Between 1998 and 1999, Travis Green played parts of two seasons for the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, putting up 46 points in 101 games before moving on to the Phoenix Coyotes.
One has to imagine that he’s currently finding his second stint as a duck to be significantly less enjoyable.
Entering the 2021 NHL season in the last year of a four-year contract signed in 2017, which makes him a proverbial “lame duck” coach. It’s a term borrowed from politics, usually referencing a politician serving out the rest of their term after being voted out, and it typically invokes thoughts of desperation and ineffectiveness.
Of course, the phrase originally comes from the animal kingdom, in which it references an injured animal unable to keep up with its flock, and thus made more vulnerable to predators.
Honestly, either interpretation works to describe coach Green’s current situation with the Vancouver Canucks.
After steering his young club to not just their first postseason appearance in five seasons, but all the way to the Western Conference Semi-Finals, Green entered the offseason with considerable leverage, leading most in the market to expect some terse negotiations regarding his extension.
Some thought the Canucks should lock Green up immediately, regardless of what he was asking for. Others anticipated talks lasting all offseason, in an attempt to whittle down his asking price before finally capitulating closer to the season opener.
What almost no one expected, however, was for Green and his coaching staff to start the 2021 campaign without extensions in place, and there’s a good reason for that: because it makes no sense whatsoever as far as the actual fortunes of the franchise are concerned.
Green doesn’t want to go anywhere, so it’s clearly a question of dollars and term — and fans have a right to be asking questions of their own about it.
There are, of course, a whole host of negatives that come with a lame-duck head coach.
First and foremost is the distraction factor. Attending media members started asking questions about Green’s contract situation on the first day of training camp, as they should have and as the organization should have expected them to. That’s literally the media’s job. By allowing Green to enter the season without an extension in place, the Canucks brass essentially opened the door to a storyline that didn’t need to exist, but that will continue to exist until pen is put to paper on a new deal, or until he’s formally shown the door.
It’s a distraction for Jim Benning, it’s certainly a distraction for Green, and we’d be lying to ourselves if we said it wasn’t a distraction, at least in some small part, for the players.
And, hey, sometimes distractions can be good things, but not in this instance. What the organization has done by making Green a lame-duck coach is a signal to everyone — the coaching staff, the players, and even the fanbase — that everything is riding on this season. For a coach who has thus far done excellent work in developing the team’s prospects into NHL stars, that’s a rather sharp shift in job description. Obviously, last year’s playoff success raised the bar of expectations significantly for the franchise, but a team that is still on the upswing of a rebuild shouldn’t be switching to all-or-nothing hockey overnight.
The vast majority of the Canucks’ core talents are still growing, still developing, and still attempting to reach the upper stratospheres of their potential. One hopes, and even assumes, that Green is enough of a professional that he won’t throw development out the window entirely in the pursuit of winning, but it kind of seems like his bosses want him to, and it’s hard to imagine that it isn’t affecting his coaching in some way. Especially since they’re asking it of him minus a handful of key offseason departures.
Green’s wind-dangling status can best be read as a gigantic vote of non-confidence. In Green, in the direction of the team, and thus, in the team itself. If the organization was confident in where Green had the team headed, as they really should have been, they simply would have found a way to get the deal done.
Not committing to him sends the opposite message, and it’s a tough one to swallow for everyone involved.
For more evidence of this, just take a gander at the ice. Does this really look like a team with confidence?
Missed passes, giveaways, blown shots. The Canucks have squeezed their sticks all season, like a team with a big, metaphorical sword hanging over their head.
Gee, wonder what that could be?
We could go on, but we think it suffices to say at this point that there are a lot of detriments to starting a season with a lame-duck head coach, and we’re seeing at least some of them play out in the Canucks’ performance thus far.
But what about the good? Surely, there are some positives that come from such a situation. After all, the organization had to have some sort of reason in mind when they made the decision to knuckle down in these particular negotiations and not, say, negotiations regarding certain unrestricted free agents.
As can be the case with players, there’s always the possibility that Green’s performance, or lack thereof, this season lowers his salary and term demands. And sure, that’s actually looking pretty likely right now, but what kind of organization bets on itself regressing? Holding out on a player’s extension because you expect them to regress is one thing. Doing it with a coach because you expect the entire team to regress? That enters the territory of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
There’s also a chance that the Canucks’ brass, and in particular their ownership, is still not sure if they want to commit to Green. The lack of an extension gives them one more trial season to figure it out, and that could save them from a potentially expensive firing somewhere down the road, but at what cost? Again, we go back to confidence.
If the team has confidence in Green, why isn’t he signed already? Why would they want to send the message that they don’t? And if they truly don’t have confidence in him, why is he still here, wasting away the final ELC year of both Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes?
It’s very difficult to make any sense of the decision to bring Green into the 2021 season as a lame-duck without referring to the ownership’s pocketbooks. It really, really looks like nothing more than a cynical choice made to save money, either by lowering his demands or having him walk at the end of the year, and both of those outcomes require the team to fail this season.
Well, we hope those few extra dollars are worth it because the untenability of the current situation just might be one of the primary reasons the Canucks are already struggling to succeed.