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Can Red Wings and Pens avoid Stanley Cup Hangover?

by Staff Writer / Pittsburgh Penguins

When preparing for next season's fantasy draft, you should be aware of a mythical illness known around hockey circles as "Stanley Cup Hangover".

Watch the Red Wings win the Stanley Cup
In a summer filled sure to be filled with partying and back-slapping, members of the Detroit Red Wings must be careful not to come down with a mythical illness known around hockey circles as "Stanley Cup Hangover."

I've subscribed to this theory for quite some time, and keep it in mind whenever preparing for another fantasy draft. Quite simply, it is the belief that teams that advance to the Cup Final, whether win or lose, are more susceptible to disappointing performances the following season, and especially vulnerable are veterans on the wrong side of 30. After all, they may play in excess of 100 games over the course of nine months (often with undisclosed injuries), and those 18 or so playoff games carry a lot of physical and emotional baggage. Also, after the Cup is lifted and the parades are done with, Cup winners are looking at less than two months to work out and/or rest up to "recharge the batteries" for another long 82-game regular season filled with plane rides and hotel rooms. Lastly, after a player is anointed a Stanley Cup champion, does he return the next season with the same hunger to excel and produce, all in the name of teamwork that will hopefully allow said player and teammates to defend the Cup? My answer – my belief – is more often not.

"The Stanley Cup hangover is not a myth," Anaheim General Manager Brian Burke told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. And he should know, as the 2007-08 Ducks became the fourth consecutive defending Cup champ to not advance past the first round of playoffs the following year. And the runner-ups haven't fared too well either. The 2002-03 Hurricanes, the 2003-04 Mighty Ducks and the 2006-07 Oilers didn't even qualify for the postseason, and the 2007-08 Senators lost in the first round.

But does "Stanley Cup Hangover" also have an impact on individual performances? I finally decided to put this unproven theory to the test by examining the cold, hard numbers, and here's what I've found by using the 2007-08 Ducks and Senators, 2006-07 Hurricanes and Oilers, and 2003-04 Devils and Mighty Ducks as guinea pigs. I omitted the 2005-06 Lightning and Flames from my research because their return season was interrupted by the lockout.

Though he was incredibly productive for a 38-year old in 2007-08 (23 points in 26 games), Teemu Selanne's 71-point drop from 2006-07 (94) is a prime example of "Stanley Cup Hangover." "The Finnish Flash" tasted Cup glory for the first time only a few weeks shy of his 37th birthday and in his 14th season, then decided to put his skates in the closet for six months as he basked in the glory of having his name engraved in silver, cementing his future spot in the Hall of Fame. All the while, Selanne contemplated retirement, much to the chagrin of fantasy players, before finally returning to the Ducks in early February 2008.

Likewise, defenseman Scott Niedermayer toyed with the idea of retirement before returning to the Ducks in mid-December, but clearly was not the same offensive player at age 34, recording eight goals and 25 points in 48 games. Those numbers were quite a dip from the lofty standard fantasy players have of Niedermayer, who went 15-54-69 in 79 games in 2006-07.

Chris Pronger saw his points dip from 59 to 43 despite playing six more games than in 2005-06. Chris Pronger highlights
Other Ducks who went south in 2007-08 include defensemen Chris Pronger, who saw his points dip from 59 to 43 despite playing six more games than in 2005-06, and Francois Beauchemin, who went from 28 points to 21 despite playing 11 more games. Pronger, a physical player, was 33 at the time of Anaheim's Cup win and in his 13th season. In the case of the 27-year-old Beauchemin, he saw his role decrease slightly with the addition of offensive defenseman Mathieu Schneider.

Checking winger Samuel Pahlsson went from 26 points in 82 games to 15 points in 56 games, missing considerable time with hernia and abdomen injuries. Another checker, Todd Marchant, had 23 points in 56 games in 2006-07, but only 16 points in 75 games the following year. Neither are spring chickens. Travis Moen and Sean O'Donnell, not counted on for offense, dipped 13 and eight points, respectively. One surprising decline came from winger Chris Kunitz, who shed 10 points from 60 to 50 despite playing 80-plus games both seasons.

But not all was lost in Anaheim. Youngsters Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, the sixth and eighth leading scorers in 2006-07, became the go-to-guys the next year, placing 1-2 with 82 and 54 points, respectively. Getzlaf improved by 24 points, and Perry went up 10. Both turned 27 during the Ducks' Cup run in 2007.

Coming off a Stanley Cup loss to Anaheim, the Senators rebounded fairly well in 2007-08. Big guns Jason Spezza (87 points to 92) and Daniel Alfredsson (87 to 89) held the status quo while playing in a few more games than in 2006-07. But top scorer Dany Heatley took a fantasy-team-killing 23 point tumble (105 to 82) because of a right shoulder injury.

Ottawa's secondary scorers had mixed results. Mike Fisher, their fourth-leading scorer in 2006-07, dropped from 48 points to 47 despite playing in 11 more games, and Chris Kelly suffered an eight point dip (38 to 30) while playing in seven less games. Dean McAmmond (29 to 22) and Chris Neil (28 to 20) also went south in points and games played. Winger Antoine Vermette avoided a slump, improving from 39 points in 77 games to 53 points in 81 games.

Staal
"Stanley Cup Hangover" bit young Carolina center Eric Staal big time in 2006-07. The season before, he went 45-55-100 in only his second year and was a major factor for the Hurricanes in their run to the title. The expectations for 2007-08 were off the charts, and Staal checked in with a disappointing 30-40-70. Carolina's next highest scorer, Justin Williams, lost nine points, from 76 to 67. In both cases, the players are young (early to mid '20s) and played 82 games each season.

A shoulder injury to 30-plus winger Cory Stillman dropped his production from 76 points (72 games) to 27 points (43 games). A bum shoulder also derailed Frantisek Kaberle, who went from 44 points to only eight. Another injured defenseman, Bret Hedican, suffered a 17-point drop. Both blueliners were a few years over 30 in 2006-07.

The only Hurricane veteran to play most of the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons and not experience any significant decline was workout fanatic Rod Brind'Amour, who went from 70 points in 78 games to 82 points in 78 games. Ray Whitney can't be viewed in the same light because his dramatic offensive increase – from 55 to 83 – was largely due to the fact that he battled groin problems in 2005-06, limiting him to 63 games.

No doubt, the Edmonton Oilers sunk the lowest after their amazing Cup run against Carolina in 2005-06. Their top three scorers all suffered a decline of more than 20 points. Ales Hemsky (77 points to 53) and Jarret Stoll (68 to 39) battled injuries, while Shawn Horcoff (73 to 51) clearly missed his linemates.

Fernando Pisani suffered "Stanley Cup Hangover" in the seasons after the Oilers lost to Carolina. Fernando Pisani highlights
Secondary scorers Raffi Torres (41 to 34) and Fernando Pisani (27 to 38) went down despite playing 82 and 77 games, respectively. The Oilers' two biggest stars, Ryan Smyth (66 to 68) and Chris Pronger (56 to 59) continued to play well the following season, only they ended 2006-07 with other teams. Smyth was traded to the Islanders and Pronger bolted to Anaheim via free agency.

So in the last two seasons, the findings above show that young and old players are capable of catching "Stanley Cup Hangover." But certainly the veteran players are more contagious.

The 2003-04 New Jersey Devils fared quite well because most of their aging veterans – Scott Stevens, Sergei Brylin, Grant Marshall – were not key offensive contributors. Patrik Elias, their leading scorer in 2002-03 and 2003-04, made a jump from 57 to 81 points, playing in 80-plus games both years. Elias turned 28 during New Jersey's Cup defense in the 2004 playoffs. Scott Gomez, three and a half years younger than Elias, went from 55 to 70 points, and Niedermayer, then the 30-year-old offensive lynchpin of the Devils' backline, made a 15-point leap, from 39 to 54.

Jamie Langenbrunner (55 points to 26) and Brian Rafalski (40 to 36) can blame their declines on significant injuries, but Jeff Friesen (51 to 37) and John Madden (41 to 35) have no excuses, having played 80-plus games both seasons.

2003 Cup runner-up Anaheim had plenty of disappointing performances in 2003-04. Veterans Petr Sykora (59 points to 52) and Steve Rucchin (58 to 43) appeared in 80-plus games both seasons, but went down in production after losing a tough seven-game series to New Jersey. As if losing the Cup wasn't enough of a nightmare for Paul Kariya, he bolted to Colorado as a free agent and recorded only 36 points in an injury-plagued 51-game season in 2003-04. The year before, he had 81 points in 82 games. Another free-agent defector, Adam Oates, went from 45 points in 67 games with the Mighty Ducks to 18 points in 60 games with the Oilers. Aging defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh, nearing the end of the productive years of his career, dipped from 44 points in 82 games to 16 points in 36 games because of injuries.

So, which Red Wings and Penguins are most likely to fall victim to "Stanley Cup Hangover" in 2008-09? Since 2002-03, defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom, now 38, has been on a trend of disappointing (by his lofty standards) every other season:

2002-03: 82 games, 62 points
2003-04: 81, 38
2005-06: 80, 80
2006-07: 80, 62
2007-08: 76, 70

If Lidstrom were to produce 60 or fewer points next season any fantasy owner might be a little miffed, but consider that 60 points in 2007-08 was good for fifth among all NHL defensemen.

Power forward Tomas Holmstrom is now 35 with 11 seasons under his belt and his physical game caught up to him in 2007-08 with 10 games missed because of a bad knee and another 13 games with a sore groin. Defenseman Brian Rafalski scored a career-high 13 goals in his first year with the Wings and won his third career Cup (Will he still have the fire to win?), but will be 35 at the start of next season. Aging vets Kris Draper, Chris Chelios, Kirk Maltby and Dallas Drake are way past their prime in terms of fantasy value.

Pittsburgh should be in good shape for 2008-09, with not a lot of offense invested in older players. Offensive defenseman Sergei Gonchar played a career-high 98 games, regular season and playoffs combined, at age 34, but still produced at a high level (79 points total). Sykora will be 32 early next season, but formed great chemistry with youngster Evegni Malkin that led to 28 goals, Sykora's highest total since 2002-03. Veteran winger Gary Roberts (15 points in 38 games) showed he no longer had fantasy usefulness, even before breaking his leg.

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Author: Rocky Bonanno | NHL.com Staff Writer

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