov’s poor Consistency – as well as some other goalies I’ve had the misfortune of using – sinks him as an elite player. If you have a goalie with elite traits but poor Consistency, the best thing to do is trade him for a package of draft picks. Stu Oskroba may not be an elite goalie, but he performs just as well as Klimenty Stepanov. When drafting goalies, automatically eliminate anyone who “needs to work on his consistency.”
Speaking of the draft, also realize that the previous rule about four-star players is useless for goalies. Most years, there won’t even be one. If a prospect gets four- and five-star reviews from your scouts, pay attention; otherwise, realize that even a two- and three-star prospect can eventually develop into at least a backup goalie.
Goalies also don’t obey the rule about being 23 years old. Patience in their development is a must, because they improve slowly as time goes on. There are certain rock stars who just turn into fantastic backstops by age 20 – and it’s very very hard to distinguish them in the draft from the others. Some guys just need to be brought along – for a long time. If he’s 23 or 24 and still has a bunch of yellow numbers, you can probably move on. But at all times, keep an eye on that development, because it’s highly possible to give up on a guy by age 23 or so and later on find out that he’s a 29-year-old starting goalie in the NHL.
Lastly, ignore your staff and scouts most of the time. Look at the player comparison they give you instead. If they say he’s “like Mr. Vezina Rockstar” then he’s likely worth a look. If he’s “like Mr. Schmuck Sievely” then leave him alone. I tend to only draft a goalie in the first round if I have two first-round picks; otherwise, I’m usually content to take a late-round flyer.
I don’t use Unit Tactics very much. Instead I tailor each player’s tactics to their abilities and let them play. Below is an example of the screen. We’ll look at our old friend Arslan Levitsky and his assigned tactics.
Let’s look at each one by one. Each player should have tactics that match his traits. In the NHL, I consider a trait from 12 to 14 to be about middling, while anything above or below that will influence the motion of those bars. In less-skilled leagues, it might be more like 9 to 11. You may want to aggregate several traits into one number.
– Mentality: Ranges from Very Defensive to Very Offensive. Offensive traits are mostly obvious (Stickhandling, Wristshot, and so forth) but also include Off the Puck and Creativity. Defensive traits are Positioning, Checking, Hitting, and Pokecheck. If a player is balanced, leave him Normal; otherwise, tilt his slider to the side that he does better.
– Aggressiveness: More aggressive players should be good at Checking and Hitting; less aggressive players will be less capable in those areas. A player’s Aggression trait will not factor here; that is how aggressive they’ll be if left to their own devices.
– Backchecking: Almost entirely based on Stamina. This is why I want my players to all be marathon runners. I want a team that backchecks like crazed bats. If they backcheck hard but have poor Stamina, they’ll tire quickly.
– Gap Control: A little bit nebulous; this is basically how tightly your players will stick to the opposing puckhandler and other offensive players. It ranges from Very Tight to Very Relaxed. Tight gap control is generally preferable, but players need to have good Balance and Agility to succeed at this, and Strength helps. If they don’t, back them off to Relaxed.
-Puck Pressure: In general, how hard your players will chase down loose pucks and pressure the puckhandler. They need to be good all-around skaters to do this. High puck pressure requires good Acceleration and Speed, and the other physical traits don’t hurt.
– Hitting: Simply put, how hard they hit the other team. Hitting is the only trait that matters here.
– Tempo: I leave this alone, because I don’t want one player on a line running around like mad while the others are slowing it down. Control Tempo at the Unit Tactics level and leave the players at Normal.
– Passing: Ranges from Very Safe to Adventurous. A creative team will be far more successful on offense than a boring one; this requires high Passing and Creativity.
– Shooting: Ranges from Very Selective to Barrage. I want my team shooting the puck all the time. If a player has either a good Slapshot or Wristshot score (more specifically, defensemen should have a good slapshot and forwards should have a good wristshot) then I like to set this at least to Heavy. Levitsky, with his scores of 20 in all shooting categories (including Deflections), is set to Barrage.
– Dumping the Puck: Tricky, because if you set it to Rarely, you need a guy with good Stickhandling and Deking skills, but setting it to Often requires good Acceleration and Speed – and not just for that player, but for his linemates.
In general, you should be wary of setting the sliders all the way to one side or the other. I have no qualms about Very Hard backchecking and Barrage shooting, but something like Adventurous passing requires elite scores in all traits that govern that tactic.
Certain sliders, I do bias toward one side. Backchecking tends to never go down below Normal. Shooting is almost never Selective, unless we’re talking about a clearly defensive player. Aggressiveness often drops to Easy but almost never to Calm.
For the “Additional Options” below the sliders, here’s how to set those:
– For Shoot/Pass, all players except those whose passing is definitely better should default to Shoot. Pass should be chosen only if a player’s Passing and Creativity is clearly higher than his shooting traits. However, you should also never have a line comprised of three players who bias towards the same thing.
– Fighting will be allowed for anyone with a decent-sized Aggression trait – usually about 10 or higher. Bonus if they’re good at Checking and Hitting.
– Carry Puck will be checked for anyone with good Stickhandling skills.
– Most offensive players will Join Rush, except the ones who are more defensively-oriented. Defensemen will if they’re good on offense, but it’s best not to have both d-men in a pairing set to join the rush.
