Photo Credit: Utica Observer-Dispatch

Is Travis Green a Lock for Head Coach?

The next head coach Canucks general manager Jim Benning hires is a crucial move for the future of this organization. The team needs stability.

For the past few seasons, the outgoing message from the front office to the fans has not been consistent. Three years ago, the duo comprising of a first-time president and first-time GM brought in Willie Desjardins to coach the club because of his experience developing young players and winning.

They made the playoffs in year one; then he was instructed to develop and make the playoffs. All while that was occurring, fans experienced confusion when the front office repeatedly told them that the focus was on the future, but the actions spoke for the present. Today, their goal is clear… at least for now. Both Benning and Canucks president Trevor Linden have openly admitted the mandate is solely to develop young players.

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Earlier this week, Linden laid out their criteria for the next head coach of the Canucks:

Trevor Linden:“We’re going to look for a coach who understands where we are as an organization, looks to develop young players, and plays a responsible, high-tempo game. We need a coach that’s detailed and structured and keeps players accountable. He’s able to work with young players and develop them, and make the players who are ready to take the next step to be good pros.” (Source)

Throughout that interview, Linden reiterated numerous times that the next head coach must “Understand where we are as an organization.” The Canucks are a young team, therefore the “win now” coaches likely aren’t interested and perhaps vice versa. Therefore, it’s probable the Canucks crossed the likes of Darryl Sutter and maybe Lindy Ruffoff off their list. Don’t get me wrong, they’re excellent coaches, but their services would be better served on a competitive team.

When teams are in a rebuild, the high-end coaches usually don’t end up there. Mike Babcock’s joining the Toronto Maple Leafs is a unique situation. It’s fairly obvious the Canucks will be looking for a coach who has experience working and developing young players. If my speculation isn’t enough to convince you, Linden practically said it himself.

Linden on keeping Doug Jarvis: “Doug is an excellent mentor for the next coach and a lot of players in the locker room.” (Source)

Before I dive into the speculation, here’s what some NHL insiders had to say about the vacant Canucks head coaching position:

Darren Dreger:“The people that I talk to believe that Travis Green is more than ready to be an NHL head coach. There’s also a greater assumption that, if it’s not in Vancouver, it’s going to be somewhere else. I’d be surprised if Green doesn’t get the opportunity in Vancouver, but maybe Trevor Linden and Jim Benning have something up their sleeves. There’s been coaches who are surprisingly unemployed. Lindy Ruff is a coach with experience, maybe Darryl Sutter although that seems like a bit of a stretch. If the Canucks aren’t taking advantage of Travis Green, somebody else will.” (Source)

Pierre LeBrun:“I would promote Travis Green but the question is what does he want? When I talk to Travis Green and other executives, his reputation is very good around the league. If I’m the Canucks – and I think he obviously is a very strong candidate – I would give Travis Green the job. I like Gerard Gallant a lot. Plays said to me, ‘Man, we love Gerard Gallant as a coach,’ and it was very genuine.” (Source)

Craig Button:“I’m hiring Travis Green. I look at where the Canucks are at and then I look at Travis Green. I use the Scotty Bowman term that he’s “snow banked” which is a term for experienced. He’s learned under Mike Johnson, he’s been a head coach in Utica, he knows the organization. To me, he’s a smart guy and understands how to work with players. He’s got the requisite experience, he knows the organization, and the organization knows him. It becomes the natural progression and natural fit. Based on what I know now, that’s the guy I would be hiring.” (Source)

Pierre McGuire: I would look for a young coach that can grow with the team. Todd Reirden (WSH assistant coach) would be one, Jim Montgomery at Denver University, Norm Bazin at UMass-Lowell – I’ve got a lot of guys that I think are really good, young coaches. I haven’t been around Travis in a long time. I don’t know how he fits with Linden and upper management. Travis has a really good reputation amongst hockey evaluators. Dave Lowry has more than enough experience, but it depends on if they’re looking for a hard driver or not.” (Source)

Green offers a lot as a head coach. The Canucks want a coach that can develop their young players, and Green has been doing that for the past four years. He’s familiar with the organization, and he knows how to approach certain players.

