An A or an F.
That was the assessment of what the Everett Silvertips’ 2017-18 season will be by one member of the organization when we chatted during Everett’s training camp a month ago. Given the current conditions of the organization, this individual concluded the Tips’ season, which began Saturday night against the Portland Winterhawks at what is still being called Xfinity Arena for now, will be either be a tremendous success or a spectacular failure. Class valedictorian, or repeat the grade.
While I don’t necessarily agree with that sentiment, I do agree with the breadth of possible outcomes for Everett this season. Never before has there been this much mystery heading into the season about how the Tips will do.
This is Everett’s 15th season of existence, and in the previous 14 one has typically been able to make an educated prediction of how the Tips would perform. Now, those predictions weren’t always accurate. For example, no one expected the expansion Tips in 2003-04 would shock the junior-hockey world and march to the U.S. Division and Western Conference championships. On the other hand, the consensus in 2010-11 was that Everett was well positioned to repeat its successful regular season from the previous campaign, only for the Tips to limp through a drab losing season.
But the point is that on all those occasions one had a somewhat firm belief going into the season on what the Tips were.
This year? Not a clue. One can make reasoned reasoned argument that Everett could finish anywhere along the spectrum.
Could this team be a contender? You bet. Everett has a superstar 19-year-old goaltender in Carter Hart, a player who’s seeking an unprecedented third straight WHL Goaltender of the Year award. Hart alone gives a team reason to hope. Add on that Everett has perhaps the best overage trio in franchise history in defenseman Kevin Davis and forwards Patrick Bajkov and Matt Fonteyne, and the Tips have a tremendous foundation with which to build upon.
Could this team be a flop? It could. Successful WHL teams are usually built around a strong core of 19-year-olds, older and experienced players who can carry a team through an arduous season and playoffs. Well, Everett has just two 19-year-old skaters on its roster, both of whom are forwards and neither of whom have ever scored more than 23 points in a WHL season. That lack of experience extends to the defense, where aside from Davis there’s no one older than 18, and only one other player with more than a single year of WHL experience. As for overall talent, Everett has only one player (Hart) who is an NHL draft pick and only one player (forward Riley Sutter) who’s currently on the radar for next year’s NHL draft.
Then there’s the big wild card. Everett has a new coach in Dennis Williams, who is a complete unknown. Williams is well thought of by the organization, but he has zero track record in the WHL, having never been involved in the league in any respect. Even his history in the USHL is limited, with a modest three years as head coach of the Bloomington Thunder, a team that happens to be owned by Everett owner Bill Yuill. Williams could be the savior one segment of Tips fans have been waiting for, the man who takes the brakes off and unleashes exciting offensive hockey in Everett following four years of structure under Kevin Constantine. Or Williams could struggle to adjust to the WHL, his playing style ill-suited to succeed with a roster that has its limitation.
Who knows? Put it all together and anything could happen this season.
Even the Tips themselves are curious how the season will unfold.
“I think it could be a really good year, but with a new coach you kind of have to see,” Fonteyne said. “There might be a transition period, there might not, I guess it’s kind of hard to tell that way. But I think we have a lot of potential this year.”
The preseason hinted at the Tips being capable of achieving passing marks. Everett scored goals, finding the net 31 times in seven games for an average of 4,4 per contest, a rate the team never approached during Constantine’s time in charge. The Tips won games, going 5-2 in exhibitions.
As for Saturday’s opener, we saw both ends of the spectrum. The Tips were honors students in the first period in taking a 2-0 lead against a Portland team expected to be a title challenger. Then they needed remedial courses while giving up six goals in the second period en route to a 7-4 loss. It didn’t help that Hart didn’t play because of illness.
So an A or an F for the Tips in 2017-18? Perhaps. But the opener suggested that individual in the Everett organization may just be onto something.
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.