This is a very direct style of play that takes it straight to the opponent. When your players are both backchecking hard and joining the rush, you can see why they need to have great Stamina. Most years, my teams lead the league in both shots taken and shots allowed per game (that is, we give up the fewest shots.) “Good things happen when the puck goes on net” is a good way to play hockey. It’s not unheard of for my teams to regularly pepper the opposing goalie with 45 or 50 shots while giving up only 20.
That being the case, you’ll also want to hire coaches whose bio indicates they like to play the same way. If your coaching staff is full of guys who “prefer a patient and defensive style of play” they won’t get the max out of the team (and unfortunately, that’s probably 75% of the staff available.) The head coach at a minimum should say “Prefers a direct style of play” or “Prefers an attacking style of play.” A side bonus to this is that it’s very enjoyable hockey, and not infrequently your players’ info page will say, “Is enjoying the team’s style of play.”
I like my line-matching to be 1v3, 2v2, 3v1, and 4v4. There are certainly good advantages to the others; just about any will work as long as the lines are put together correctly. In this setup, your lines should look like so:
– First line should be full of offensive powerhouses. They don’t have to be terrific on defense. (See in particular the profile of Hercules Styf above.) I like the wingers to be elite shooters – they may have some other small weaknesses in their game but they have to be unstoppable scorers. The center should be one of the league’s very best players with outstanding playmaking skills – Passing and Creativity in particular. They’re going to play high minutes, so they need to be top athletes and have top mentals as well.
– Second line should play more of an all-around game. Here are my two second-line wingers:
These guys are very good scorers, not elite. They play excellent defense. One is a top athlete with excellent positional sense; the other is an obnoxious grinding power forward who gets under opponents’ skins. Combined with an elite scoring center, this line is probably the best second line in the league. They’ll go up against other teams’ second lines and they’re equipped to both outdefend and outscore them.
– The third line is not concerned with scoring. All three of them have a 20 in Positioning and Checking. Most are actually not great shooters or stickhandlers; they are, however, top-notch athletes – better than the second-liners. Their job is to keep the other team’s top line off the scoreboard. Here, the rules about ratings go out the window. The 3rd-line center in particular will often have bad games, and his average rating will be low. They’re gonna get scored on. Judge this unit’s success by the other team’s shot totals.
– The fourth line is, well, whoever you can get. This is a good place to break in younger players while they wait for their turn on the top lines. It’s also a good place to sign a cheap but experienced free agent with a good well-rounded game. This is one place where unit tactics can sometimes be handy: if you’re able to put together a solid fourth line, more talented than your opponents, have them play with a high tempo. They’ll be going against other teams’ crappy fourth lines, and it’s a good way to squeeze out a little advantage.
For your defensemen, generally there isn’t too much to get fancy about. Your best two go on the top unit. Your next two go on the second. Your last two go on the third. Paying attention to handedness is useful, but not mandatory. Most of the time, you want your defensemen to be very well-rounded players, but a stay-at-home defenseman with great Positioning and a very aggressive style of play (high Aggression, Checking, Hitting) can be a really valuable third-pairing guy. I have one who’s scored six goals in 1,071 career games, but his career average rating of 6.68 actually indicates outstanding effectiveness on defense.
Powerplays mostly should be manned by your top two lines, plus the defensemen with the best Creativity and Slapshot. The PK is best manned by the players with good Positioning. Even Strength lines are for your best athletes.
I tend to almost always leave everything else on the Team Tactics page untouched. A notable exception is under Forward and Defense Usage (particularly Defense.) Usually I leave them at Normal, which will roll all four lines and all three pairings, but bias towards the top ones. If facing a do-or-die game, and maybe I have an injury replacement or two in the lineup, I may set the usages to Overload or Just Three.
You can hire six coaches, and there are seven practice regimens you can assign a player to. Each regimen should have two coaches assigned to it; each coach should be assigned to two or three regimens. (Exception: you might end up with a goalie coach who does nothing but coach goalies.)
In the guide linked above, it tells you (among other things) which coaching traits matter for which regimen. For Skating, Shooting, and Off. and Def. Skill, the higher of Coaching Defensemen or Coaching Forwards matters. Use the guide linked above to choose a regimen for a player.
Example of how to use it: The Skating regimen covers the practice areas of Conditioning, Skating, and Shooting. The practice area of Conditioning covers the traits Agility, Stamina, and Strength. The Skating practice area covers Acceleration, Balance, and Speed. The Shooting practice area covers the traits of Deflections, Slapshot, and Wristshot. Therefore, a player placed on the Skating regimen will improve more quickly in those areas than others.
Naturally, you will want your players working on their weakest traits. Also important, however, is to check the Attributes tab on the Practice screen. Do this before the season with players on the General regimen in the offseason; it will tell you which attributes the player is naturally getting better at (in green) and where his skills are eroding (in red.) Focus your practice on the traits where he’s eroding or stagnating.
Timing matters too. A player going hard in practice is more likely to get hurt. When the playoffs begin, all players except goalies should be moved to the General regimen – this will keep their fitness up but minimize injury risk. They should stay on General until the end of training camp. At this time, a few days on Intense won’t hurt, but you can also choose your players’ regimens for the season. Combined with some exhibition games, this should get them into game shape by the start of the season.
For any skater over 23, don’t expect their traits to make constant yearly improvements. However, the right practice regimen can give them a boost over the span of a few years.
When hiring coaches, you don’t need a coach who can do everything. Focus on just the areas where that coach will be needed in practice, along with Determination, Working with Youngsters, and his preferred style of play. (Not every assistant coach has to favor the direct style of play, but the head coach ought to.)