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LeBrun: Inside the NHL’s intense, vicious, hilarious fantasy football wars


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Jacob Trouba dropped some big news this week at the NHL player tour.

He has stepped down … as commissioner of the Rangers fantasy football league.

“I turned over the commissioning to Foxy this year,” the Rangers captain said with a laugh, referring to teammate Adam Fox. “I could not handle it anymore. Too much complaining. Oh man. It’s always the people who try to circumvent the trade system and make side deals.

“Now it’s Foxy’s problem.”

Don’t get Trouba wrong: He doesn’t need the grief, but he loves the fantasy league. And he’s not the only one.

The Athletic spoke with 32 star players representing 29 of the 32 NHL’s teams, and all of them confirmed there’s a vibrant fantasy football league that consumes their NHL clubs.

“It’s crazy how much our team conversation during the year is based off of football,” the Ducks’ Troy Terry laughed.

“Every morning, you’ve got trade talks, and then football season is over and we’re like, ‘What are we going to talk about?'” Trouba said.

Who are the NHL’s most intense owners? And most annoying? Who talks the most trash?

Here’s a look inside hockey’s fantasy football wars.


Cody Ceci is the Oilers’ defending champ, but the big news is the new player this season.

“My first year,” said Leon Draisaitl, who is partnering with Jack Campbell. “I’m 1-0 after Week 1. So far I’m loving it.”

Why did he finally join?

“Guys were all over me for the last couple of years that I had to be part of it and so I said, ‘Screw it, I’m in.'”

It’s quite the change of attitude, according to Draisaitl’s fellow superstar teammate, Connor McDavid.

“He complained about it time and time again. He hated hearing about it,” McDavid said. “He got a win in the first week. I think he’s hooked now.”

McDavid also shared a little intel or, at least, a suspicion about commissioner Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

“Nuge runs it for our group, but it’s very much run by Zach Hyman,” he laughed. “I hope they’re not colluding. I definitely warned them about that.”


You want to talk fantasy football fanatic?

“I’ve spent by far the most time and research on it in the last four, five years,” Filip Forsberg said. “I got to know (49ers tight end) George Kittle a couple of years ago. Our wives are best friends. … That kind of sparked some interest. And once I’m into something, I want to actually be into something.

“My first fantasy draft, I spent like 50 hours of reading and watching of research. … And I made the Super Bowl (but) lost.”

One teammate already has tried this season to leverage Forsberg’s friendship with Kittle. That same teammate, according to Forsberg, is also the worst fantasy player on the team.

“It’s Roman Josi,” Forsberg laughed. “He’s probably No. 2 in time spent (researching) after me, but I think he’s been in the bottom three for four years.”

And yeah, Josi drafted Kittle and then tried to entice Forsberg “three minutes after Monday Night Football” in Week 1. Forsberg would love to get Kittle, but he’s not making a bad trade just to do it. He’s in it to win!


“Yup, Trouba couldn’t handle it,” Fox laughed of his new commissionership.

Priority 1? No more questionable trades.

“I’ll put my foot down,” Fox said. “I was joking because we had our draft last Tuesday and I was very sick on Monday. I said the stress of the commissioner (job) is getting to me.

“No, I don’t mind it. … I think it’s a great thing for the team to do, and everyone’s talking about it all the time.”

Just don’t finish last. There’s a price for that.

Zac Jones lost last year,” Fox said. “Once training camp rolls around, he’ll be doing a nice lemonade stand out front at practice.”


Cole Caufield said the player to watch is Brendan Gallagher.

“Gallagher is a little fishy,” he said. “He’s always trying to fleece guys in trades.”

Defending champ? Captain and commissioner Nick Suzuki. “An honest guy,” Caufield said. “A respectful guy.”

Caufield is 1-0 this year and “looking forward to being 2-0” but is mostly in it for the camaraderie.

“It’s probably one of our biggest conversations at the start of the year,” he said.


Like many leagues, the Bill-Bengals canceled game caused some issues for the Jets last season.

“We had to come up with a bit of a ruling,” Josh Morrissey laughed. “There were a few contentious days in the locker room. But that makes it fun. That’s what it’s all about, is the chirps and the guys making trades and obviously you’re always giving it to the guy who you think made the bad move.”