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He’s not afraid to show tough love to players like Jake Virtanen and Jordan Subban, yet the players still speak highly of him. Moreover, he’s getting a lot out of a Utica roster that honestly isn’t very strong at first glance. For a team with no star prospects, he’s managed to coach the team deep into playoff territory. He obviously has a very credible and respected reputation throughout the NHL, as exemplified by the interest drawn from Anaheim, Calgary, and Colorado last year.  He fits Linden’s stated criteria to a tee, so it would be hard to believe that Green is not the top candidate. One concern is that he is not a name coach.

Ownership has a significant say in who the next coach will be. They might not know much about that individual, but they can certainly nix him off the list. Vancouver hiring John Tortorella in 2013 showed that they want a big name. His style didn’t match that of the Canucks’, and his outlook on the team differed as well. Regardless, they hired him. If management retains the same type of thinking, Green might be due elsewhere. By no means does any coach “sell tickets”, but it certainly has an impact on how the paying fans perceive their team. Green is bound for the NHL shortly, but he’s still unknown in the eyes of many.

One question is, does he even want to come to Vancouver? This team is a long ways away from being competitive, and the Comets have had their struggles as well. Green has seen his fair share of losing over the past few seasons, and that would likely continue should he choose the Canucks. He might want a fresh start with a new organization. Numerous teams are in the market for a new coach, including Florida who has already expressed interest in his services. It is worth noting, however, that Green is from Castlegar. He might like the idea of coaching his home province’s NHL team.

Green’s development ability shouldn’t necessarily be a concern, but it is unproven. In four years with the Canucks, we have yet to see players who have developed from an AHL player to an NHLer. Only Brendan Gaunce and Alex Biega have made the full-time jump to the big league. Don’t get me wrong; Green hasn’t exactly had high-calibre players to develop. Nonetheless, players such as Alex Grenier, Andrey Pedan, Hunter Shinkaruk, and Nicklas Jensen have all played under him and are yet to develop into an NHL player. Green may be good at working with young players and getting the most out of them, but can he develop? By no means am I saying he can’t, but there would certainly be more confidence to know that he can.

Another point that should be noted is the the rate of success for first-time NHL coaches. Dallas Eakins is a case in point, as is Desjardins. Both coaches were thought to be ready for a full-time NHL head coaching job, but both lost their job. Eakins is back in the AHL and Desjardins’ future in the NHL is unknown. I’m not saying Green won’t have success, but there’s always the possibility. Without any NHL coaching experience, whether it be as the head or assistant, the transition may be tough. However, Jarvis can help with that transition.

First-time NHL coaches aren’t always failures, though. If the Canucks hire Green, they’d be embracing the Tampa Bay model and hoping for the best. Jon Cooper coached their AHL affiliate for three years before making a move up to the NHL. Tyler Jonson, Ondrej Palat, Alex Killorn, and Vladislav Namestnikov – all players whom Cooper coached in Norfolk/Syracuse – eventually made the move with him. The Canucks may be hoping for the same with Green, although the quality of players is far more limited. Management has essentially stated that winning is not the biggest goal going forward. Green might not be successful regarding winning, but he could be successful concerning developing.

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So is Green a lock for the Canucks head coaching job? Apparently not, but all signs lead to him. His familiarity with the organization should certainly give him a leg up on other candidates. Not only would it help him with regards to having a pre-existing relationship with management, but he already knows the players as well. Regardless of who the Linden and Benning choose, the coach must “understand where they are as a team.” The experienced NHL coaches likely won’t want to inherit this roster, which means management could be looking for a young coach. The options are plentiful when you think about coaches in the NCAA, AHL, and even NHL. With any first-time NHL coach, there are obvious questions with regards to how they will adapt. There have been both fruitful and unsuccessful instances, but all coaches had to start from the bottom at some point.

Management’s clock is slowly ticking. Regardless of who they hire as the next head coach, the pressure is on to find the right coach.

