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.
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.
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.
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.