“I personally wasn’t a huge NFL guy before I joined the (fantasy) league. … Now I’m all into it Sundays, Mondays, Thursdays.”

Most annoying fantasy player on the team? Star goalie Connor Hellebuyck.

“For sure,” Morrissey said. “He drives a pretty tough bargain, and he’s not going to vary from what he believes. Yeah, he’ll send you a trade offer that’s just awful. I don’t know if there’s a GM in the NHL like that, but this guy is tough to deal with for sure.”

Golden Knights

First, some franchise news.

“I gave (Jonathan) Marchessault a 25 percent stake in my team,” Jack Eichel revealed. “I didn’t have a great year last year so I’m looking to bounce back. I don’t love my team early. I lost Week 1.

“But it’s great, it brings the guys together. It’s just constant chatter.”

Captain Mark Stone runs the league. Who’s the most annoying player?

“Nic Roy,” Eichel said without hesitation. “I don’t think he knows anything about football. Guys were just robbing him of all his players last year. He made some of the worst trades. … He’s always trying to move players, but he has no idea — he doesn’t know any of the players. Him and (Michael) Amadio were on a team last year, and they were terrible.”

Blue Jackets

Defending champ in Columbus? The satisfying smile on his face said it all.

“First time,” Johnny Gaudreau said. “I started out 0-3 last year and found a way to win it all. This year, we’ve got pretty much most of the same guys (in the league). We lost (Jakub) Voracek and then we lost someone else. But we picked up a couple of Canadians, so that’s great. … They don’t know who they’re drafting. Free money.

“I was giving them a hard time, like, ‘Let’s get the CFL draft for these kids.'”


Tage Thompson, the Sabres’ goal-scoring machine, doesn’t carry the same swagger in fantasy.

“I’ve never been a big football guy, but if you live in Buffalo, you kind of have to,” said Thompson, who’s in Year 3 of his fantasy football career. “I was terrible last year. They almost kicked me out because I kept forgetting to set my lineup.”

Luckily, Thompson has some help, teaming up with blueliner Mattias Samuelsson.

“I don’t really know what I’m doing, but he does,” Thompson said. “I’m kind of piggybacking off him.

“But it’s fun. It’s just something to talk about around the locker room.”


Nazem Kadri said one of the team’s assistant trainers runs the league and “makes sure nothing shady is going on.”

Defending champ?

“I am,” Kadri smiled. “I’ve been playing it for a long time. It’s something I enjoy. It’s kind of team bonding in a way, right? You try to make some trades and maybe weasel some other guy, see who you can take advantage of.

“It’s constant conversation over eight, nine months.”

Most annoying person in the league?

“That’s Big Z,” Kadri said. “(Nikita Zadorov) won’t shut up sometimes. He’s always trying to make deals that don’t make sense.”

Does that mean he can be taken advantage of?

“That is insider information that unfortunately I can’t give you,” Kadri laughed. “But Z is definitely one of the most annoying guys to deal with because he’s constantly trying to rip people off.”

Maple Leafs

Ryan Reaves has taken over running the Leafs fantasy league after former commissioner Alex Kerfoot signed in Arizona. Or at least that’s what captain John Tavares thinks happened.

“I’m saying ‘I think’ because I auto-drafted,” Tavares said.


“I was on a camping trip with my family so they screwed me on scheduling. I was off the grid.”

How did his team end up?

“So-so,” he said. “I think Gio (Mark Giordano) beat me last night.”

A few years back, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner shared a team. But no longer.

“No, that was definitely banned,” Tavares said. “We said, ‘This is not OK when you’ve got two of the top 10 earners in the league.’”

The defending champ?

“I think Auston,” Tavares said. “I think he beat me last year in the final.”


With Patrice Bergeron retiring, Brad Marchand finally got his opening to join what commissioner Charlie McAvoy called “a civil league.”

“Bergy did it, and he didn’t know anything about football,” McAvoy said of his former captain. “But he was like, ‘I’m in. Let’s do it.’ And he learned about football and then started to love football.”

Fitting that Marchand, perhaps the next captain, replaces him.

