By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
EVERETT — The end of the 2011-12 season means the Garry Davidson era has begun in earnest in Everett.
The Everett Silvertips’ new general manager spent the first two months of his tenure observing. This offseason is Davidson’s first opportunity to put his stamp on the team.
Davidson was hired in February after longtime GM Doug Soetaert was dismissed. He spent the past two months largely watching from above and scouting for the upcoming bantam draft. But with the season over he can now begin crafting Everett’s roster for next season.
“When I look at it, I believe next year will still be a bit of a rebuild,” Davidson said. “But I legitimately expect us to contend for a playoff spot and not sneak in on the last day. I think it’s realistic to look for a better record and makes some strides.
“In general I think we’ve got some guys who came forward and filled spots as we got into the year,” Davidson added. “But there’s holes to be filled, though I won’t be specific about those at the moment. It’s something Mark (Ferner, Everett’s head coach) and I need to hash out.”
Everett finished this season 22-40-2-8 and barely snagged the Western Conference’s final playoff berth, needing a Seattle loss on the season’s final day to clinch that spot. However, the Tips improved as the season progressed, winning 12 of their final 23 games. Everett is hoping that serves as a springboard into next season.
“The returning players, I think they know the expectations now, regardless if they’re 20 or 17,” Ferner said. “We want to be a hard-working, hard-to-play-against hockey team. I think we’ve done it in a way where we haven’t scared them into it, and I think they enjoy it now.”
Davidson arrived after spending four years as the director of player personnel for the Portland Winterhawks. During Davidson’s time with Portland, the Winterhawks become one of the top offensive teams in the league. Everett scored the third-fewest number of goals in the league this season, and Davidson is determined to change that.
“Our team was playing hard and working as a team, but I think it’s important to inject some more skill and offense to the group,” Davidson said. “We struggled some nights to put goals in the net. That will come with more-skilled players.”
Though the Tips struggled to score goals, they’re best positioned for next season up front. Of Everett’s current roster, all but one of the forwards — graduated overager Josh Birkholz, the team’s leading scorer — are eligible to return. In addition, Everett’s best signed prospects — 16-year-old Carson Stadnyk and 15-year-olds Ty Mappin and Dawson Leedahl — are all forwards with offensive abilities.
The Tips also feel good in goal. They expect Kent Simpson to play professionally in the minors next season as a 20-year-old, but there’s still a chance he could be back. If Simpson isn’t back, Everett is confident about Austin Lotz’s ability to step into the No. 1 position.
The big issue is on defense as the Tips could lose their top four D-men. The Tips are not planning on having the services of captain Ryan Murray, who will be picked high in the upcoming NHL draft and is likely to make the NHL as a 19-year-old. Brennan Yadlowski and Josh Caron have exhausted their junior eligibility. And there may not be room for German Dominik Bittner, who would take up two roster spots as both an overager and a European.
The defensive issues could be cleared up in a hurry if the Tips find a way to land Seth Jones. The Texas native and son of former NBA player Popeye Jones, who Everett selected 11th overall in the 2009 bantam draft, is being touted as a possible No. 1-overall pick in the 2014 NHL draft. However, Jones still has not decided whether to play next season in Everett or the NCAA. Jones took an official visit to the University of North Dakota in February, but has yet to commit.
“We’re still in the process of trying to figure that out,” Davidson said about Jones. “He’s still got to make a decision on whether to go to the WHL or go to college. I really believe he’s leaning toward the WHL or he would have made a commitment by now. Hopefully in the next couple weeks the situation will be resolved.”
If somehow the Tips land Jones, and if Murray ends up getting sent back, a weakness suddenly turns into a strength.
The Tips finished the season with five players eligible to return next season as overagers. In addition to Simpson and Bittner, those include forwards Ryan Harrison, Cody Fowlie and JT Barnett. Davidson said he had not determined how he would handle his three overage roster slots.