By Nick Patterson Herald writer
EVERETT — The Everett Silvertips have been stuck in a three-year rut of mediocrity.
That ends next season. They’ve guaranteed it.
The Tips are so confident they’ll be a better team next WHL season, they’ve already issued a guarantee to season ticket holders. Everett, which has finished eighth in the 10-team Western Conference the past three seasons, will finish no worse than sixth next season. If not, those who already renewed their season tickets will be receiving a $100 refund put toward the following season’s tickets.
So the time for rebuilding is done, and the time for improving has arrived.
“Personally, I don’t like making guarantees,” center Kohl Bauml said. “But it’s also a challenge for the players. It’s good for the management to come out and say that because it puts some onus on the players, saying we’re not just going to just accept eighth place and a first-round exit. We want to get back to where this team was a few years ago. It’s a challenge, but it’ll be a fun challenge, that’s for sure.”
The 2012-13 season was tumultuous for the Tips. It was general manager Garry Davidson’s first full season in charge, and the team went into a full rebuild. By the end of the season, Everett had the youngest roster in the Western Conference and was playing without a head coach, as Mark Ferner was fired in January. The Tips finished 25-40-3-4, scraping into the conference’s eighth and final playoff spot for the third consecutive year.
However, there were signs of progress, culminating in two victories over heavily-favored Portland in the first round of the playoffs. Everett hadn’t won a playoff game since 2010. The Tips will install a new head coach during the offseason, then they expect the curve to continue trending upward next season.
“The process was so good this season that you can’t help but think next season will be even better,” goaltender Austin Lotz said. “Hopefully we can pick up with our progress from the end of the season right at the beginning of next season and going into the playoffs.”
Everett could return practically intact. The only players Everett loses are overagers Ryan Harrison, Landon Oslanski and Connor Cox, two of whom (Oslanski and Cox) were picked up off waivers and one of whom (Harrison) had an injury-plagued season and did not appear in the playoffs. That means the Tips could choose to return 21 of the 24 players from this season’s roster.
Everett’s three overagers for next season are set. The Tips have just three 19-year-olds on the roster, forwards Joshua Winquist, Reid Petryk and Manraj Hayer. All three were among Everett’s top four scorers this season, and none are expected to make the breakthrough to the professional ranks as 20-year-olds. Davidson said he expects those three to fill the overage slots.
But the primary source of optimism stems from the team’s youth. Everett had a young roster that included 12 rookies. Those young players weren’t just along for the ride, either. They were thrown straight into the fire, getting plenty of ice time and playing crucial roles against more mature opponents.
Some of those youngsters already developed into impact players. Lotz, 17, was heroic in goal once he settled in as the No. 1 and put his injuries behind him. Swiss defenseman Mirco Mueller, who was also in his 17-year-old season, stepped right into Everett’s top defensive spot after Ryan Murray suffered his season-ending shoulder injury. Winger Tyler Sandhu was one of the most productive 16-year-olds in the league. So, the Tips believe the future is bright.
“We certainly indicated to all of them that our expectations will be much higher than an eighth-place team and that we want to move up in the standings,” Davidson said. “I like what we’ve got in goal, I think our young defense is going to continue to grow as a group. Up front I also think we’re heading in the right direction, but time will tell whether we’ve added enough quality skill and offensive dimension to that group, because we definitely have to show more finish than we have to this point.”
With 21 roster spots potentially filled for next season, there’s little room for newcomers. Defenseman Kevin Davis has been fast-tracked for one of those spots. Everett’s first-round pick in the 2012 bantam draft held his own in six games during the regular season and three during the playoffs, so he should be ready to go as a 16-year-old rookie. Four other prospects signed education contracts and dressed in games this season: forwards Kyle Raymond and Matt Fonteyne, defenseman Noah Juulsen and goaltender Nik Amundrud. They also have a shot at making the team.
There’s also a potential addition via June’s Canadian Hockey League import draft. The Tips had the fourth-worst record in the WHL this season, meaning Everett will pick 10th, a position that gives it the opportunity to select an impact player. However, Everett already has its two European roster spots filled by Mueller and Czech winger Stathis Soumelidis. If Everett wants to use its selection, it will have to move one of its current Euros beforehand. Davidson said he’s still evaluating the situation.
But however things shake out, roster spots will be at a premium next season.
“There’s going to be limited spots for young guys, but it also tells the returning guys they better come back ready to go, too, because their spots aren’t guaranteed by any stretch off the imagination just because they were here,” Davidson said. “They’re going to have to earn their spots and earn their ice time.”
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson,