The first day of Everett Silvertips training camp in August of 2013, when I was The Herald’s Silvertips beat writer, I remember bumping into then-Everett athletic trainer Marc Paquet. The Tips had just brought Kevin Constantine back for his second stint as head coach, and when Paquet attended an offseason hockey conference he found no shortage of opinions about his new boss.
Those opinions? They were all at the extremes. Everyone either loved or hated Constantine. No one occupied the middle ground. There were no indifferent feelings about Everett’s coach.
There’s no doubt Constantine is a polarizing figure. His combination of hockey brilliance and fiery demeanor brings out strong feelings in everyone from national pundits to local reporters, from current players to former ones, from home and opposing fans alike. In the wake of the Tips cutting ties with Constantine on Tuesday, the fierceness of those feelings is flowing out in full force on both sides of the argument.
Having been around Constantine for eight years — four during his first stint as Everett’s coach from 2003-07, then another four since he was re-hired in 2013 — I’ve tried my best not to allow my feelings about Constantine to be pulled toward either extreme in an attempt to maintain objectivity. But on the occasion of Constantine not having his contract renewed by Everett I feel strongly about what happened.
I think Constantine got the shaft.
Kevin Constantine is the best coach the Everett Silvertips have ever had. Full stop. All one need do is look at the raw numbers to verify that. In Constantine’s eight seasons with Everett the Tips went 326-182-68 (third number includes ties, overtime losses and shootout losses), his .625 winning percentage putting him in the top 25 all-time among WHL coaches. In the six years without Constantine the Tips went 187-200-45 for a .485 winning percentage. Under Constantine Everett won five U.S. Division titles and 10 playoff series. Without Constantine the franchise is still seeking its first in both categories. The comparison? Frankly, there isn’t one.
That Constantine would be shown the door following a season in which the Tips won one of those division titles just doesn’t jive.
Now, I acknowledge this isn’t a black-and-white situation. I understand the hockey-related reasons the organization could use as justification for dumping Constantine. The biggest of those concerns is the style of hockey being played. Despite the success of recent seasons, Everett has never been an offensive juggernaut, relying more on preventing goals than scoring them as an avenue to victory. That’s in stark contrast to what general manager Garry Davidson envisioned when he was hired in 2012. Davidson helped build the high-flying Portland Winterhawks teams that dominated the Western Conference from 2010-14 with speed and skill, and his goal was to recreate that in Everett.
But if that was the priority, why hire Constantine in 2013? Constantine bristles at suggestions that he’s a defensive coach, but the numbers show that even in the best seasons during his first stint with Everett the Tips were never more than a middling offensive team. Constantine’s teams are built around structure and discipline, not flash and dash. If the Everett brass thought Constantine’s return would result in a team that resembled the Edmonton Oilers of the 1980s, there was scant evidence to support that notion.
Taking it a step further, one can theorize that the way Constantine’s teams played discouraged offensively gifted players from coming to Everett. There may be some fire to this smoke. There’s a long list of skilled forwards who snubbed the Tips the past three years. That includes players who are stars in the NHL (Auston Matthews), NCAA (Tyson Jost) and even on other WHL teams (Nick Henry). Any reason for regularly missing out on those type of players bears examination.
But ultimately the responsibility for procuring players falls to the general manager, not the coach. Constantine could only work with what he was given, and what he was given were rosters that were not as offensively talented as the opposition. Technically Everett was upset in the second round of the playoffs this year by Seattle and in 2015 by Portland, as the Tips were the higher seed. But the true upset was Everett finishing ahead of those teams, each of which was vastly more talented than the Tips.
Maybe a coaching change will have the desired effect. Maybe the skilled forwards will start reporting. Maybe the team will begin scoring more goals. Maybe it will all lead to more exciting hockey and larger crowds in the stands at Xfinity Arena.
But that’s all conjecture. What I know for sure about this situation is that Constantine did everything he could with what he had at his disposal, and that he deserved a better fate than this.
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.