Sophomore slumps and threats of violence

Derek Van Deist wisely penned a column this morning in the Sun basically inferring how screwed the Oilers would be if both Cogliano and Gagner had tandem sophomore slumps in the coming season. We’ll forget for the moment the fact that mentioning slumps is one of the things you DON’T DO with a sophomore player—like telling a stage actor to break a leg prior to a performance.

We thought the quotes from the two players on avoiding the sophomore slump are quite telling:


“A lot of the sophomore jinx has to do with guys forgetting how hard they worked to get here going into their rookie year. All of us that are going to be sophomores this year know how hard we have to work. We have worked hard this summer trying to make sure it doesn’t happen.”

There have been many stories on Gagner’s commitment to training both on and off the ice, and we like his approach to having a productive second year in the league. “The only thing I can do to avoid the slump is to bang out squat thrusts until my eyes bleed. Tally-ho!”

What a good kid. We’d wager dollars for doughnuts that Gagner won’t have much of a trail off in his second year if any at all. His work ethic and seemingly “hard-work-no-ego” approach to the game simply shant allow it.


“I think the sophomore jinx is something you make up in your mind and the more you think about it, the more negative thoughts you’re going to get and the more bad things are going to happen.”

Ah, young Andrew. A bit more zen about it all, aren’t we? A bit more “The Secret” about the whole thing, it would seem. Negative thoughts won’t be the only thing could potentially derail your efforts in the next season. We would be more concerned if you decided to step up and take Raffi Torres/Jarret Stolls’ role in the E-town party scene this year. There are plenty of clubs that have lost their “an Oiler parties here” cache, and they will be looking to recruit. All the positive thoughts in the world won’t help you if you are rolling into practice hung over—or worse.

An Andrew Cogliano will be a good test of this new coaching/managing/GMing/Director of Hockey Operations machine. Keeping all these kids on the straight and narrow, and productive to boot, is no small order, particularly if they enjoy some more success as a group. It will be interesting to see if they start to get ahead of themselves and develop attitudes. This is hopefully where Daryl Katz can help. If he starts to see 23 little egos getting bigger with each passing game he can bring all the sophomores into a solid gold room in his mansion and give a little speech:

Katz: Show of hands, who here is a billionaire?

(All players sitting cross legged in front of Katz shake their heads and look confusedly at one another.)

Katz: That’s kinda what I thought. See I am a billionaire, and I also happen to own each and every one of you. Do you see me at Chrome Lounge in the North End of town on game nights?

All players: No.

Katz: Precisely. And if my teams of Navy Seals that follow you around see ANY of you out on game nights you will be black-bagged and brought back here to Katz Manor so fast your heads will spin. And you, Cogliano, I will kick your head clear off your shoulders and out that ten-foot window overlooking the beautiful river valley. And I will also have all history of you erased before your head hits the river.

Now THAT is how you avoid a sophomore slump. Strong leadership, surveillance and threats of horrific violence.

Fans can do their part too

Do your old Uncle Wanye a favour too, Nation. Let’s not get into a sophomore slump watch to start this season. This includes avoiding saying things like:

  • Is there a sophomore slump?
  • Look: the sophomore slump!
  • My the Oilers are beset with sophomore slumps this season.

It’s such a stupid thing to discuss, potentially damaging to fragile young psyches and totally removes any intangibles or legitimate reasons for reduced production should that occur. Cogliano and Gagner are both going to be productive for years to come at an NHL level, perhaps even legitimate stars in the league. The last thing they need as they enter into their second NHL season—complete with harder checking lines, more even-strength minutes and (gasp!) expectations—is a bunch of us to sit around saying “Wow, tough luck on that powerplay. Must be the sophomore slump. SHOOOOOOOOOOT”


  • I'm a Scientist!

    Part of deveolping this team for the long term is to get these guys married off to hometown hotties before free agengy. Edmonton…Surrender your daughters. We can't afford our "kids" to go into any kind of slump on or off the ice.

  • I'm a Scientist!

    It's all how these guys start the season. If they come out half as hot as they finished, all will be good. If not, then the media will start pounding them with questions about a (insert 5 letter word here). At that point its all but a done deal. See Staal last season.

    My gut feeling is that one is more susceptible than the other but both will be okay this season.

  • I'm a Scientist!

    Agreed Wanye. I would hate to see everyone start getting down on this team if they come slow out of the gate. One of the reasons they did so well down the stretch is because there was really no expectations, and every point was a bonus. Gagner and Cogliano will be fine in the long run.

  • I'm a Scientist!


    I would say it's HALF about how these guys start the season and half about how Hemsky, Horcoff, Penner and Cole start the season.