“Marchy was like, ‘Bergy’s been telling me to do this for years. I’ll take his spot and I’ll do it,’” McAvoy said. “The guy doesn’t know a thing about football.”

Matt Grzelcyk is the defending fantasy champ.


“Our league in Florida is good,” Matthew Tkachuk said. “There are 12 teams, and we have eight, nine of the same guys from last year.”

That includes captain Aleksander Barkov, who, um, hasn’t quite grasped fantasy football yet.

“Barky is just a donation every year,” chuckled Tkachuk. “I’m serious. He doesn’t know much. Even this year, we had the draft, he was still in Finland and he was like, ‘How do I do auto-draft?’ So we helped him to do auto-draft. And he has by far the best team.

“It’s crazy how that works. The rest of us geniuses actually drafting obviously are not.”


“We have a good punishment (for last place),” said Matthew’s brother, Senators captain Brady Tkachuk. “I can’t reveal it until it happens, because I feel like once I reveal it, it’s probably going to be me. But we have good punishment that I think people are going to get a good laugh out of.”

Defending champ? Cam Talbot, with the canceled Bill-Bengals game factoring in.

“I don’t know what happened exactly — projected points or something like that,” Tkachuk said. “I stayed out of it.”

Tkachuk also wouldn’t confirm what one league source told The Athletic, that Claude Giroux was the team’s best fantasy football player.


The presence of a former captain brings some intrigue in Anaheim.

“Ryan Getzlaf is actually still hanging around in the league somehow,” Terry said with a laugh. “Getzlaf’s a tough guy to kick out of your fantasy football league. Not that we don’t still want him.”

Defending champ? Again, Getzlaf.

“Which bothered all of us,” Terry said, again laughing.

Terry would like a mulligan on his first-round pick from last week’s draft.

“I took Cooper Kupp in the first round, so yeah … it was a tough first week.”

Cam Fowler runs the league.


Captain Anze Kopitar is partnering with Adrian Kempe this season in their league.

“Week 1 loss for our team, but we’ll bounce back,” he said. “I actually won it last year with Sean Durzi as my partner. But full disclosure, I do absolutely nothing. I’m just a partner. I am the investor. I’m like a special adviser.”


Brock Boeser runs the league and “does a good job at it,” said new captain Quinn Hughes.

Which Canuck makes the most annoying trade offers?

“I might be that guy,” Hughes smiled. “But no, I love it. Guys are always giving each other crap and sending terrible trade offers, trying to get the edge. It’s just great.

“I think fantasy football is just another thing that gets the group together.”


Jack Hughes, Quinn’s brother, is also big on fantasy football, but a trade before Week 1? Too much.

“(Curtis) Lazar was pitching me for a trade,” he laughed. “I’m like, ‘Let me see how my team does.’

“You’ve got to remember that teams are always changing, right? The first two, three weeks will be feeling it out. … A month in, the group chat will probably be absolutely firing on that stuff.”

Nathan Bastian is the commissioner.


Last year, Tom Wilson and Nicklas Backstrom shared championship honors, calling a draw to deal with the BillsBengals canceled game.

“I think Stromer (Dylan Strome) was dead last,” Wilson laughed. “The price he had to pay was buy a fancy team dinner on the road, with some red wine and stuff so it got a little pricey.

“Strome has guaranteed he won’t be last again, so we’ll have to check back in a few months.”

T.J. Oshie is the commissioner.


Captain Anders Lee revealed a bit of controversy: A rogue second league has entered the Islanders locker room.

“A LIV fantasy football league sprouted up,” Lee said with a laugh. “We’ve had some outside investments come in, so now we have two leagues. Some guys got invites to both. Some guys stayed true.”

Lee lamented he’s a combined 0-2 in both leagues after Week 1.

Worst fantasy player on the team?

“Oh, Barzy stinks,” Lee said of star Matthew Barzal. “I’m right there with him now, though, so I don’t have much of a leg to stand on.”


Bowen Byram won the league, run by trainer Scott Woodward, two years ago in just his second year in the NHL but credits Kurtis MacDermid for the victory.

“(He) takes cares of most things because I’m not the most dedicated,” Byram said. “We lost last year, I think in the semifinals. So we’ve got a reputation to uphold.”