  • FireGillis

    I would be happy if the Canucks signed Travis green, but I would love to see the Canucks sign Daryl Sutter. I think Horvat will be around 70 points next year, Brock boeser 30-40 goals, juolevi around 40 points. We probably wouldn’t be competitive next year, but with star players upcoming, having a competitive coach could mean that we could be a contender within 3 years or so.

    • TanevistheMan-ev

      Those are some wildly unrealistic expectations for Boeser and OJ. From what we’ve seen so far, those numbers would represent stratospheric accomplishments for them while transitioning to the NHL. As well, Sutter really doesn’t come across as the coach to facilitate that kind of development from young player. However, I am in on Sutter just for the comedy of a noted hardass benching his nephew

      • Neil B

        I’m not sure that those numbers are completely unrealistic for Juolevi–the very top end of realistic, for certain, but they are in line with what Werenski achieved this year. They would certainly require us to completely rebuild the power-play around Juolevi’s strengths & weaknesses; but it’s not like our PP couldn’t do with a complete overhaul anyways. 8+ goals & 25+ points might be more likely, but 40 points isn’t completely out of the picture.

        Bo at 70 points, and Boeser at 30-40 goals, however, is just smoking something. I’d love to be proven wrong, but I just cannot see either happening.

        • Juolevi barely cracked 40 points in *junior*. There’s simply no way he reaches that number in his rookie NHL season, and that’s assuming he makes the jump to the NHL next year, which is by no means guaranteed.

          Auston Matthews was the first rookie to hit 40 goalies in decades. It’s almost inconceivable that Boeser would do it. Twenty goals in his first full season would be an impressive accomplishment.

          The only one of these that’s not *completely* insane is Horvat hitting 70 points, but even that is a major longshot. He’d need elite wingers and major PP time to come close to that mark.

          Barring major changes and a draft lottery win, the Canucks are nowhere close to contention. Despite drafting #6 and #5 overall in the past three seasons, they still have a very average prospect pool. Virtanen is unlikely to make an NHL impact, McCann is gone, Juolevi is unlikely to make a major NHL impact, and Boeser looks promising but is by no means guaranteed to be a top-six scorer next year.

          I think Darryl Sutter might be a good fit for the Canucks only because he’s shown that he’s been able to get good results from slow players. The Canucks are slow, but Sutter’s style may fit well with the lineup the Canucks have. It’d result in a lot of 1-0 and 2-1 games, though, so a Sutter-coached team isn’t bringing Bo close to 70 points, let alone helping rookies set scoring records.

          • truthseeker

            McCann isn’t good. It’s a good thing he’s gone. But keep acting like he’s some huge talent we let slip through our fingers. Bet you were a Hodgson whiner too weren’t you?

            They’ve taken the talent that was available. When Virtanen was drafted everyone….everyone..was saying the canucks needed “grit and size for the ‘heavy’ pacific division”. So they draft grit and size and then everyone starts whining that we should have taken the undersized wingers who went later on in that draft….lol.

            Canuck ‘fans’ are the masters of hindsight bias. It’s ridiculous.

            You writing off Virtanen and Juolevi after basically ONE year…lol…is amazingly short sighted and ignorant.

          • Neil B

            As I said, the likeliest numbers for Juolevi, if he make the team, are around 8-17-25. 40+ points would be the extreme outside of what might be possible. A lot would have to go right, and very little go wrong, for that to happen. Tyler Meyers had his career best year in his rookie season; it happens.

            In junior, Juolevi plays on a stacked team and is the best PK option, due to his high Hockey IQ. Hunter as a coach likes to split his D into PP/PK units–giving top PP time to the second PK unit, and vice versa, and using the third pairing as a relief unit. If he makes the Canucks next year, he would not be given this deployment; most certainly not at first. Regardless of the coaching staff, he would be given third pairing matchups, and either 2PP or 1PP icetime; he would likely get as close to zero PK time as possible, if at all avoidable.

            Given those conditions, and a shooting percentage comparable to Myers’ 10.6% rookie mark, I could see him getting 40+ points. But 25 is far more likely.

        • FireGillis

          Bo horvat was our best player this year, he had 52 points with no one to play with except baertschi, who was injured for some time this season. Next year, I think horvat will have a good line to play with if they can stay healthy in himself baertschi and boeser. They’ll be our first line and with a 30-40 goal season with boeser, I could see 70 points and 25-30 goals from horvat.

