It’s ten games into the 2021/22 season, and the hottest seat in Vancouver already belongs to head coach Travis Green. His Canucks are 4-5-1 on the year, good enough for a .450 point-percentage, just two points ahead of the Los Angeles Kings and nascent Seattle Kraken for last place in the Pacific Division.
Right now, the Canucks are scoring at a rate of 2.40 goals-per-game, 26th overall in the league. The penalty kill sits at a paltry 70%, tied for 28th place leaguewide, and the power play isn’t much better at 15.8% and 24th overall.
The team looks, at various times, underprepared, overmatched, and disengaged. Franchise player Elias Pettersson, in particular, looks absolutely lost, floundering to a statline of just one goal and five points thus far. He still ranks fifth overall in team scoring.
This offseason, the Canucks underwent a roster upheaval the likes of which has only rarely been seen on the Lower Mainland, and yet the product on the ice looks disappointingly similar to the one that was offered last year. It might even be worse.
People may disagree about the validity of the pitchforks and torches currently being gathered by the “Fire Green” movement, but no one is surprised by their early appearance.
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There are, of course, arguments to be heard on the other side of the debate.
Green has been handed an updated roster, but not necessarily an upgraded one. He’s coaching a team coming off an aggravating season and a fractured summer full of injuries, transactions, and complex contract negotiations, culminating in a training camp holdout of the Canucks’ two best players.
The team’s defensive performance has arguably improved, new players like Conor Garland and Oliver Ekman-Larsson have transitioned to the club exceptionally well, and, most importantly, it’s still relatively early in the season.
But if there’s one coaching-change-related line of thinking that is tough to argue against, it’s that of change for the sake of change — and, strange as it may sound, that might actually be a valid point when it comes to the Canucks.
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In other words, replacing Green might be both the result and the reason for that result. Let’s clarify what we’re talking about in blunt terms here before we get too abstract.
The aforementioned Pettersson has played 175 games in the NHL, as of this writing and across four partial seasons. The only head coach he’s had in that time has been Travis Green.
Ditto for Hughes and his 138 games.
Brock Boeser played his first nine NHL games under Willie Desjardins. The other 254 so far have been for Green teams. Thatcher Demko hasn’t played a big league game behind a non-Green-led defence. Green is the only North American head coach Nils Höglander has ever known.
Even Bo Horvat, the Canucks’ longest-tenured player, only has 232 non-Green NHL games under his belt.
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That’s an entire franchise core that has only really been instructed by one singular head coach. Is that a problem? Well, refer to the beginning of the article to see why it kind of looks like it might be!
Think of it this way. With apologies to our rural readers, you wouldn’t have wanted the exact same teacher for Grades 1-through-4 if you could have avoided it, right? Even if it was the best teacher ever, that’s an awful long amount of developmental time to spend under the roof of one solitary learning style. They say that variety is the spice of life, but it’s also the lifeblood of education. A variety of experiences leads to a richer understanding of any field. If you’ll pardon the pun, this is elementary stuff, and it absolutely applies to hockey.
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No coach is perfect, and Green certainly isn’t. So, it might not be that his present-day quality of coaching is so bad that he needs to be fired immediately, or that he doesn’t have anything new to teach any of the Canucks after five seasons with the team.
It could be as simple as Green needing to be replaced for the sake of a new voice having some input on the rapidly-disappearing developmental years of the Canucks’ current core.
Pettersson seems to have lost that creative offensive spark that once defined his game. Maybe someone else has some ideas on how to reignite it.
Hughes still has plenty to learn in the defensive zone. Maybe someone else has an inkling as to how best to use his unique skill set in his own end.
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The pieces are in place for one of the most dynamic top-sixes in franchise history. Maybe it’s time to let someone else arrange it for a while.
The power play looks stagnant and the penalty kill looks overwhelmed, even with assistant coach Brad Shaw in the mix. Maybe someone else should start drawing it up.
The point is that the Canucks’ best players are still young enough that they have yet to be fully moulded as NHL players. Thus far, only one head coach has had a say in shaping them, and it won’t be too long until he’s the only coach who has had a say in the early-20s phases of their careers.
But if Green goes now, the current Canucks get to keep everything they learned from him along the way, and they get to learn from a brand-new coach, too. They get to try out a whole different system, and gain knowledge from the experience. Heck, even a bad coach can teach a player some vital lessons about themselves. The key here is having the opportunity to learn, and having one singular coach throughout your entire developmental phase as a hockey player is contrary to that.
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Not convinced? Consider that Green is the seventh longest-tenured head coach in the NHL right now. Only Jon Cooper, Paul Maurice, Jeff Blashill, Mike Sullivan, Jared Bednar, and Bruce Cassidy have been in place for longer. That means 24 other teams have felt the need to replace their head coach since 2017, but not the Canucks.
During that time, the Canucks are 129-137-33 for a points percentage of .487. That’s eighth-worst in that timespan.
Despite that, we’d argue that Green’s time at the helm of the Canucks has been valuable and, conversely enough, a success to some extent. He’s overseen the graduation of a brand-new core from the junior ranks to the NHL, overseeing the transition from the Sedin Era to one defined by Pettersson and Hughes. Under Green’s watch and in a scant matter of seasons, that new core has already established itself as one of the most talented in franchise history.
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For that, Green deserves ample credit. Two seasons ago, he even brought that young core to the third round of the postseason, imbuing them with invaluable experience that they’ll carry for the rest of their careers.
But, at the same time, that same core has struggled to take “the next step” for more than a calendar year by now, and they don’t look to be taking it anytime soon.
So, maybe it’s time to let someone else take a shot at coaching the Canucks.
Sometimes, change, even if only for the sake of change, can be a beautiful thing.