By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
EVERETT — The best of the best are coming to Comcast Arena.
And the Everett Silvertips are taking notes.
The top two teams in the Western Hockey League visit Everett this weekend — the Edmonton Oil Kings tonight, followed by the Portland Winterhawks on Saturday. And the Tips want to model themselves after these two teams, both in how they play and in the way they turned their franchises around.
“What we want to do is become one of the top teams in the league,” Everett general manager Garry Davidson said, “so what you do is look at the teams at the top and see where they’re at, and see if we can get to that level somewhere down the road.”
Edmonton and Portland are the best the WHL has to offer. Edmonton (45-15-2-3) is the defending league champion, sits 10 points clear atop the Eastern Conference standings, and is ranked fourth in the entire Canadian Hockey League. Portland (51-11-1-2) is the defending Western Conference champion, is 13 points ahead of the rest of the Western Conference, and is ranked second in the CHL.
Both teams are flush with top talent. Edmonton has nine NHL draft picks on its roster, including first-rounders in defenseman Griffin Reinhart and center Henrik Samuelsson (though Samuelsson is suspended for tonight’s game). Portland has six NHL draft picks on its roster, including a first-rounder in defenseman Derrick Pouliot, and the Winterhawks have the potential No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft in defenseman Seth Jones.
Edmonton and Portland are teams that do it all. They both score goals: Portland leads the league with 297, Edmonton is third with 248. They both prevent goals: Edmonton has allowed a league-low 143, Portland is second at 149.
Therefore, the Tips have their hands full as they try to earn the points necessary to further secure their playoff position. Everett heads into the weekend in eighth place in the Western Conference, one point behind Seattle and five ahead of Prince George. Two of those three will make the playoffs.
“(Edmonton and Portland) have been at the top of the standings all year,” Tips center Kohl Bauml said. “We know it, the whole league knows it, the whole country knows it. There’s no secret they’re good hockey teams, they’re going to come here and show it. But we have to try and match them.”
Everett, at 22-36-1-4, is not exactly in the same league with Edmonton and Portland, and it’s been a while since the Tips were among the league’s elite. Everett has been mired in a malaise since 2010, finishing eighth in the conference each of the previous two seasons. Everett hasn’t won a playoff series since 2007.
However, it wasn’t so long ago that Edmonton and Portland were floundering the way Everett is now. The Oil Kings entered the league as an expansion team in 2007 and never posted a winning record before going 50-15-3-4 last season. The Winterhawks spent 2006-09 as the worst team in the league, but have been a regular 100-point squad since.
Therefore, these teams provide an example for the Tips to follow going forward.
“Not too long ago they were both kind of at the bottom of the standings, so it doesn’t take long for a team to turn it around and get to the top,” said Bauml, who as an 18-year-old is expected to be part of turning things around the next two seasons. “As long as you have the right people coming in, and I think we do, I don’t see why we couldn’t do it.”
Both Edmonton and Portland came to prominence one year after hiring their current head coaches. Edmonton’s Derek Laxdal coached the Oil Kings to a 31-34-2-5 record his first season in charge before Edmonton exploded last season. Portland’s Mike Johnston went 19-48-3-2 in his first season before the Winterhawks began their current four-year run as one of the league’s top teams.
Everett currently doesn’t have a head coach. Davidson has been running the bench on an interim basis since firing Mark Ferner in January. He’ll begin a coach search in earnest after the season is over, and that will be a crucial step in trying to reach the heights attained by Edmonton and Portland.
“Both of these teams got there by getting some quality people into their organization,” Davidson said. “I think there’s a lot of good teaching and development going on within their organizations to get to where they are. That’s kind of the model I’d like to get going here, get some quality people in and grow with them.”
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.