This was not the way any of the parties wanted the relationship between Garry Davidson and the Everett Silvertips to end.
On May 20 the Silvertips announced that Davidson, the team’s highly-successful general manager the past nine-plus seasons, wasn’t having his contract renewed.
The press release put out by the team suggested the financial consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, which ended the 2019-20 WHL season prematurely and forced an abbreviated 2020-21 to be played without fans, was the cause. The release also said the organization would be restructuring its hockey operations.
Earlier this week I tracked down Everett chief operating officer Zoran Rajcic to find out more about the situation, and he sounded pained over the organization’s decision to let Davidson go.
“His record speaks for itself, he did a great job as the general manager of this hockey club,” Rajcic said. “It came down to the financial feasibility of our operation.
“It’s been a very difficult decision that corporate looked at,” Rajcic added. “We haven’t played a game (with fans) in 15 months, and it’s at least another four months before we have another game. It came down to restructuring our operations, it’s nothing more than that.”
Over the past 14 months the coronavirus pandemic has had casualties far more tragic than the breakup of a junior hockey team and it’s general manager. Nevertheless, it’s sad to see such a successful partnership come to an end under such unsatisfying circumstances.
We never know if we’re getting the full story, but it’s hard to fathom any other reason why Everett would want to dump Davidson. In what’s supposed to be a cyclical league, the Tips have had an incredible stretch of sustained excellence, winning five of the past seven U.S. Division championships and compiling the league’s best record over that span. Attendance rose every season from 2016-17 (4,865 per game) to 2019-20 (5,730) for an increase of nearly 18%. And he was always a pleasure to work with, at least for those of us at The Herald.
On Davidson’s end, though he declined to comment for this story, there were no indications that he wanted out. He was always talking about the club’s future and the potential of the team’s prospects.
“Garry and I spoke, and he’s a professional,” Rajcic said. “He’s not happy, and it was hard. I worked with him for nine-plus years. Any time there’s a change of that magnitude it’s tough on an organization. He’s a great man, a great hockey guy, and he helped us to where we are today.
“He was dealing directly with the guys at corporate on his contract negotiations,” Rajcic added. “It’s not a decision I was happy about, but at the end of the day it is what it is. They have a lot of stuff to look at, we’re not a single entity, our owner (Bill Yuill) has multiple businesses and all of them have been severely impacted the last year-and-a-half.”
So what exactly does, “restructuring our hockey operations,” mean? The Tips are still trying to figure that out.
“We’re still in the exploratory stages with the corporate office as far as what it’s going to look like,” Rajcic said, noting that if the team knew for certain that next season would start on time and the crowds would be back to their normal sizes, then perhaps Davidson would have been retained. “We’re not in an area where we’re bankrupt. We’re in an area where we need to understand more in order to make decisions moving forward.”
Could it mean something like consolidating the general-manager and head-coaching duties into one position? That’s what happened in Victoria last April when early in the pandemic the Royals chose not to renew the contract of general manager Cam Hope, whose teams never had a losing season during his eight seasons in charge. Head coach Dan Price was elevated to both coach and GM, and Everett coach Dennis Williams held both titles in his previous stop with the USHL’s Bloomington Thunder.
But whatever form Everett’s new hierarchy takes, it will be hard-pressed to match what Davidson accomplished with aplomb with the Tips.
I’m going to miss the way Davidson attacked every season as a buyer on the trade market, annually adding high-impact players like Nikita Scherbak, Garrett Pilon and Cole Fonstad to turn Everett teams that began the season with few expectations into title contenders.
I’m going to miss how Davidson, along with the scouting staff, was able to unearth gems in the middle rounds of the WHL draft, regularly converting fourth rounders (Noah Juulsen), fifth rounders (Connor Dewar, Dustin Wolf) and even eighth rounders (Carter Hart) into WHL stars — and allowing Davidson to dangle his first-round picks as trade bait.
Will we have to miss the winning, too? No doubt there are plenty of other hockey organizations who now have Davidson in their sights.
When a team and its general manager part ways, usually someone is happy. That may be the GM, who’s found a more lucrative or prestigious position, or it may be the fans, who believe the organization would be better off with a more competent individual at the helm.
But there are no winners on this occasion. This was a parting no one wanted, and the Tips can only hope that once they re-establish their footing, they can even approach the levels of success Davidson brought to Everett.
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.
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