          • Neil B

            I guess we will find out; but let’s be clear: what you are asking of Boeser and of Juolevi is Calder Trophy years for each, and possibly a career year for Juolevi. Not saying you’re not right; I’m just saying that it’s a mighty big ask.

        • FireGillis

          Yeah I could see boeser taking the caulder next year. Most of the best prospects in the NHL had their rookie season next year and boeser is an elite talent. I could also see juolevi as a finalist with 40 points

  • Vanoxy

    I hope Crofton doesn’t see this article or he’ll have a fit.

    On March 22, I said Green was the front runner to take over and this was his response….

    Green is the top prospect to replace Willie? You have some inside track that tells us 1 Willie will definitely be fired? and 2 that Green is the TOP PROSPECT? OHHHHHHH. YOU meant in your opinion? The same one that has no basis in fact, but is stated as an absolute?”

    I’d actually like to hear his thoughts on the subject now. 🙂

    • crofton

      I see you, no worries. My point is valid, however, and to quote Vanessa…”So is Green a lock for the Canucks head coaching job? Apparently not, but all signs lead to him”. I don’t see any absolutes there. I will admit to a touch of hyperbole due to the fact that I don’t think Green should be their next coach, and I pray he not only isn’t the top prospect, but that he doesn’t get hired, except possibly as Chris the Curmudgeon posited elsewhere, hire ( I think he suggested Crawford) with Green as his assistant. I’d be ok with that I think. I haven’t seen Green in action other than at the Young Stars over 3 years, still an admittedly small sample size, but I was unimpressed for the same reasons many here were unimpressed with Willie, his failure to match lines, in particular, he would not play Cassels against Draisaitl, despite Cassels’ apparent ability to shut him down in the Memorial Cup games when his team had the last change. And also, why go down the same path and hope for a different result? WD didn’t work out as a rookie coach, why test the sanity rules by hiring another rookie?

  • Giant-Nation

    40 for Boeser wow that would crush it, not so sure going to happen. Statistically it’s a tough sell for a coach to come in with any pedigree based on were the team is. Only light in year two is that the Sedins would not be on the cap, next year will be tough but potentially exciting….

    Boeser Horvat Bierchi(sp) Virtanen, Goldobin, julevi, and potentially a kid from this draft could all play next year, for me I’m enjoying this rebuild.

  • wojohowitz

    The Aquilini`s are fans just like the rest of us and fans tend to overvalue their team and favourite players so when Linden says if we sign Vrbata, Miller, Eriksson we can make the playoffs the fans (and owners) believe him or was it a case where a bean counter told Aquilini the value of the franchise would drop by so many millions if the team was clearly not competitive so sign a name brand that can be promoted as a saviour and that is the mixed message but whose fault was it.

    Hockey is a game where a team can go from 70 points one season to 100 points the next without changing personnel just by having everything go right. What coach would not like a chance to turn a 29th place team into a top ten place team and get nominated for `Coach of the Year`. This situation is ideal for any coach to come in and look like a genius and if it does not work out it is not the coach`s fault. Even Darryl Sutter might like the challenge although Linden and Benning might not like having a guy around who knows more about hockey management than both of them combined.

  • myshkin

    who has green developed in utica? jake hasn’t done anything and the call ups throughout the year didn’t do much. willie developed horvat, svend, granlund and tryamkin. i really don’t think green would be an improvement over willie. goldie scored 4 goals in 2 games, green would probably turn him into a checker.

    • DJ_44

      I am undecided on whether Green should be the next coach; although personalities whose opinion I respect appear high on him.

      Regardless, the argument who has he developed? is not that applicable. In his first years, he was working with wealth of riches that was the Gillis/Gilman draft years. What exactly were we expecting?

      Gaunce has stepped up under Green. Subban and McEneny. Virtenan, from my views, looked good (although that was a season long project). Skinkaruk…meh…….. not a lot of NHL talent. One troubling thing was he was leaning on the vets in Utica like WD did here in Vancouver.

