Before the 2013-14 season began, the Everett Silvertips’ front office issued a guarantee to season ticket holders. They pledged the Tips would finish no worse than sixth in the Western Conference, otherwise those season ticket holders would receive a $100 credit toward 2014-15.
How does that guarantee look at the season’s midpoint?
So far, so good. Everett finished the first half 22-10-4-0, giving the Tips 48 points. That put Everett in second place in the U.S. Division, two points behind Portland, and tied for third place in the conference. Therefore, if the season ended today, the Tips’ guarantee would be fulfilled.
Indeed, it’s been quite the turnaround for Everett. Everett won 22 of its 36 games in the first half. In comparison, the past three seasons the Tips won 28, 22 and 25 games over the entirety of the 72-game schedule. Everett basically matched those totals in half the games.
How did the Tips accomplish this? First off, Everett was expecting to be better this season, otherwise the Tips never would have issued the guarantee. Everett returned almost all of its team from last season, when the Tips were young and rebuilding. Then Everett added some impact players during the offseason. Improvement was inevitable.
But maybe not to this extent. Watching the Tips play this season is a completely different experience from the previous three. The most stark contrast is in puck possession. The past three seasons, when Everett finished eighth in the conference all three years, many of the games were like watching a dog chasing its own tail. The Tips never had the puck, and therefore spent the majority of the game futilely chasing after it as the opposition played keep away. Last season Everett averaged 26.15 shots on goal and allowed 34.83, and ugly deficit of 8.68 per game.
However, it’s been a complete turnaround this season. Now it’s the Tips who are controlling the puck and forcing the opposition to chase the game. So far this season the Tips are averaging 31.36 shots on goal and allowing 25.42. That’s an astonishing turnaround in shot differential of plus-14.62 from last season.
One can’t help but think a big reason for that turnaround is coaching. With Kevin Constantine back behind the bench, the team just appears to be playing with more sense of purpose. There’s clearly a plan in place, and the players seem to understand that plan and are making the effort to execute it. As a result, the team looks faster. I don’t think it’s because the players this season are all that faster than they were in past seasons, they just have a better grasp on where they’re supposed to be on the ice, so they’re more comfortable heading to their destination at full speed.
But while the 180-degree turn in puck possession has had a significant impact on goal scoring, it’s maybe not as much as the Tips would hope. Last season Everett averaged 2.4 goals per game, and that’s increased to 3.2. The Tips also allowed 3.7 goals per game, and that’s decreased to 2.7. So the puck possession is making a difference. However, it maybe isn’t as big a jump in goals scored as one may expect based on the shot numbers. That’s because despite the team’s improvement, it still isn’t awash in offensive skill. The skill level is improved, but Joshua Winquist is still the only proven finisher on the team. So though the puck possession has exploded, the goal scoring has made just a modest gain.
Because of that, despite the major uptick in results, I’m not sure Everett is a true championship contender. At one point the Tips were in first place in the entire WHL, and Everett cracked the CHL’s top-10 rankings. But the level of competition picked up as the first half came to an end, and the Tips dropped six of eight. Over the long haul, I just don’t know if Everett scores enough goals to win a league title. It’s possible the Tips may make moves before the trade deadline to try and address that issue and make a run this season. But does that make sense? Everett’s still young, has good balance between its age groups, and has a another guarantee in place for 2014-15 of finishing no worse than fourth. That there doesn’t appear to be much in the way of impact scorers on the market who aren’t overagers. And even with a move, would Everett be favored to overcome either Kelowna or Portland, both of which are powerhouses? It seems unlikely the Tips will make a big splash.
Everett’s 48 points put them closer to seventh-place Vancouver (41 points) than first-place Kelowna (58 points) in the conference standings. The schedule just gets tougher in the second half as the tough U.S. Division schedule kicks in for real. Everett had a fantastic first half, and based on the way the team played I don’t think there’s any signs of a collapse. Nevertheless, sixth place was Everett’s target before the season began, and I think at least sixth — and not first — should still be the goal for the Tips.