SUN Hockey Pool

Jinx, schminx

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 12:45 PM ET

If you believe in superstition, you could see Shaun Alexander's bad luck coming a mile away, the second he appeared on the cover of Madden NFL 06, and you wouldn't touch him in a fantasy league with a 10-foot crutch.

Curses don't take holidays.

But what about jinxes?

A year after the NHL unveiled an absolutely stunning collection of rookies - a two-draft bonanza that virtually restocked the league's top shelves overnight - is it time for the hangover?

DREADED JINX

All those kids are sophomores now, and, like whichever poor sap graces the cover of that football video game, they must learn to fear, ignore and avoid the infamous Sophomore Jinx.

The mysterious affliction with no known cause or cure has submarined more careers than Bryan Marchment and Craig Muni combined.

The Class of 2005-06, a group which includes Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Dion Phaneuf, Marek Svatos, Jussi Jokinen, Kyle Wellwood, Jeff Carter, Ryan Getzlaf, Tomas Vanek, Brad Boyes, Andrej Maszaros and Milan Michalek, for starters, has heard all the horror stories of bright young talents falling off the face of the rink in year two.

Last season's rookie of the year was pointless and minus-4 in his first game this season, a 5-2 loss in New York, but Ovechkin assures us he'll be every bit as mind-blowing as before.

"Everybody talks to me like the second year will be harder, will not be as good as last year,'' he said on a recent NHL conference call. "You know, if I play the same as last year, it will be the same. It's just physical, I don't think about it. I just go on the ice and play.''

Crosby and Ovechkin are so grossly talented the jinx couldn't possibly get at them, could it? And Phaneuf is so intense the jinx is probably too scared to invade his space. But the rest of the crop might be in danger.

Crosby insists, however, a jinx is in the eye of the beholder. He and Ovechkin scored 102 and 106 points, respectively, last season. If they score 90 and 92, is that a jinx, or is it still pretty darn good, especially if they improve in other areas?

"If you look at it points-wise, on what people are expecting, I can see (a perceived letdown) being the case,'' said Crosby, 19. "If you get 100 points one year, you're going to be expected to get 115 points your second year.''

Crosby says the jinx is the farthest thing from his mind.

"If we're talking points, that's something totally out of control. You have to wait 82 games to see what happens. But I expect to be a better player than I was last year, for sure.''

If there is a poster boy for escaping the jinx, it's the guy who helped topple the Oilers last spring. Eric Staal scored 31 points his rookie season and, thanks to the NHL lockout, spent the next year in AHL Lowell. He had a point a game (77 in 77) for the Lock Monsters and returned to the NHL, still technically a sophomore, as one of its best players - 100 points in the regular season, 28 more in the playoffs, and a Cup.

AHL EXPERIENCE BIG

GM Jim Rutherford still calls the Lowell experience the best thing that ever happened to his young centre. It served Jarret Stoll well, too (21 points as a rookie, 68 as a post-lockout sophomore).

But there will be no avoiding the jinx in the AHL this year. If any of them see the minors, it's too late.

Crosby doesn't believe in the jinx, and says there isn't any excuse for dropping off.

"If it's your second year, you're more experienced, there's no reason why you can't be a better player,'' said Crosby. "In your second year you should be a better player. I'm expecting that of myself.''


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