EVERETT – Expectations were sky high for the Everett Silvertips for the 2006-07 season. Everett both began and ended the season as the top-ranked team in the Canadian Hockey League, and the Tips themselves expected to make a run at the Memorial Cup.
It’s unlikely Everett will have the same universally-high expectations again next season. But the Tips themselves believe they’ll be right back among the Western Hockey League’s best.
“As a team we’re going to hold ourselves to that same high standard,” goaltender Leland Irving said. “Our goal is going to be winning the Memorial Cup as well as the U.S. Division. No matter who’s in the lineup that’s always going to be our goal. This organization over the years has proven it has the ability to find ways to win.”
Everett should have many of its core players returning from the team that compiled a league-best 111 points before bowing out in the second round of the playoffs. Among those are Irving, league scoring champion Zach Hamill, and superstar-in-waiting Kyle Beach, as well as a trio of defensemen – Jonathan Harty, Taylor Ellington and Graham Potuer – who will be in their fourth season with the Tips.
“I think we’ve got lots coming back,” Harty said. “We’re definitely losing a lot of character older guys with experience. But we’ve got a lot of young guys coming in who can really help us with depth and energy and spunk, just fresh faces that really want to get the job done.”
However, Everett loses impact players in its three overagers. Moises Gutierrez led the team in goals, defenseman Jason Fransoo was the team’s captain and a key component on the power play, and defenseman Jesse Zetariuk also took a regular shift.
And for the first time in the franchise’s four-year history the Tips have multiple players they could lose to the professional ranks. Center Peter Mueller is a serious contender to play for the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes, and defenseman Dane Crowley could end up playing minor professional hockey in the Tampa Bay Lightning system. Even Irving, who has already signed a contract with the Calgary Flames, has a longshot chance at sticking in the NHL.
Add in the need to pare down its 1987-born group to three overagers, and Everett goes into the 2007-08 season with more roster uncertainty than they’ve ever had.
“Originally when you looked at our team you would have thought it was built for next year, with all the (1988-born players) we had,” Everett coach Kevin Constantine said. “That might still be the case. If Mueller and Irv are back you’d say it is the case, we’re built for next year to have our best team ever. If Irv becomes (Flames goaltender Miikka) Kiprusoff’s backup and Mueller makes Phoenix, then that’s not the case. So more than any other year things could really hinge on whether our 19-year-olds play in the NHL or for us. So it will be a real wait-and-see type of summer.”
The others who have to wait and see are Everett’s potential overagers. The Tips had seven 19-year-olds on the roster at season’s end, and the team can only carry three of those next season.
Barring any trades or losses in the expansion draft, it appears right wing Dan Gendur has the inside track on one spot, and if Crowley gets sent back to junior he would take another. It’s unlikely Everett would use an overage spot to keep David Reekie as a backup goaltender.
That leaves forwards Damir Alic, Jesse Smyke, Brennan Sonne and Brandon Campos to battle for the remaining spot.
However the overager situation shakes out, Everett’s depth will take a hit. That depth will have to be replaced by the Tips’ 1990-born group. In addition to Rookie of the Year candidate Beach, forwards Jordan Mistelbacher, Matt Ius and Tyler Eskesen, and defensemen Matt Strong and Tyler Hlookoff all got their feet wet this season. Add forward Ty Skauge and defenseman Chris de la Lande to the mix and Everett’s depth next season will likely come from its 17-year-olds.
“We have a number of (1987-born players) who will be battling for jobs next year,” general manager Doug Soetaert said. “We’ve got an expansion draft where we’ll lose a good player. We’ve got some young players standing in the wings who we’ll have to get into our lineup next year, because our ‘90 group will be the nucleus of our growth.”
If Irving and Crowley return, Everett will be set in goal and on defense – though the Tips will still have to make a decision on Irving’s backup, with Shayne Barrie first in line.
The biggest question mark will be at forward, where the loss of Gutierrez, three 87s and possibly Mueller, will constitute a large hole to fill. The likes of Zack Dailey, Lukas Vartovnik and Shane Harper will be asked to contribute more offensively next season, and the Tips will also be looking to add an import forward who can help.
But despite the uncertainty, Everett is expecting big things again next season.
“Our expectations are always high in this organization,” Soetaert said. “We expect to make the playoffs and expect to go a long ways in the playoffs. That’s why you play the season. The expectations will be there from day one. We’ve been able to put a very competitive team on the ice four years in a row and I expect the same thing in year five.”