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Photo Credit: The Coaches Site

Number crunch: Travis Green excited about data available in NHL

When he was introduced as the new head coach of the Vancouver Canucks last Wednesday, Travis Green answered countless questions about his coaching philosophies and preferred methods to play the game. He responded to queries about handling his hockey club – veterans and youth alike – and the need for his offensively-challenged roster to generate more offence. One area he was not questioned about – therefore he did not address — was his understanding and use of analytics to optimize his hockey club and help it achieve its goals.

On Saturday, Green joined myself and Matt Sekeres on a special draft lottery program on TSN 1040 where we were able to put a couple of analytics questions to the new coach. Green says among the many things he’s excited about by making the jump to the best league in hockey is the sheer volume of statistical information that will be available to him and his yet-to-be-assembled staff. It’s a luxury he simply did not have while behind the bench in the American Hockey League.

“We don’t get access to data and analytical information like they do in the National Hockey League,” he explained of his approach in Utica over the past four seasons. “We have had three-game packages over the years that I look at. I do like the analytical side of it. I think there is so much information you can get right now and I’m looking forward to using that part of it.”

While Green didn’t want to get into the specifics of the kinds of metrics he values most, he admits his interest in statistical analysis goes beyond mere puck possession to gauge his team’s success. Like most coaches, he plans to pay close attention to scoring chances and the many ways to generate them.

“Obviously, home plate chances and things like that,” he explains. “I’m a big believer in breaking out the puck and forechecking and denying breakouts. And zone entries. There is a lot of good information you can get right now, and the access you have at the NHL level is really incredible.”

Although on the job less than a week, Green has already rolled up his sleeves and begun the process of putting his stamp on the hockey club. He conducted a series of meetings with the veteran players still in town – meetings he said went well beyond the ‘hello and how are you doing’ type sessions. He called the sessions productive as he tries to gain as much information as possible about the players he’ll be working with starting in September. Green plans to remain in Vancouver for a few more days before beginning the process of moving his family west from Utica.

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Although he won’t have any official club-related role to play, Green will join the organization’s brain trust in Chicago for the June draft. He feels it’s important to be there to meet the prospects the team picks and to welcome them to the organization.

Most of his summer, however, will be spent trying to formulate a game plan for a hockey club that finished 29th overall, 29th in offence last season and 26th in even-strength shot attempts differential. The Canucks weren’t good enough in far too many areas, and that’s one of the reasons Green has been promoted from the minors to try to advance the development of the young players on the NHL roster. The new head coach concedes some of his off-season homework will be a thorough statistical review of the Vancouver Canucks season to see if he can identify and prioritize the many ways the team needs to see improvement.

“I don’t think you coach off of it (analytics), but I think it does prove theories within how I feel about the game and how it’s played and the way it’s going today,” he says. “And I’m definitely going to use the information that we can get.”

After residing near the bottom of the standings the past two seasons, the Vancouver Canucks can use a boost in almost every aspect of the way they operate on and off the ice. If there are things the statistics tell Travis Green about his hockey club, he certainly intends to crunch the numbers to find out.

The Canucks have made their decision to move forward with Green and perhaps with some forward-thinking about the statistical side of the game, he can help the hockey club start moving in the right direction.

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  • wojohowitz

    I`m hoping for a more non-conventional approach. For example; Can he live with Subban`s defensive lapses if he can generate some offence. Virtanen at times looked more comfortable on the right wing. Is playing a right handed shot on right wing too unorthodox for Green. Will he encourage the defence to join the rush – hit the trailer so to speak. Might he consider breaking up the twins making them compete against each other for which line generates more goals.
    Something like this;

    Eriksson-Henrik-Goldobin

    Daniel-Gaunce-Granlund

    • Boddy604

      Virtanen IS a right wing. Boeser is a right shot RW too. Where’d you get the idea that’s unconventional?
      Also your line suggestions are complete and utter garbage.

      • wojohowitz

        Quite right. My mistake. I meant left wing of course. As for the twins; Henrik made many bad passes into traffic like there was nobody else to pass to. There was only one line working properly this past season – the Horvat line. Separating the twins might give the Canucks three working lines instead of one by creating competition between them, like who gets more icetime.

    • FireGillis

      Terrible line suggestions. I think our first line should be boeser and horvat, and the second line sedin and sedin. As for the third player on those lines, we should cycle goldobin, erikson, granlund and baertschi in and out.

  • Buula

    Well isn’t that nice to hear. Sounds like CA is gonna love ol’ Green.

    I know Willie said he used stats before but this makes it sound like Green understands and isn’t going to be so stubborn on issues where the stats are same something completely different, a la Sutter.

    Exciting news, points for Travis Green!

    • Locust

      Agree.
      For the CA writers it’ll be just like band camp all over again, playing in the pool with the like-minded.
      “Hey, my instrument is shinier than yours.”
      Data is just a tool, remember hockey teams don’t hand out pocket protectors and is too dynamic and too physical to “quantify” on a spreadsheet …… not that some don’t try.

    • Holly Wood

      the rest of the league has figured out that if you let the canucks pp cycle for the first half of the penalty you kill it. the second unit doesn’t generate much either. I really admire the twins for all they have accomplished, but it doesn’t work anymore, maybe in a lesser role with less minutes it might

      • TD

        I thought the PP looked better near the end. They changed the structure and worked some movement into it instead of running it through a static Henrik on the right wall. I think having the right handed Boeser on the left side helped.

  • Rodeobill

    So far he has said almost everything I want to hear. I hope he has enough rope to try different things out with the team, experiment with different approaches to see what works. That means enduring some failure to get to what works. I hope he is as good with the team this year as he is with the media!

    • dall

      We’ll see, but the nucks will lose next year and the media and especially CA will pile on. I think he’s the right choice but can the fan base be as patient as they claim they want management to be. I hope so.

  • Donald's Hat Trick

    “I don’t think you coach off of it (analytics), but I think it does prove theories within how I feel about the game…”

    This quote from Green suggests he doesn’t get it at all, and he’ll be using stats kind of like how a drunk uses a lamp post, for support rather than illumination.

    • Drug$

      What? The opposite is true. I take it Green is making an obvious point: analytics can’t, in most cases, sui generis dictate strategy. Instead, strategies should be deployed and analytics should be used to provide a reasonable measure of their success. Analytics allows you to say, “we are winning, but the underlying numbers suggest it’s not sustainable,” or vice versa. Data doesn’t make theory obsolete–it provides a more precise way to test hypotheses. That’s Green’s point.

      • Gregthehockeynut

        Gaunce’s CF% shows his overall play as effective even though his scoring stats look brutal. These type of players in the bottom six can at least drive possession time. If our Canucks are truly committed to rolling four lines they can identify and acquire this type of player, hopefully with a bit more scoring.