Following a lifeless and embarrassing loss to the Avalanche on Thursday, followed by a 7-4 loss to Vegas Saturday, and a 5-1 loss to Anaheim yesterday, Canucks fans have officially taken out their pitchforks again, which have been gathering dust for — oh right, just a few months.
And who can blame them? This year was supposed to be different, with legitimate expectations placed on the club to make the playoffs.
Yes, you read that right. Make the playoffs. Not contend for the cup, not even win a round or two, just make the playoffs.
But with the Canucks returning to their all-too-familiar place at the bottom of the league standings, it’s obvious that something has to change, and the most obvious fall guy in this scenario is Travis Green.
Despite what many fans are feeling at the moment, Green is a decent head coach who hasn’t had much to work with for the majority of his tenure in Vancouver. He’s been unfairly criticized at times and an argument could be made that he should be given more runway to lead the team, but the high stakes placed on this season won’t allow the club to simply maintain the status quo.
Now, the real culprits who’ve created this mess are obviously Jim Benning and Francesco Aquilini. Benning has been given eight years to construct a mere playoff team and has failed miserably, while the Canucks owner’s lack of patience to engage in a full rebuild has placed the club in a more precarious position than ever.
Unfortunately, no one can force Aquilini to sell the team, and as Thomas Drance put it, Benning’s willingness to be a yes man has given him a “limitless capacity” to run the Canucks no matter how bleak things get.
So even though Benning should be the one to go, it’s unrealistic to expect such a move to happen right now, which brings us back to Green.
Now in his fifth season with the Canucks, Green is currently the seventh longest-tenured coach in the league, and only Jeff Blashill of the Red Wings has a lower winning percentage than him. With that said, applying some more context to his situation shows that Green has been a better bench boss than some might think.
The 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons included rosters that were obviously among the worst in the league. When Erik Gudbranson is playing over 18 minutes a night in your top four, even Scotty Bowman couldn’t have saved the team.
Expectations were higher in 2019-20, and Green did an admirable job that year of maximizing the potential of the group. Going into the season, the Canucks were seen as a bubble team that had the potential of making the playoffs, but few expected them to come within a few minutes of reaching the Western Conference Finals.
Fans back then often complained about the run and gun system that Green ran, but they forget that the majority of the team was incapable of playing a more sophisticated style. Outside of the Lotto Line, Bo Horvat and Tanner Pearson were perhaps the only other forwards who could reliably enter the offensive zone with possession, and Quinn Hughes was basically the only defender on the team with that ability.
The rest of the roster was littered with slow-footed players who were better suited to playing a heavy forecheck and dump and chase game, which wasn’t pretty to watch but played to their strengths. Fans can quibble all they want about the unsexy style, but the end result was certainly better than most anticipated.
Of course, Green certainly deserves his fair share of the blame as well. Last season was an unmitigated disaster that was largely caused by things out of his control, but the team still came out of the gates flat and was a defensive nightmare even in the early stages of the year.
The start to this season has arguably been worse considering the expectations placed on the club.
It’s become more and more obvious that Green has lost the locker room. We haven’t even hit the quarter mark of this season, and there have already been countless times when the club has failed to respond in games this season.
Green being tuned out by the players isn’t a huge surprise considering his long tenure as coach and the lack of success that the team has experienced, so a new voice behind the bench could give all parties a fresh start even if it seems like a lateral move on the surface.
With all that said, perhaps the most important reason to move on from Green is to prevent Benning from making more desperate trades in a futile attempt to salvage the season. The Canucks have already surrendered an alarming amount of draft capital without much success to show for it, and even when it does work out for a brief period (such as the Tyler Toffoli deal), the management team doesn’t have the foresight to retain assets and construct a consistent playoff team.
In other words, firing Green could be Benning’s big move of the season, and he wouldn’t feel the need to make another deal that’ll further handcuff the team in a last ditch effort to make the playoffs.
At least, not yet.
So regardless of how you feel about Green, it’s time to move on from him even if it’s just to bring in a new voice and prevent his own GM from sabotaging the club any further.
That might not sound fair to the coach, but hey, is there anything fair when it comes to the Canucks?