The Everett Silvertips have become the Western Hockey League’s version of bullish stock market speculators: They always seem to be buying.
The WHL’s trade deadline arrives at 2 p.m. Thursday, and if the Tips are going to make any more moves, no doubt they will once again be buyers.
Everett finds itself in first place in the Western Conference at the trade deadline, and it’s clear that if the Tips conduct any activity Thursday it will be to bring players in rather than ship them out.
Indeed, Everett has spent the entire season accumulating contributors, dating back to the offseason when the Tips brought in overage defenseman Sahvan Khaira, all the way to a week ago when they added overage forward Zack Andrusiak. If that isn’t enough to convince you Everett is a buyer, general manager Garry Davidson said explicitly after the Andrusiak trade that he wants to add another forward.
But somewhat lost in the hoopla of the approaching trade deadline is one remarkable fact. This is Everett’s fifth straight season as a buyer.
This is not how it’s supposed to work. The WHL is a cyclical league, where teams go through phases much like the waxing and waning of the moon. When a team thinks it’s a contender it trades for veteran players who can help now, giving up future assets in the process. Then when it’s not a contender it trades veteran players away to recoup some of those assets surrendered when trying to make a run. It means the arc of most WHL franchises resembles a sine wave.
But somehow Everett’s been on the intake side of the vent for half a decade.
“It’s been our good fortune that we felt each year we should add as opposed to subtract,” Davidson said. “Maybe that will change in the future, but to this point we’ve managed to massage things and continue to be a buyer. This year is no exception, we have a very good team and we’ll see if we can add pieces to make it better.”
Davidson has plenty of practice at that. In each of the past five seasons the Tips have been on the buying side of blockbuster trades.
How rare is that? Over that span just two other teams have been major buyers as many as three times — Regina in 2015-16, 2016-17 and 2017-18, Red Deer in 2014-15, 2015-16 and 2018-19. Both were significant sellers the other two seasons.
So why has Everett been able to pull this off?
When I asked Davidson that question he immediately pointed at goaltending. The Tips had the luxury of having the most decorated goaltender in WHL history from 2015-18 in Carter Hart, and his successor Dustin Wolf has been almost as good. Quality goaltending gives an organization a strong foundation to build upon.
Everett has also been extremely successful in the middle rounds of the bantam draft. When a team routinely produces star-quality players like Noah Juulsen (fourth round 2012), Patrick Bajkov (sixth round 2012), Connor Dewar (fifth round 2014), Riley Sutter (sixth round 2014), Wyatte Wylie (sixth round 2014) and Wolf (fifth round 2016) in the middle rounds, it can afford to trade away high draft picks for immediate help.
And in recent years Everett has done a good job identifying and listing undrafted prospects who develop trade value. A good example is Dawson Springer, who the Tips added to their protected list in late September, and just two months later was the main piece in the deal that landed Max Patterson.
Somehow the Tips have accomplished this without wrecking their future, either. Arguably Everett’s four best prospects from each of the 2017 and 2018 bantam drafts are signed, and while the Tips’ 2019 and 2020 drafts have been depleted, they aren’t empty as Everett still has two thirds and two fifths in 2019 and its top two picks in 2020. It sure doesn’t look like a collapse similar to the one reigning WHL champion Swift Current is experiencing right now is in the Tips’ future.
Now, these trades haven’t always worked out for Everett. It did in 2014-15, when the acquisition of Nikita Scherbak helped the Tips win a shocking U.S. Division championship and end a seven-year streak of first-round playoff exits. It worked last season, too, as Garrett Pilon and Ondrej Vala pushed Everett over the top for division and conference titles. They were less successful in 2015-16 and 2016-17, when the trades for Brycen Martin and Aaron Irving didn’t do much to alter the Tips’ fate.
But regardless of whether they worked or not, they didn’t empty Davidson’s wallet to the point where he couldn’t splashing the cash again this season, and they haven’t dimmed Davidson’s outlook on Everett’s future.
“I’m very much pleased with our (protected) list,” Davidson said. “No matter what happens between now and the deadline I feel pretty good about next year, too. We have an outstanding young goaltender who should be here two more years, we could potentially have five defensemen back, and we’ll have nine or 10 forwards back. Our group going forward next year should still be a decent one. We do have some holes in draft years, but we have time to fill those.”
Meanwhile, Davidson may have another move up his sleeve on deadline day, especially after second-place Portland went all-in Wednesday by giving up six bantam picks, including two first rounders, to acquire goaltender Joel Hofer from Swift Current.
But regardless of whether Davidson pulls off one more deal, he’s earned his paycheck. Not only has Everett been a buyer five straight years, the Tips have done it without breaking the bank.
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.