7

Canucks Army Coaching Candidate Profile: Travis Green

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.

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.

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.

Continued…

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.

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.

    • Cageyvet

      The reason you know that stat is because Trotz is being criticized for that move, so yes, I’d suggest perhaps he made an error in judgement and deployment last night. It doesn’t mean that’s a flaw of his routinely, but I join many in hanging that sin on Willie’s neck because he did it over and over again. One part of me thinks Green has earned the shot, another part of me is nervous to keep on bringing in people who are debuting at their position at the highest level (Linden, Benning, Desjardins, now Green?). I don’t think we need a taskmaster like Sutter, but we might need some veteran poise in the dressing room from the head coach, and a presence that the kids would listen to because the coach has “been there, done that”. I’m still pulling for the Crow, but I won’t begrudge Green his shot if they go that way.

  • Pat Quinn Way

    For me Green is Willie D 2.0 without the Calder Cup success. There is a reason every NHL team he has interviewed with has passed on him, he’s just not good enough, just like Dallas Eakins.

    I believe it takes a tandom of elite coach and GM in perfect synch with a proven track record of winning to turnaround a trainwreck like the Canucks. Dean Lombardi (2 cups and an excellent record of picks and trades behind him) and John Stevens (4 Calders/2 Stanley Cups) are the type of credentials we need here to put some excitement and belief back into this fragile team and fanbase.
    #greennotgoodenough
    #willie2.0
    #firebenningnow
    #edmontontorontoturnaroundneeded

    • RandomScrub

      #edmontontorontoturnaroundneeded would require either a McDavid and a Talbot or a Matthews and an Andersen. Canucks could theoretically try to woo Scott Darling as the next Talbot, but we’re still missing the generational talent forward. I like Bo and Brock but they’re not at that level.

  • Jabs

    JD said, “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”

    All in all this is taken out of context. The Comets had a good thing going and Green didn’t want to change the team chemistry. Often you see this when guys finish their junior or college careers, they join their respective farm team and play very little or at all depending other factors but the value goes to the players who are given the opportunity to practice with a professional team and learn a pro game.

  • Sllew

    McCann was the only available 2013 or 2014 first round pick who didn’t play in the 2015 AHL playoffs/ end of regular season.

    Hutton had weeks of practice but was sat in favour of depth AHLers like Negrin and Ehrhardt.

    I don’t give Green any credit for McEneny. He was always a good prospect who was needlessly buried in the ECHL last season.

    This season he dressed Negrin as a 7th defenceman instead of giving Brett McKenzie or Max French a single game. How did that work out for Utica’s playoff push? I’m sure French was super impressed with the opportunity the Comets gave him as a try-out.

    Even the Chicago Wolves played Blomstrand, Corrado, Price, Matson, Cannata, and Jensen during the playoffs/ end of season playoff push. Maybe it’s time to ease up on how bad of a development team they were.

  • tyhee

    “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.”

    You might want to check your facts. It is true Shinkaruk has regressed, but he didn’t leave the Comets from Green’s doghouse. He was a regular first liner, regular on the power play and the Comets’ leading scorer with 39 points in 45 games at the time of the trade. The time he had less playing time was the previous season when, coming off injury, he wasn’t nearly so good but still got a regular shift, playing 74 of 76 games with 31 points.

    “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.”

    This is a point people often raise and I’ve never understood why.

    Hutton is the more sensible of the ones to bring up, but he came in at the end of his college season, got his look, was told what he needed to work on and sent to start his training regime. The Comets had a veteran defence that was effective-among the most effective in the league. Negrin wasn’t played ahead of Hutton-Negrin got exactly zero playoff games that season. Ehrhardt got some as the 7th defenceman, coming out though when those ahead of him were healthy. Hutton went home, worked on what he was supposed to and came back and had a fine rookie season with the Canucks. It was a success story all round. I see no reason to criticize it.

    As for McCann, it is hard to imagine why anyone thinks that McCann being wtih the Canucks (as a colossal failure) in 2015-16 means he should have played in the AHL at the end of the year in 2014-15. He was really good in the 2015 training camp-he’d had a good offseason-but look what he was like at the end of the season. Is there any reason to believe McCann, clearly not ready for the NHL at the end of the 2015-16 season (or, for that matter, the 2016-17 season) would have been any real help to the Comets at the end of the 2014-15 season. Even if he would have been, would it have been best for his development as a player? Again, it was a strong forward group that season and both Hutton and McCann were coming in late to a good team, without knowing the systems and in particular without being used to Green’s style of play. Note that Green teams often tend to come on late in the season-note 2013-14 and 2016-17, where he had teams with very little talent coming on strong the second half of the season. Perhaps he had players playing his way and it took time to get them there. Clearly Hutton and McCann were coming in late and maybe just weren’t ready to fit in immediately, with no training camp and no preseason.

    I don’t know if Hutton or McCann might have helped the Comets, but the decision not to play them at that time doesn’t seem out of line to me.