Sophomore jinx more myth than truth

How many goals can the Oilers realistically score? Last season they scored 220 good enough for 8th in the Western conference, but only 17 behind the second-place Dallas Stars. But more importantly who will score those goals.

All summer and throughout the pre-season, many pundits, fans, bloggers and analysts wondered if Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano and Robert Nilsson could avoid the dreaded sophomore jinx.

Last season, Gagner tallied 49 points, while Cogliano and Nilsson had 45 and 41 respectively. So what numbers would be worthy of avoiding the jinx? If you think 50 points is the magic number, then one or possibly two of the kids might be jinxed.

Most would agree that Shawn Horcoff, Ales Hemsky and Erik Cole should all surpass the 50-point plateau. If they do, then it will be very tough for all the kids to get to 50.

In 2007–08, only the Montreal Canadiens had six or more players with 50+ points, but only five of them were forwards. Philly had six guys with 50, but one of them, Vinny Prospal, came over in a trade from Tampa Bay.

Calgary had five scorers with 50+, but only four were forwards. Ottawa had five forwards getting 50, but those four teams were the only ones to have five or more guys get 50+ points.

When you look at those numbers, the odds that the Oilers’ top-six forwards will all get 50+ points is slim.

Which leads me to the so-called Sophmore Jinx: Is it really that bad?

I decided to look at the top-50 scorers in the NHL last season to see how many of them were infected early in their careers.

Top 50 Scorers

Alex Oveckin:
81 GP, 52 G, 54 A, 106 PTS
82 GP, 46 G, 46 A, 92 PTS

Evgeni Malkin
78 GP, 33 G, 52 A, 85 PTS
82 GP, 47 G, 59 A, 106 PTS

Jarome Iginla
82 GP, 21 G, 29 A, 50 PTS
70 GP, 13 G, 19 A, 32 PTS
*Iginla had a bit of a setback, but rebounded to score 28 in his third year which is the fewest he has scored in a season since.

Pavel Datsyuk
70 GP, 11 G, 24 A, 35 PTS
64 GP, 12 G, 39 A, 51 PTS

Joe Thornton
55 GP, 3 G, 4 A, 7 PTS
81 GP, 16 G, 25 A, 41 PTS

Henrik Zetterberg
79 GP, 22 G, 22 A, 44 PTS
61 GP, 15 G, 28 A, 43 PTS

Vinny Lecavalier
82 GP, 13 G, 15 A, 28 PTS
80 GP, 25 G, 42 A, 67 PTS

Jason Spezza
33 GP, 7 G, 14 A, 21 PTS
78 GP, 22 G, 33 A, 55 PTS

Daniel Alfredsson
82 GP, 26 G, 35 A, 61 PTS
76 GP, 24 G, 47 A, 71 PTS

Ilya Kovalchuk
65 GP, 29 G, 22 A, 51 PTS
81 GP, 38 G, 29 A, 67 PTS

Alex Kovalev
65 GP, 20 G, 18 A, 38 PTS
76 GP, 23 G, 33 A, 56 PTS

Marian Gaborik
71 GP, 18 G, 18 A, 36 PTS
78 GP, 30 G, 37 A, 67 PTS

Mike Ribeiro
43 GP, 8 G, 10 A, 18 PTS
52 GP, 5 G, 12 A, 17 PTS
*Ribeiro was up and down between the AHL and NHL for four seasons, so he really doesn’t fit, but if you use his first two complete seasons he improves in year two.

Marty St Louis
56 GP, 3 G, 15 A, 18 PTS
78 GP, 18 G, 22 A, 40 PTS

Dany Heatley
82 GP, 26 G, 41 A, 67 PTS
77 GP, 41 G, 48 A, 89 PTS

Eric Staal
81 GP, 11 G, 20 A, 31 PTS
82 GP, 45 G, 55 A, 100 PTS
*Staal had a year in the AHL in between his two NHL season due to the lockout.

Ryan Getzlaf
57 GP, 14 G, 25 A, 39 PTS
82 GP, 25 G, 33 A, 58 PTS

Derek Roy
49 GP, 9 G, 10 A, 19 PTS
70 GP, 18 G, 28 A, 46 PTS
*Roy had a year in the AHL in between his two NHL season due to the lockout.

Jason Pominville
57 GP, 18 G, 12 A, 30 PTS
82 GP, 34 G, 34 A, 68 PTS

Mats Sundin
80 GP, 23 G, 36 A, 59 PTS
80 GP, 33 G, 43 A, 76 PTS

Shane Doan
74 GP, 7 G, 10 A, 17 PTS
63 GP, 4 G, 8 A, 12 PTS

Marc Savard
70 GP, 9 G, 36 A, 45 PTS
78 GP, 22 G, 31 A, 53 PTS

Anze Kopitar
72 GP, 20 G, 41 A, 61 PTS
82 GP, 32 G, 45 A, 77 PTS

Henrik Sedin
82 GP, 9 G, 20 A, 29 PTS
82 GP, 16 G, 20 A, 36 PTS

Mike Richards
79 GP, 11 G, 23 A, 34 PTS
59 GP, 10 G, 22 A, 32 PTS

Brenden Morrow
64 GP, 14 G, 19 A, 33 PTS
82 GP, 20 G, 24 A, 44 PTS

Daniel Sedin
75 GP, 20 G, 14 A, 34 PTS
79 GP, 9 G, 23 A, 32 PTS

Daniel Briere
64 GP, 8 G, 14 A, 22 PTS
13 GP, 1 G, 1 A, 2 PTS
*Briere played most of his next season in the AHL.

