It’s time for our annual Everett Silvertips season wrap-up here on the blog. I apologize for not starting the series earlier, but things got a little bit crazy last week with the news that head coach Kevin Constantine is not having his contract renewed.
The Constantine news obviously impacts a lot of what we’ll discuss here on the blog, particularly as we project ahead into the future. But in this post we’ll start by trying to put the 2016-17 season in perspective.
This team entered the season with very few expectations. The 2016-17 squad was set at goaltender and had four experienced defensemen returning, but virtually everything else was up in the air. The Tips had lost four of their top six point producers from a 2015-16 team that finished second in the division and reached the second round of the playoffs before being bounced in five games by eventual Western Conference champion Seattle.
Then the Tips got off to an incredible start that surprised many. They did so despite not having Carter Hart or Noah Juulsen at the beginning of the year due to NHL training camps, and also withstanding the duo’s absence due to World Juniors. Everett also overcame difficult travel and some illnesses and injuries early in the season.
The early-season pickup of forward Dominic Zwerger from Spokane was a big key to that start as were the breakout performances from forward Patrick Bajkov and defenseman Kevin Davis. Everett utilized an above-average power play and the league’s best penalty kill en route to a record of 24-4-5-0 (53 points) prior to the holiday break.
Out to a commanding division lead, the Tips seemingly felt the need to “go for it” as evidenced by their acquisition of defenseman Aaron Irving. While that shored up their blue line, it cost them a piece of the present in overage forward Graham Millar, and two pieces of the future in rookie forward and former second-round bantam pick Brett Kemp, and a future first-round draft pick.
The Tips weren’t able to acquire the additional forward help they needed, something general manager Garry Davidson admitted during exit meetings last week.
“We needed, I thought, two pieces and we only got one, so again if you look at our group of forwards I think we needed another guy, a top-six type of guy who could bring a good two-way game,” Davidson said. “We needed a guy to give us a good two-way game and we didn’t get that. I certainly think that was part of our shortcomings in the end. We identified it, but we couldn’t address it and couldn’t get it dealt with.”
That’s a very telling quote from Davidson, particularly since the organization chose not to retain Constantine three days later. Colleague Nick Patterson, who used to cover the Tips, noted that toward the end of his column that ran Thursday, writing that it’s the GM’s job to procure players and the coach’s job to coach them.
Nevertheless the Tips overcame a nine-game winless streak that saw them briefly cede the division lead to the red-hot Thunderbirds before righting the ship in their East swing including a 4-2 win at eventual Scotty Munro Trophy-winning Regina. Everett managed to stave off Seattle in the final week of the season to claim the fifth division title in team history and its second in the past three seasons.
Everett won a hard-fought six-game series over Victoria in the first round that Cal Babych ended in a CHL-record fifth overtime before dropping four straight to Seattle to send the Tips into the offseason.
Bajkov and Davis had the sort of seasons the organizations envisioned when they were selected in the 2012 bantam draft, while Riley Sutter’s 20-goal performance as a late-birthday 17-year-old provides excitement as he enters his draft year this fall.
Two division banners in three seasons proves a winning culture has been restored in Everett after the organization won 28 or fewer games in the three years immediately preceding Constantine’s return. The 44 wins were the third-most in franchise history and the 100 points the Tips recorded in the standings were the second-highest total in team history.
Once again the Tips significantly overachieved based on expectations and their perceived talent level. That was a staple of the Constantine-coached teams in Everett.
But evidently that wasn’t enough to warrant a new contract for Constantine, and the Tips will be looking for a new coach for the first time in four years.
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