Boy, do I enjoy watching Garry Davidson at work.
Say what you will about the Everett Silvertips general manager’s trades, no one can ever accuse Davidson of not trying to do everything within his power to make the Tips a better team now.
Somehow, in what’s supposed to be a cyclical league, Everett found itself in its sixth straight season as a major buyer in the trade market — I still can’t comprehend how the Tips have anything left in the bank following their five-year spending spree, which netted four U.S. Division championships and a Western Conference title. But there was Davidson at Friday’s WHL trade deadline, making another big splash in an effort to again forge Everett into a championship contender.
So how did Davidson do at this year’s deadline? I think he did about as well as possible, given the lack of impact players available in this year’s market.
Everett entered the deadline at 26-9-2-1, which was the second-best record in the division and third-best in the WHL. But given the Tips were five points behind Portland in the division standings and 0-3 against the Winterhawks this season, something needed to be done to draw Everett level.
Davidson’s best move actually happened back in October when he picked up elite playmaker Cole Fonstad from Prince Albert, a player who is better than anyone who changed teams at the deadline not named Braden Tracey, and who would have been far more expensive at the deadline than he was at the beginning of the season. He’s a big reason why the Tips surprised everyone and put themselves in position to be buyers.
Yet despite Everett’s lofty record, the Tips had two obvious holes in their lineup: a second-line left wing and a third-line center. The Tips filled these holes with the acquisitions of Ty Kolle from Regina last Saturday and Ethan Regnier from Swift Current on deadline day. Neither is a game-changer, but both are 19-year-old veterans who have been productive in the league. Kolle should provide some goal-scoring from the wing, while Regnier is a much-needed right-handed pivot. They aren’t flashy additions, but they fit Everett’s needs like a glove.
Then there’s Kasper Puutio. I didn’t think Everett needed a top-four defenseman, but the Tips got one as Puutio was included in the deadline-day deal with Swift Current, turning it into a blockbuster. Puutio, a 17-year-old from Finland, is headed to the CHL Top Prospects Game, so he’s a legitimate NHL talent. And as a right-handed shot he perfectly complements Everett’s big three of left-handers Jake Christiansen and Gianni Fairbrother and right-hander Wyatte Wylie.
Add in the fact that the Tips brought Everett native Hunter Campbell home, acquiring the 18-year-old winger from Calgary, and the Tips can now ice a lineup that, while not being elite at all corners, configures pretty much perfectly.
There are those who say Everett gave up too much to acquire Regnier and Puutio, and I guess I see where they’re coming from. The Tips gave up their first-round pick in this year’s bantam draft in the deal, which means Everett is pretty much sitting out the first half of a draft that’s considered strong. And giving up Slovakian winger Martin Fasko-Rudas to clear an import roster spot for Puutio had to hurt, as he was a popular character in the locker room.
But how much is a 17-year-old defenseman who will be selected in the NHL draft worth? That’s at least a first-round pick in my book — provided the Tips get two more seasons out of Puutio. Finns have a history of being called back to play professionally in their homeland, such as when Eetu Tuulola was recalled after only one season with Everett in 2016-17, so that’s the danger in this situation. But if Puutio plays a full WHL career and performs as advertised, I think it was capital well spent.
Meanwhile, the way Everett acquired Kolle was a master class in asset management. If one factors in trading Keegan Karki to Prince Albert for a fourth-round pick, the Tips in essence turned their backup goaltender, a prospect who was a 13th-round draft pick and never set foot in Everett, and a fifth-rounder into a top-six forward. That’s money for nothing.
And if one’s concerned about having mortgaged the future, Everett is actually set up better for next season now than it was prior to the trade deadline. Kolle and Regnier are likely to be back in the WHL as overagers next season, giving the Tips options, especially if Fonstad and Fairbrother end up playing professionally. And if Puutio is playing in Everett next season it’s a big bonus to the defense.
Were the moves enough for Everett to overtake Portland? I have serious doubts about that. The Winterhawks are loaded up front, and Portland is the one team in the league that nullifies Everett’s wild card, goaltending, as the Winterahwks’ Joel Hofer is a match for Tips star Dustin Wolf. Given the unfortunate pod playoff system employed by the WHL, the Tips and Hawks are likely second-round playoff opponents, meaning all Davidson’s work may result in a second-round exit.
But man, I find myself once again tipping my hat to Davidson’s craftsmanship. The perennial buyer was able to navigate a tough trade market and find a way to address Everett’s needs, and the Tips once again can head into the final two months of the season dreaming of hanging banners.
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.