JP Dumont
79 GP, 23 G, 28 A, 51 PTS
76 GP, 23 G, 21 A, 44 PTS

Jason Arnott
78 GP, 33 G, 35 A, 68 PTS
42 GP, 15 G, 22 A, 37 PTS
*Arnott’s second season was the lockout. But he had a higher point-per-game average in the lockout season, so no jinx for him. His third season was even higher.

Sidney Crosby
81 GP, 39 G, 63 A, 102 PTS
79 GP, 36 G, 84 A, 120 PTS

Patrick Kane
82 GP, 21 G, 51 A, 72 PTS
*Only season in the NHL, so we will see if he avoids the alleged jinx.

Olli Jokinen
66 GP, 9 G, 12 A, 21 PTS
82 GP, 11 G, 10 A, 21 PTS

Vaclav Prospal
56 GP, 6 G, 19 A, 25 PTS
79 GP, 10 G, 26 A, 36 PTS

Jaromir Jagr
80 GP, 27 G, 30 A, 57 PTS
70 GP, 32 G, 37 A, 69 PTS

Paul Stastny
82 GP, 28 G, 50 A, 78 PTS
66 GP, 24 G, 47 A, 71 PTS

Scott Gomez
82 GP, 19 G, 51 A, 70 PTS
76 GP, 14 G, 49 A, 63 PTS

Ales Hemsky
59 GP, 6 G, 24 A, 30 PTS
71 GP, 12 G, 22 A, 34 PTS

Nicklas Lidstrom
80 GP, 11 G, 49 A, 60 PTS
84 GP, 7 G, 34 A, 41 PTS

Rick Nash
74 GP, 17 G, 22 A, 39 PTS
80 GP, 41 G, 16 A, 57 PTS

Tomas Plekanec
67 GP, 9 G, 20 A, 29 PTS
81 GP, 20 G, 27 A, 47 PTS

Alexander Frolov
69 GP, 21 G, 33 A, 54 PTS
82 GP, 35 G, 36 A, 71 PTS

Marian Hossa
60 GP, 15 G, 15 A, 30 PTS
78 GP, 29 G, 27 A, 56 PTS

Kristian Huselius
79 GP, 23 G, 22 A, 45 PTS
78 GP, 20 G, 23 A, 43 PTS

Brad Boyes
82 GP, 26 G, 43 A, 69 PTS
81 GP, 17 G, 29 A, 46 PTS
*The Bruins traded Boyes 60 games into his second season, and last year, in his third season, he scored 43 goals, so they might have acted a bit hastily.

Zach Parise
81 GP, 14 G, 18 A, 32 PTS
82 GP, 31 G, 31 A, 62 PTS

Daymond Langkow
79 GP, 15 G, 13 A, 28 PTS
68 GP, 8 G, 14 A, 22 PTS

Cory Stillman
74 GP, 16 G, 19 A, 35 PTS
58 GP, 6 G, 20 A, 26 PTS
*Stillman’s PPG average was .47 his first year and .44 the second. He scored .68 in his third.

Paul Kariya
47 GP, 18 G, 21 A, 39 PTS
82 GP, 50 G, 58 A, 108 PTS
*Kariya’s rookie season was the lockout year, thus, only 47 GP.

After looking at the stats from these scorers, it is interesting to note that the biggest drop-offs came from a future Hall-of-Famer, Nick Lidstrom and one of the best forwards of his era, Jarome Iginla. Lidstrom had a 19-point drop while Iginla dropped 18. It’s fair to say both have rebounded nicely. Daniel Briere had a horrible second season that saw him play mainly in the minors, while Brad Boyes had a 23-point drop off, but rebounded to score 43 goals last year.

When you look at those numbers, it’s safe to assume that the sophomore jinx is overrated. Yes, it affects a small minority, but the majority of scorers don’t seem to have major drop-offs.

The good news for Oilers’ fans is that only 17 of those players had a better first year than Sam Gagner, and outside of Thornton, they were all 19 years of age or older.

It looks like it will be harder for all three of the Kids to surpass the 50-point mark, than it will be trying to avoid the alleged sophomore jinx.

Roy hurts wrist

Mathieu Roy’s injury woes continue. While many have speculated he suffered a concussion, I’ve learned that Roy has damaged the tendons in his wrist and will be out ten to 14 days.  He hurt them in a fight with Andre Roy on Tuesday.

