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Tips Tuesday: New team, new season, same Silvertips

The Everett Silvertips are once again riding high atop the Western Conference with no signs of slowing down

Now that we are 40% of the way through the season, I think we can confidently say something about this Everett Silvertips team.

They are really, really good.

Yes, I’m aware they made it to the WHL finals last year, and that’s precisely the reason I thought they might not be very good this season. Junior hockey has less stability than the NHL because the best players on the best teams get more chances to leave and go play at the next level. Don’t believe me? Just go check out the reigning WHL champion Swift Current Broncos. Seriously, pick any stat, they’re at the bottom of the league.

What is it about Everett, then, that kept them so competitive? After all, they lost their top three point scorers and two of their best defensemen, as well as the only goaltender to win the CHL goaltender of the year award more than once. How do you lose that much only to come back the following season and climb atop the division again?

Defense wins championships

One of the oldest adages in sports, and in hockey at least, it’s still pretty true. The Silvertips lost Kevin Davis and Ondrej Vala this offseason, but they also grabbed two defensemen from the Broncos in Sahvan Khaira (still in awe at the size of this lad) and Artyom Minulin. They’ve got two legit NHL prospects in Wyatte Wylie and Jake Christiansen. Gianni Fairbrother and Ian Walker have been with the team long enough to be coached by the extremely defensive-minded Kevin Constantine. All of this adds up to a team that is giving up the fewest shots per game to opponents so far this season.

Of course, a good defense can only do so much unless they have a decent goaltender. And somehow, after losing 3-time WHL Goaltender of the Year Carter Hart, the Silvertips have found themselves with a new homegrown prodigy.

This season, Dustin Wolf has been arguably the best goalie in the WHL not named Ian Scott. Among goaltenders to start at least half of their team’s games, Wolf ranks third in SV% just behind Vancouver’s David Tendeck (Ian Scott is first, posting a bonkers 0.948 at the moment).

Wolf doesn’t have to face as many shots as the league’s other goaltenders, but that doesn’t mean he has a smaller workload by any means. He leads the league with 26 games played. He started 25 of those, and in the other, he came in for backup Max Palaga just 9 minutes into the game. The Tips did lose that game, but Wolf ended up playing 54 minutes and was named the second star of the game. On what was supposed to be his day off. He is carrying a tremendous workload for this team, and it shows up again in his GSAA. Replace Wolf with a league-average goaltender and the team would have given up an extra 12 goals, just shy of an extra goal every 2 games.

What about the offense?

The loss of Patrick Bajkov, Matt Fonteyne, and Garrett Pilon amounts to basically losing a team’s top line. Those three had the most points on the team last year. Heck, Kevin Davis, the defenseman, was fifth. That is a lot of scoring to lose in one offseason. How did Everett replace that? Well it turns out they already had a few guys on the roster already that fill in those spots remarkably well. They just weren’t getting the ice-time to show it last season, being relegated to the third and fourth lines. Bryce Kindopp has cemented his spot on both the top power play unit and the top line, putting up 22 points through the first 27 games. Wyatte Wylie has had an offensive explosion this year due in large part to a large presence on the power play. He’s got 14 points with the man-advantage and 23 overall this year, nearly on pace to double his 2017-2018 season total of 31 points. But perhaps the two biggest surprises to show up on offense this year have been Martin Fasko-Rudas and Dawson Butt.

Fasko-Rudas? The guy with 14 points and a +/- of -3 this year?

First of all, plus/minus is a garbage stat and should be banned. Secondly, yes, that’s the one. He is having a bigger impact than the stat sheet implies, and honestly, I think he deserves more ice-time each game.

Fasko-Rudas is among the best on the team at entering the offensive zone with possession of the puck. He’s got zone entry numbers that trail only Connor Dewar, who I think we can all agree is the best forward on the team. You can also see his effectiveness when looking at betweenness scores for the team. Betweenness is a pretty complicated statistic created by Evan Oppenheimer that tries to define the impact each skater has on the number of goals scored while he is on the ice. Does a skater have a lot of points simply because he plays on a line with Connor Dewar all the time? Or does he have a lot of points because he’s actually good? For the full detailed explanation of betweenness, I would highly recommend checking out Evan’s post here. He was courteous enough on Monday to calculate the betweenness scores for the Silvertips and share them with us here.

The picture on the right sorts the team by betweenness score at even strength. To nobody’s surprise, Connor Dewar shows up at number one. But check out the two names right behind him. This data suggests that the stats of Kindopp and Riley Sutter are somewhat inflated by increased playing time with Dewar, and Fasko-Rudas and Butt actually have a larger impact on the scoring when they are on the ice than either of the former have.

What’s next?

Right now, the Silvertips are sitting with a comfortable 9-point lead atop the US Division. They’re 8-1-1-0 over their last 10 games, and second in goal differential in the league. They’ve also got the second best shot control in the league, sitting just under 60%.

Comparing team’s shots for and shots against. Everett shoots more than the average team, and allows the fewest shots of any team.

Everett has three home games coming up this week, the first of which will be another matchup with the second place Portland Winterhawks. Everett beat the Winterhawks on Sunday in a hard-fought 5-3 victory and currently leads the season series 4-2. On Friday they take on the Spokane Chiefs, who are third in the US Division and just one point behind the Winterhawks. The Kootenay ICE, currently riding a 5-game losing streak, come to town on Saturday. Kootenay comes into this week giving up the third most shots in the league, so this could be a really fun way to end the weekend if you’re a Silvertips fan.