The moment that ultimately determined the fate of the Everett Silvertips’ 2018-19 season didn’t come during their second-round WHL playoff series defeat at the hands of the Spokane Chiefs.
It wasn’t the game-changing moment during the first period of last Saturday’s decisive Game 5, when the Tips lost both Connor Dewar and Riley Sutter for an extended stretch — Dewar was temporarily knocked out of the game by a heavy hit from Spokane’s Matt LeDuc, while Sutter was sent to the penalty box for seven minutes for coming to Dewar’s defense — and the Chiefs scored what proved to be the game-winning goal while Everett was without its two best players.
It wasn’t the moment late in the second period of Game 2 on April 7 when Eli Zummack scored the power-play goal — one of a seemingly endless number of power-play tallies the Chiefs had against the Tips — that put Spokane ahead for good and gave the Chiefs a sweep of the opening two games in Everett, dropping the Tips into a hole that proved too deep to escape from.
Nope, the moment that truly dashed Everett’s chances at a championship run came three months earlier at the Jan. 10 trade deadline. That’s when the deal for an elite goal-scorer, which was supposed to put the Tips over the top, somehow got tripped up just before it crossed the finish line.
What became crystal clear during the series against Spokane was that Everett needed another goal-scorer. The Tips outshot the Chiefs 156-116 in the series, which averages out to 31.2-23.2 per game. By my tally Everett outchanced Spokane in Game 1, despite losing 6-3, and I’m told the case was similar in the other four meetings. But all of the Tips’ pressure translated into just 10 goals.
“I think our guys played hard and did positive things in round two,” Everett general manager Garry Davidson said amidst Everett’s exit meetings Monday. “Unfortunately, I’d say three of the four losses came because we didn’t put some pucks in the net. But it wasn’t from a lack of effort and commitment from our guys. From time to time that was the shortcoming of the team.”
What Everett needed against Spokane was one more player capable of putting the puck past a goaltender who was on his game. The maddening thing from a Tips perspective was Everett had this player in its grasp. His name is Stelio Mattheos, but somehow he slipped through Everett’s fingers.
In the weeks following the trade deadline our Silvertips beat writer Josh Horton reported that Everett and Brandon agreed to a deal for Mattheos, one of the league’s elite goal-scorers, but for some reason the deal collapsed just as the trade deadline closed. No one has said publicly why the trade broke down — after the players involved had already been informed they’d been traded.
Mattheos had all the credentials Everett was looking for. The 19-year-old center is talented, as he was the first-overall pick in the 2014 bantam draft and a third-round pick by the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2017 NHL draft. He’s accomplished, having finished this season with 44 goals to rank fourth in the WHL and give him back-to-back 40-goal campaigns. Mattheos was the biggest fish available at the deadline, and it appeared Everett had landed him.
And Mattheos fit Everett’s needs to a T. Davidson, the Western Conference Executive of the Year two-times running, pulled off that type of magic a year earlier, acquiring playmaking forward Garrett Pilon and rugged defenseman Ondrej Vala from Kamloops to fill Everett’s holes exactly, and the Tips went on to a Western Conference title. The acquisition of Mattheos would have been similar perfection. Everett needed a center who would work on the team’s top two lines, and Mattheos fit the bill.
An additional effect a Mattheos acquisition would have had was stabilizing Everett’s lines. The Tips, short at the pivot, spent the second half of the season and the entire playoffs shuffling their lines, often cycling two or three centers while cycling three or four pairs of wingers. The lines were never the same from game to game, period to period, even shift to shift.
A year earlier, after the acquisition of Pilon, Everett coach Dennis Williams was able to etch his lines in granite, allowing those players to develop chemistry together. This season’s constant line shifting, forced by a shortage at center that was exacerbated by Sutter’s lengthy time out injured, meant the Tips were never able to find that same familiarity this season.
Davidson refused to ascribe Everett’s second-round elimination to the trade for Mattheos falling through, saying, “I’m not going to speculate on what didn’t come to be.”
But that trade not happening had a substantial impact on Everett’s season, and had it gone through there’s a significant chance the Tips are still playing.
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.