Stanley Cup curse

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI

, Last Updated: 10:49 AM ET

From the Stanley Cup Final to the porcelain bowl - it's a shorter trip than you'd imagine.

With the Edmonton Oilers in full stagger and the punch-drunk Carolina Hurricanes clinging to the frayed threads of their championship banner, the Year After Hangover is about to leave two more victims curled up on the NHL's bathroom tile.

Anyone who's ever won a Cup can tell you that repeating is tougher than Chinese algebra, but more and more winners and finalists are discovering, rather painfully, that avoiding a complete face plant is no walk in the park, either.

FALLING APART

Of the last 10 Stanley Cup finalists, eight of them (nine, if Carolina falls) either bowed out in the first round or missed the playoffs completely, the following season.

The last conference champion to win a playoff series the following year? The 2001 Colorado Avalanche.

Why? Let the victims count the ways:

"The fatigue factor wasn't a factor for us because we had the lockout, but in most cases it's huge," said Flames GM Darryl Sutter.

"You're playing up to 28 extra games if you make the final, and probably half your lineup was playing with an injury they normally wouldn't have played with in the regular season. That's significant. As much as guys today train like machines, there's a huge recovery time involved for their system and their body.

"You need rehabilitation time, then recovery time, then time to gear it back up again. It's tough in a short summer."

SUMMER'S TOO SHORT

And the summers are shorter than they've ever been. The Oilers won their 1984 Cup on May 19. Last year's final ended June 19.

"You're exhausted," said Shawn Horcoff. "You have to take a month off to let the body heal, and the next thing you know camp is in six weeks and you're like, 'What the hell happened?' "

Then come the mental obstacles.

"There was a sense within our team that we were better than we were," said Tampa GM Jay Feaster, whose club went from winning it all in 2004 to eighth place and a first round exit the next season. "We figured we could find that playoff intensity when we needed it, turn it on and off.

"It doesn't work that way."

Sound familiar, Carolina?

"On given nights, there has been a complacency," admits Canes coach Peter Laviolette.

"We have not had that same drive and energy and quickness to our game that we did last year.

"There have been a lot of things we've been battling ... injuries that popped up or surgeries that happened over the summer, the short summer.

"There is a multitude of different things that I think you can point to."

In addition to the mental and physical minefields, the financial one can easily blow up in your face.

"Once you get through the human element, our system dictates there's going to be a huge turnover of players," said Sutter, pointing to what's left of the Canes and Oilers. "A player's value becomes inflated because he had a long playoff run, and he's going to leave. You can't put together a team that's going to stay together. It's impossible."

Horcoff agrees.

"This was a lot different team this year than the one we went to the final with," he said. "That's the way it's going to be now; teams will build around six forwards, three D and a goalie -10 guys. And everything else will be young guys and a revolving door of free agents."

Throw in the rental player concept, the staple of most champions now - and the team that wins a title might not look anything like the team that tries defending it.

"(Wings GM) Ken Holland told me he likens it to a junior team, the cycles you go through," said Feaster.

"I liken it to a rotisserie team, constant turnover."

And inevitable letdowns.

"I don't call it a letdown," said Sutter. "It's organizational planning; if you have a chance to win, you go for it."

And worry about next year next year.

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BAD HANGOVERS

Last Five Stanley Cup Finalists (with next year's finish in parentheses)

2006 - Carolina over Edmonton. (Oilers missing the playoffs this year, Canes' playoff hopes are thin).

2004 - Tampa over Calgary. (Lightning miss the playoffs. Flames bow out in the first round).

2003 - New Jersey over Anaheim. (Devils eliminated in the first round. Ducks miss the playoffs).

2002 - Detroit over Carolina. (Wings eliminated in the first round, Canes miss the playoffs).

2001 - Colorado over New Jersey. (Colorado advances to conference final, Devils lose in first round).


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