Though we often think of the AHL as a stepping stone en route to the NHL for prospects, that same idea applies to the coaches who foster their growth. The last few years have seen a handful of coaches make the transition — some more successfully than others — and it seems like Utica Comets head coach Travis Green is next in line for the challenge.
— Vanessa Jang (@vanessajang) April 16, 2017
Green, who’s coached the Comets to a 154-109-39 record in four seasons — including a Calder Cup run in 2015 — is beginning to seem far too large a fish for the AHL’s pond. Whether that means swimming upstream as a part of the Canucks’ pod remains to be seen. What we can say with some confidence in these early proceedings, though, is that he won’t be returning to Utica.
Comets are done… Travis Green's contract effectively done.. Waiting game begins.
— Blake Price (@BlakePriceTSN) April 16, 2017
With the combined Comets loss to the Syracuse Crunch and St. John’s IceCaps victories on Saturday eliminating Utica from playoff contention and ending their season, Green is effectively an unrestricted free agent. His contract with the Comets doesn’t extend to next season, and I can’t imagine Green has any desire to put pen to paper on an extension.
Good luck convincing me Green hasn’t earned the right of refusal, though. The Comets have consistently struggled to get saves, and their paper-thin centre depth is stretched to the limits annually as injuries turn AHL depth into NHL regulars by November with alarming regularity. Still, the Comets haven’t sunk any lower than a 49% 5v5 Goals for percentage in any of the last three seasons.
I don’t get the sense that the Canucks’ faithful (or front office, for that matter) has ever had reservations about Green’s quality, more so than the players he trusts with driving it home.
In response to a Tony Gallagher article on the topic of development taking a backseat to winning in Utica, former Canucks Army “writer” and current Florida Panthers consultant Josh Weissbock used time on ice estimates to confirm that there was a fire to The Province writer’s smoke.
If the lack of ice time for Canucks prospects is true, then Gallagher’s words are something that should be concerning both for Canucks fans, and for the team itself. Now AHL Time on Ice (TOI) is not publicly available, but we can estimate it using on-ice goals for and against.
Obviously, this is not a good sign as Vancouver’s prospects, including their first round picks, are not getting heavy minutes from Travis Green. If you believe that players will only improve with more ice time, this would indicate that the Comets could be developing Vancouver’s players more slowly than they should be.
So yes, it does look like Canucks prospects are not getting key ice time in the AHL. The AHL is a development league, and while some clubs are privately owned and want to win to make profit, this is not the case for Utica. The Canucks had this issue in Chicago where their prospects were not being played over key veterans, (i.e. Matt Climie over Joe Cannata) and this is why the left that affiliation to buy their own club.
That post is two-plus years old now, but it’s worthwhile context to throw into the discussion. In that same season, Jared McCann and Ben Hutton made the Canucks out of training camp mere months after Green deemed them not good enough to contribute to the Comets playoff run.
In fairness to Green, some of the prospects this market wants to see find another gear might not have it in them period. Players like Nicklas Jensen and Hunter Shinkaruk aren’t any closer to the NHL after leaving Green’s doghouse. In the case of Shinkaruk, he’s stepped back significantly.
Meanwhile, Brendan Gaunce is taking steps towards becoming a useful utility piece in the Canucks’ (or perhaps the Vegas Golden Knights’) bottom six; Evan McEneny, a prospect once written off in the minds of Canucks’ fans, made his NHL debut and appears on an upward trajectory; Jake Virtanen is playing big minutes and taking significant strides, whether his counting stats indicate as much or not. The mean age of the Comets most common first line this season was just a hair over 23-years-old.
— TSN Radio Vancouver (@TSN1040) April 18, 2017
A fair response to the Comets’ youth movement is the reality that the Canucks’ constant string of recalls left him with little choice. By November, Jayson Megna and Michael Chaput were regulars in Vancouver’s lineup in spite of Canucks general manager Jim Benning signing them specifically for the Comets. I have little doubt in my mind that those are the players making up two-thirds of Utica’s first line if Green has the option.
The Canucks appear ready to rebuild, and they’ve made clear they need a coach who understands that and is willing to work within that framework. Speaking to TSN 1040, Canucks president Trevor Linden said: “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.”
If one was to imagine the priority of Linden’s talking points, I imagine it runs in order as he lists them. In that sense, all Green’s merit as a coach might not mean a lick.
I get the sense this front office realizes what’s best for the long-term health of the franchise (finally) and if that means taking licks in the immediate future for a better three years from now, then they have to decide if Green is the right guy for that goal. I can’t say definitively, though. There’s evidence on each side of the ledger — it’s for Benning and Linden to decide which outweighs the other.
We’ve just scratched the surface, though. As I was often wont to point out in Desjardins’ tenure, there is so much more to coaching than deployment and player usage. Every coach has their blindspots where roster optimization is concerned and no matter who the Canucks hire I’m sure that theme will continue at Rogers Arena.
It’s what coaches do in spite of themselves — the x’s and o’s, if you will — that often dictate wins and losses. I tend to think Green can move the needle a fair amount on a white board and as a voice in the room. He just has to be willing to let the next wave of Canucks’ talent, such as it is, be the ones to prove as much. And every indication is, he’ll probably get that opportunity.
— TSN Radio Vancouver (@TSN1040) April 13, 2017