Over the last 12 months, a lot has been made about the process of expansion in the NHL. Was the expansion draft fair? Should teams have been allowed to protect more players? Are the long-suffering teams getting screwed out of a chance to win a title? With all the speculation that went into the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft, and all of the prognostication that happened afterward, you would have thought that someone could have predicted the success Vegas had in their inaugural season. And yet, no one did. How could that be?
In my opinion, there are two answers. First, there is quite obviously enough elite talent to go around. The depth of talent in the world was, perhaps, underrated by the pundits. Second, and more impressively, an absolutely brilliant management job can, in fact, make all the difference. And that’s exactly what Vegas got from George McPhee and Gerard Gallant.
So, can the same rules apply to fantasy hockey? Can a brilliant management job, and a bit of patience, really be all it takes to bring a ragtag group of expansion draft picks to a championship? Absolutely. And 2018 Hall of Fame inductee Lucas Barker is living proof.
Only the longest-tenured Capwise GMs will remember that the PCFL began not in the 14-team format we know today, but instead as a 12-team league – the standard size of Yahoo! Public leagues at the time. But after just one season, we collectively agreed to expand the league to 14 teams, which set the standard for the CHA going forward. The proper way to handle this expansion was among the most pivotal decisions in league history, and deciding on it was no easy task. I won’t bore you with all the details here (you can check out this article I wrote for Dobber that gives all the details, if you’re curious), but suffice it to say that without exactly the two perfect GMs, this expansion would’ve been an utter disaster. Thankfully, we had the right ones.
Lucas, who you know better as Zipper14, was the first of our expansion GMs to sign on. A regular around the Hockey Utopia forums, Lucas found the PCFL expansion to be the perfect opportunity to test his quickly developing fantasy hockey skills. “I started posting around 2005 or so. I joined [Hockey Utopia] for help beating my buddies in our Yahoo! league, and…got a lot of tips from Hockey Utopia founder The Hockey Hitman, Dobber Hall of Fame member Shoeless, and CHA founder, James. They helped me so much that I started looking for more challenging competition, and the PCFL was looking for GMs!” It was a perfect match.
With his “fantasy hockey cousin” Fukufuji (the other expansion GM), Lucas began building his JV team in 2009, spending one full season with just a JV roster and a host of future draft picks. “Fuku and I spent the whole year with nothing to do but learn the league and build JV teams. This meant a ton of scouting on my part, and I built a pretty good foundation. One of the first players I added was Derek Stepan, and he had been on my team up until this year.” Lucas’s Half Centaurs parlayed this strong JV foundation into a legitimate franchise in the years that followed. With savvy moves at the right time, the Centaurs quickly went from a hodgepodge of not-there-yet prospects and on-the-decline veterans, to a cost-efficient, dominant force to be reckoned with.
In just their third full season, the Centaurs made the playoffs as the #6 seed, and made it all the way to the finals (Florida Panthers, anyone?). The next season, they won their first of three championships in four years. Such was the dominance of this dynasty, that the Centaurs were in the championship matchup for 5 straight seasons from 2012-2017 – a feat matched only by the mighty Blue Ice Warriors of the HUEL. In all, the Centaurs have piled up four banners in their 8-year history.
And Lucas didn’t stop there. Joining as a charter member of the HUEL in 2011, he added another four banners with the Commonwealth Atom Cats (formerly Captain Plekanec), including an HUFA title in 2014.
So what makes this GM so dominant? “I tend to keep my cards close to my chest when it comes to strategy,” he said. “One big reason I’ve been successful is I have someone in CHA I can talk about moves with. You can’t really get advice for CHA on Dobber or Reddit. It’s great to have someone who knows all the parameters of the league to bounce ideas off of. There are so many factors in any decision, so it’s great to talk to someone in the know before making a big move.” And sometimes, it just comes down to luck. “One time I grabbed Andrew Hammond for a spot start, and he went nuts for the rest of the year and got me two banners. Last year I added Peter Budaj and he made the difference on one banner. Fantasy hockey is a lot like poker. You can’t do much without luck, but if you get it you have to take advantage of it.”
Of course, sustained success is difficult for even the finest GMs, and the downslope may be on the horizon for at least one of Lucas’s teams. “My PCFL team had an off year and might be in a little trouble. I traded up to draft Steve Mason in re-entry…. we all know how that worked out. On top of that, Holtby sucked, Carter got hurt and Pavelski fell off a cliff. Because of all that, I dropped some of my bigger contracts and was a seller at the deadline. If I can add some pieces The Half Centaurs might be ready to take another run at things next year. If the right deal doesn’t come along then I might head in to a full rebuild next year.”
But when you ask Lucas what keeps him coming back year after year, it’s clear that all the winning and the banners are just a small part of it. Really, it’s the people that make the difference. “It started off as a social thing. Something to razz friends about. Though after I started playing, I liked how it changed how I watched hockey; every time I put a game on I can root for someone, or something, or at least evaluate how a player is doing, or how much ice they are getting. Add in a bunch of great GMs to make it challenging, and a great commish to keep us in line and you’ve got a pretty engaging pastime!”
Congratulations, Lucas Barker – Capwise Hall of Fame Inaugural Class, GM Inductee