      He did, however, take a not-a-lot-of talent-on-paper bunch and got them to play together. This usually means he can effectively communicate and motivate. He was a smart player and by all accounts a very smart hockey guy.

    • LTFan

      The expression “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear” is applicable regarding developing the players in Utica. I’m afraid that Jake Virtanen was a poor pick by Benning and unfortunately for the Canucks will never be the player many thought and hoped he would be. Players who did improve were Curtis Valk and Darren Archibald.

    • BBoone

      Canucks have had a ( failed ) policy so far of not using the AHL as a development place except for goalies, so Green has not had what most other AHL coaches have which is the top prospects of their NHL teams.

  • truthseeker

    I think my biggest priority would be a guy who has his systems well thought out and is able to implement and communicate them and get guys buying in.

    Personally, I think the modern NHL is almost all about systems and coaching. Sure “talent” is important, and the canucks need more of it, but I think it’s become secondary to structure.

  • Roy

    The coach is not the issue. It’s the monster contracts that Sutter, Gudbranson, Sbisa and Eriksson command. They have proven that collectively they’re worth about half of what we signed them to. Maybe Vegas will relieve of us one, but that’s the core of our team. The Sedins are worn down after two consecutive coaches rode them in first line minutes for what, three seasons now? When they should have been respectfully demoted to second line minutes and second unit PP under Tortorella late in his tenure and also by Willie. No coach is going to fix those two massive issues. The best they can hope is to get rid of any of those awful contracts by trade and eating big salary, lose one to Vegas, and demote the remainder. IF that happens, the new coach had better assemble a new first line and fix the power play or this team is done for another season. It’s awful and the new coach is the least of this team’s concerns.

    • GLM

      No, the issue is there wasn’t enough talent to replenish the ranks of a declining veteran team inherited from the Gillis era. Through a combination of picking late, trading picks for vets and just bad drafting, so far Cody Hodgson (now retired) is the only player drafted by Gillis to play over 200+ games. A team can’t sustain success with bad drafting.

      So, suggesting the Canucks trade away 4 of its top ice time leaders on top of demoting the Sedins, won’t accomplish anything besides fielding one of the worst teams in NHL history, and throwing your developing players into situations they can’t handle.

      You’re right a new coach probably isn’t going to change anything, but neither is demoting the Sedins and trading away big minute players, only real option is to be patient with the team and hope they rebuild with solid drafts, while putting their prospects in positions they can succeed in.

      • Roy

        A center who was supposed to anchor the second line, two of six defencemen intended to be top four, and a winger that was supposed to play and produce first line points. That’s 1/3 of your intended top two lines and 50% of your top four defence who were over-rated, over-sold, underproduce and are tied to massive contracts. They were all terrible players this year (especially Gudbranson). You can’t fix that mistake, LOL. It’s way bigger than a coach or developing prospects.

        • RoCkFaThEr

          Everything you mentioned never happened….hence why the coach got canned.
          Proper deployment and these players flourish…
          I can’t wait till next year!
          Go Nucks Go!!!

  • Fortitude00

    Green is being let go as the coach in Utica and people want to promote him? Green has had one decent year in Utica while the guy we fired had three championship wins and missed the playoffs only once.
    Yes WD missed the playoffs only once in his head coaching career and that was this year.

  • TrueBlue

    I keep reading that Green never developed anyone, but is there a reason why we’re not counting Baertschi? Before he got the Willie treatment, Baertschi spent a season with Green in Utica gaining confidence as a 1st liner.

    Certainly Willie helped him adjust his game, but Green was definitely part of that 1-2 punch.

  • JMoney

    “but can he develop?”

    I kind of hate how people keep using the term “develop”. Obviously coaches can influence a player’s development, but also… not much. Did Dan Bylsma “develop” Sidney Crosby? Is Green REALLY to blame for players like Jenson and Shinkaruk who didn’t “develop”? Or are they just not good? Is the difference between Boeser and Virtanen going to be what the coach does to “develop” them? No. I think the best a coach can do is deploy a system that makes the most of his talent, manage lines and ice time efficiently, and keep players motivated. If he does that players develop on their own.