What we saw: Constantine returns

I’m pretty sure Everett coach Kevin Constantine doesn’t give a whit about what I or any other reporter writes about him or his team. But I do know he’s paying attention.

Last June during the press conference announcing Constantine’s return as Everett’s head coach, Constantine kind of called me out over something I wrote on my blog. The rumors had been swirling that the Tips may be bringing Constantine back. That generated a certain amount of skepticism. Throughout the hiring process Everett general manager Garry Davidson talked about how he was seeking a coach with an offensive style. Constantine’s teams during his previous stint with the Tips were known for being defensively sound. It seemed a curious fit. At the press conference Constantine made a point of saying that, contrary to anything I may have wrote, he wasn’t just a defensive coach and that he and Davidson shared many of the same hockey philosophies.

All of which is a long preamble to discussing Constantine’s return to Everett. Now that the first season of his second stint is in the books, what have we learned?

While I don’t think the Tips played exactly the way Davidson envisioned, I think it was closer than the skeptics would have predicted. Everett still wasn’t a high-scoring team. The Tips scored 215 goals, which ranked 16th out of 22 teams in the WHL, while Everett’s 203 goals against tied for the fifth-fewest allowed. The numbers suggest a defense-first approach. But the numbers don’t tell the whole story.

One thing that’s often said about Constantine-coached teams is that they’re trapping teams, meaning they clog up the neutral zone to slow games down in an effort to choke out offense. This claim seemed to come frequently from the Seattle camp in particular. Did Everett employ the trap at times this season? Sure. Just about every team uses the trap in some form. But did Everett trap more than its opponents? I’m not sure I saw that. It’s possible the Tips played differently in the games in Kent that I didn’t attend, but I don’t think the trap was Everett’s defining characteristic. Teams that spend all their time trapping in the neutral zone don’t outshoot their opponents 31.35-26.67 on average.

What I saw from the Tips this season were two things. First, I saw a commitment to maintaining possession in the offensive zone. Everett’s defensemen were aggressive about pinching along the boards to make sure the puck stayed in the offensive zone. Second, there was a big emphasis on shooting. Shots attempted, more than shots on goal, became a key statistic for the Tips, and the defensemen were big drivers in that stat category.

OK, maybe it wasn’t a carbon copy of the free-flowing Portland Winterhawks. But it wasn’t Jacques Lemaire’s New Jersey Devils of the 90s, either. Indeed, as the season progressed I saw the Tips trying more frequently to skate the puck into the offensive zone, ala the Winterhawks, rather than relying on dump-and-chase. This met with varying degrees of success because Everett didn’t have the players with the type of offensive skill and skating abilities that Portland possesses.

So while Constantine didn’t create an offensive juggernaut like Davidson would have liked, I think the Tips at least took a step in the offensive direction. Will they continue further down that path? I’m curious what Constantine would do if given a large amount of elite offensive talent to work with. Hopefully Davidson can put Everett in a position where we’ll find out.

Next: What we saw: 20s

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