Mathieu Roy can’t get a break. He is a good soldier who has lots of character but not much luck lately. You hope for his sake that some team picks him up on waivers when the Oilers ultimately send him to Springfield.

—Listen to Gregor live on Just A Game every weekday from 3 to 6pm on the Team 1260.

  • Jim Carey and Andrew Raycroft had horrible sophomore jinxes. Damn that rotten jinx!

    I'm pretty sure it's you that's missing the point, Jason. Of the top (say) 25 rookies in any season, some will go on to be outstanding players (perhaps a Top 50 scorer in the league), some will have nice careers, and some will crap out. That will again be the case with the rookies of 2007/08. There is a very good chance that the ones who have lousy sophomore seasons are the ones who, it turns out, weren't that great in the first place. Looking at the jinx concept via Top 50 scorers is backwards for precisely this reason. I thought Tyler made this point fairly well, but he angers people for some reason. 🙂

    If Andrew Cogliano has 2 points thru 20 games this season, the talk will be sophomore slump. But if he has a career like, say, Paul Ranheim, no one will look back 10 years from now and say, "Yep, sophomore slump!" — they'll look back and say, "Man, too bad he couldn't ever recapture what he had going on in his rookie season."

  • Jason Gregor

    So you point out one player, Staal, to justify your point? It is easy to find one player to back up any stat. I used the 50 scorers from last year, because they all ranged in different first year totals. When you look at their first years, you wouldn't have guessed that 70% would have become top-50 players. 50 players is a decent pool to show that the JINX is overrated. I did show players like Iginla, Lidstrom, Briere etc who crapped out, that was the point. They are exception rather than the rule.

    According to your numbers Penner went from scoring 0.039 point per minute in 2006/2007 to 0.033 in 2007/2008. You call that a major regression? The fact is all Penner might be is a 45-50 point player. That doesn't mean he had a bad second season, it means it is a reflection of the type of player he will be. You can look at most players and they either REGRESS or IMPROVE from season-to-season. It might happen in year three, four, nine or 11. THAT WAS THE POINT. A player can have an off year anytime, not just as a sophomore.

  • Cogliano’s first year would put him 23rd amongst those 50 I used. That is a FAIR comparison. The point was when you look at players who score points, the majority don’t suffer the jinx. The odd one yes, but that isn’t a jinx then.

    What about all of those guys who score points in their rookie season but who don't go on to end up in the top 50 NHL scorers? My point is that you're assuming that Cogliano and Gagner's comparables are guys who ended up in the top 50 in scoring. So Cogliano's year would put him 23rd. So what. He had three more points than Jordan Staal did in his rookie season and Staal went into the toilet in his sophomore year.

    Right now, all you know about Cogliano, Gagner and Nilsson at the NHL level is that they had one good year. By limiting your sample to players who were in the top 50 in NHL scoring last year, you're excluding the guys who had a big year to start and then crapped out. Your data doesn't support your conclusion.

    As for Penner, he scored six fewer goals but had two more points. Yes he played 3 more minutes a game in Edmonton. Is two more points a jinx. I think not.

    First of all, I don't think that there were any "jinxes" involved. Sometimes guys have years that are better than others. Secondly, whether intentionally or not, you're mixing your metrics – if you want to talk about minutes/game (ie. a rate stat) then compare it to his scoring rates, which dropped big time at ES and went up a bit on the PP.

    Penner played 1,094:14 at ES and 305:30 on the PP in 2007-08. He played 904:32 at ES and 239:17 on the PP in 2006-07. So an extra 190 minutes at ES and an extra 65 minutes on the PP. You're pointing to those extra two points and ignoring the fact that he got another 150 at bats. It wasn't a "jinx" but it can hardly be seen as anything but a regression from the results he got the previous year.

  • Jason Gregor


    Actually you missed the point. They are all on the second line here in Edmonton, why would I compare third line players. Nilsson really shouldn't even be considered for a sophomore jinx since he has been a pro between the AHL and NHL for a few seasons.

    Cogliano's first year would put him 23rd amongst those 50 I used. That is a FAIR comparison. The point was when you look at players who score points, the majority don't suffer the jinx. The odd one yes, but that isn't a jinx then.

    As for Penner, he scored six fewer goals but had two more points. Yes he played 3 more minutes a game in Edmonton. Is two more points a jinx. I think not.

  • Gregor – Your research doesn't address the question that you raised. Your sample is screwed up because what you've really examined is whether, of players who were good enough that they ultimately ended up in the top 50 in scoring in the 2007-08 season, they suffered from the "sophomore jinx". For this to be a realistic comparison, you have to assume that Gagner, Cogliano and Nilsson will ultimately join this group. I'd be willing to assume that Gagner makes it some day; the other two I'm less certain about.

    There are some other problems with this – a lot of those guys probably saw a lot more ice time in their second season than in their first, so they'd need to exceed their production in order to run in place (see: Penner, Dustin and why his season wasn't all that impressive) but the first problem is more significant.