    If the vets are carrying the weight in the early going then the attention on the kids will be secondary, wether they are putting points up or not.

  • I'm a Scientist!

    I agree with Rick, which is oddly becoming more of a frequent occurance lately.

    The ideal scenario is if the secondary scoring is the job for the "kids" and the primary scoring is the job for the highly paid veterans.

  • I'm a Scientist!

    Good point Rick. As long as we're winning the pressure on the young guys to put up numbers shouldn't be too significant. Of course if we stumble, only 3 of the first 15 are at home, then all bets are off.

  • I'm a Scientist!

    I've mentioned it before, but I don't believe in the sophomore slump.

    My exact words at the time: I think the "sophomore slump" is a simplistic explanation of complex phenomena only really referenced by the uninformed or the lazy/hurried (which is why you hear even good colour commentators mention it). It is mythology, akin to Thor, Zeus and efficient bureaucracy. The real explanation is that the numbers the vast majority of hockey fans use to judge players (i.e. counting stats) are influenced by a wide variety of factors (ice-time, quality of opposition and teammates, luck) and that a sophomore player is often placed in a different role with increased responsibilities and a decreased cushion.

    That said, Andrew Cogliano is almost certainly going to take a step back. His shooting percentage was the same as Ilya Kovalchuk's, and while he might take more shots, and is still likely to have a high shooting % given the nature of his scoring chances, the odds are really, really good that he doesn't score the same number next season.

  • I'm a Scientist!

    ryanbatty –

    That isn't entirely true. If they come out of the gate and win the first 3 of 15 at home I will bet you that people will want MacT hung by his thumbs on Jasper Ave. That bet is never off.

  • I'm a Scientist!

    I think there's two kinds of sophomore slumps. There's the statistical phenomenon that happens when a player changes responsibilities, lines, etc., or sees their luck run out, as you've described Jonathan, but I think there's also a more legitimate slump that can happen when a player fails to adequately adapt to being in the NHL long-term. I think the latter might explain how Andrew Raycroft has fallen down a well and stayed down there, when his progression through junior and the AHL suggested that he was on the way up. I don't think it's terribly likely to happen with our own youngsters, as they all seem to have good mental makeup on the surface; Nilsson looked like he was in the midst of just that sort of a slump early in the year, but I think he's righted the ship. But it is a real phenomenon, even if it's one of those violently abused sports cliches, and something that shouldn't be dismissed out of hand. I agree that Cogliano will probably see his stats hurt unless something else changes along the way, but I also agree that it'll probably be easy to attribute to other factors.

  • I'm a Scientist!

    wayne gretz for prime minister!

    '…surveillance and threats of violence'?

    gold. pure gold.

    '…my the Oilers are beset with sophmore slumps…'

    what a beauty. this site just keeps getting better and better. keep'r up up boys.

  • I'm a Scientist!

    Charlie –

    Many thanks my man. If you ever need a kidney or any other organ just let me know. I will gladly hold down a vagrant whilst Spin Cycle and Willis extract it. Brownlee will act as lookout/wheelman and it will go off without a hitch.

  • I'm a Scientist!

    …but I think there’s also a more legitimate slump that can happen when a player fails to adequately adapt to being in the NHL long-term

    That's a great article you've linked to.

    However, while some sophomore slumps would fall into the category you describe, many such slumps aren't sophomore ones; Jim Carey had one good year, won the Vezina as a sophomore, and was done with professional hockey three seasons later. You cite Raffi Torres as another example- in any case, my point is that you're describing slumps in general, and (without doing the research) I tend to think the majority of sophomore slumps are easier to analyze by looking at contributing factors.

    Of course, once the slump-which-isn't-really-a-slump starts, I imagine psychological roadblocks start being put up; but then dammit Jim, I'm a blogger, not a doctor.

  • I'm a Scientist!


    While I generally agree with you that a slump is a slump, age and confidence tend to have a lot to do with whether or not one falls into a slump. Like you, I haven't done any research on this, but it stands to reason that Gagner is more likely than, say, Sundin due to less exposure to the stresses of the game at that stage of their career.

    In short, I propose the term "Young'n Slump."

  • I'm a Scientist!

    @Jonathan: I grant that what I've written does effectively describe a slump in general, but then so does what you've written. The reality is, it's all of the above, depending on circumstances: sometimes, it's an imaginary slump because of counting numbers, even though the player is actually playing quite well, sometimes it starts because of those things but continues on due to psychology, and sometimes it's entirely a state of mind. And as Ender points out, younger players can have more fragile psyches than older players, because they're still developing, both as professionals and as people, and because they have less experience that they can draw on in coping with adversity, particularly at the NHL level, though obviously, as with any generalization, there are easy exceptions you can point to on both sides of the fence.