Most annoying member?

“I’m sure some people get annoyed with me,” Byram laughed. “I think everyone has their moments.”


There were repercussions for Jason Robertson missing camp during a contract dispute last year: namely, that he also missed out on the fantasy league. He made sure to get in this time.

“I just said, ‘Guys, get me in there. I’m hungry, and I want to win,”’ Robertson laughed. “I won this past week, so yeah, cheers.”

Mason Marchment is the commissioner.


Newly signed Michael Bunting now runs the Canes league.

“Took the reigns right away, which I love,” Seth Jarvis said. “There might have been some shady stuff if he wasn’t running it. … New guy, he doesn’t have the relationships with anybody, so nothing under the table.”

Jarvis had the eighth overall pick this year.

“I thought I had a really good team — turns out not really,” he laughed. “This is the first year I’ve ever played. … I auto-picked half my draft. I don’t like my odds.”


Defending champ? “I can’t even remember,” laughed Seth Jones. “I don’t even know if he’s on our team anymore. We’ve had a little bit of turnover.”

Sounds like commissioner Tyler Johnson has deeper issues to deal with than just that, though.

“We had some problems with some people paying last year,” Jones said. “We’re going to try to keep it tighter this year, show the money upfront.”

Meanwhile, it’s been a tough start for Jones.

“I’m currently 0-1,” he said. “I’m going to have to look at the waiver wire.”

Connor Bedard, the top pick in this year’s real-life NHL draft, isn’t in the league yet.

“No, but I’m in one with a couple of buddies,” he said. “We lost Week 1. It’s my first time playing. It’s pretty fun.”


Matt Boldy shares a team with video coach Jonas Plumb, and they beat Brandon Duhaime and Connor Dewar in Week 1.

“Those are two of my good buddies so I was glad to beat those two,” Boldy said.

The real target, though, is back-to-back champs Mats Zuccarello and assistant equipment manager Matt Benz, who lost in Week 1.

“Basically everyone is out just to beat them,” Boldy said.


Matty Beniers announced with a look of pure satisfaction that he beat Jordan Eberle in Week 1.

“It’s going to be a hostile couple of months,” he added jokingly. “Guys will be unhappy.”

Justin Schultz and Jaden Schwartz were the team’s co-champs last season, splitting after the Bills-Bengals canceled game.

“Some guys come out of the woodwork — like, you wouldn’t expect them to be fantasy football guys and they’re just like on their phones all day looking at the waiver wire,” Beniers said.

Red Wings

“It really gets going in the locker room,” captain Dylan Larkin said.

Especially over trades.

“Every year, around the (fantasy) trade deadline, there’s always a controversial trade,” Larkin laughed.

“(Commissioner Robby) Fabbri is always in talks with guys looking for something. Our emergency backup goalie (Josh Block) was in our league for a long time and he always had controversial trades.”

Defending champ?

Olli Maatta won last year,” Larkin said. “Auto-draft, too.”


“I actually won our league last year, and I did it on auto-draft,” Clayton Keller said sheepishly.

Imagine how popular he was after that.

“They were chirping me a little bit,” he laughed. “Kind of the same thing this year after I told everyone I was going to auto-draft again. We’ll see where I end up.”


Mikhail Sergachev, the Bolts’ rep at the player tour, isn’t in their fantasy league, but he hears the chatter.

“All the time,” he laughed.

So I reached out to captain Steven Stamkos to get the dirt.

He said assistant athletic trainer Mike Poirier runs the league — and there’s also a weekly DraftKings fantasy league that includes current and former players and staff. They keep track of the scores and have weekly and end-of-year prizes. So yeah, the Bolts love their fantasy football.


Mario Ferraro, at the tour for the Sharks, said he wasn’t a part of their team league either, but he did reveal that the legendary Joe Thornton still is.

Logan Couture confirmed by text that they run a league with current players, former players and a few local friends. Thornton was a co-champion last year, with a draw in the final after the canceled Bengals-Bills game.

“There he goes. One of God's own prototypes.

A high-powered mutant of some kind, never even considered for mass production.

Too weird to live, and too rare to die.”

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