It’s no secret that the Vancouver Canucks have cut salary this season. Like most other sports teams in North America, service and business staff had salaries reduced or were outright released. Even their player signings have been made with one eye to pushing actual cash outlay back. This all makes sense, given the brutal financial climate of the past year. But there’s a difference between trimming fat and cutting bone. Which is head coach Travis Green?
Examining Why Travis Green Isn’t Re-Signed
Evaluating coaching is a tricky thing. It’s very difficult to separate the skills of the player from the system they’re told to play. If something is a bad mesh – think the Sedins blocking shots under Tortorella – who carries the blame? Pretty much the only thing outside the completely objective “eye test” is how the team has done during his tenure. And that, of course, is largely dependent on what players available to him. So with a very, VERY broad brush:
Travis Green joined the Canucks in time for the 2017-18 season. He took over for Willie Desjardins, who finished his three-year tenure with a 30-win year. Bo Horvat was the team’s leading scorer in 2016-17 with 52 points, and the team finished 29th in goals for, 24th in goals against. Pretty much starting at the bottom, there. In Green’s first season, they improved to… 26th in each category and 31 wins. Okay, maybe “improved” is too strong a term. Still, it was a small step forward with a new coach who had success with the farm in Utica. More importantly, Green’s preferred style is much more aggressive than Desjardins’. Shots against climbed by 34, but shots for went up by 189. It’s a trade-off anyone watching is happy to take.
Up, Up, Up!
In 2018-19, they moved up to 25th in goals for but jumped to 20th in goals against. They controlled the number of shots against a bit better, but in working with goaltending coach Ian Clark, the team focussed on guiding what chances were going to be available to opposing teams. Making those more predictable let Jacob Markstrom, Anders Nilsson, and Thatcher Demko narrow their focus a bit during play.
This continued into 2019-20, where the goals against inched up to 17th, but the offence skyrocketed to 8th best in the league. J.T. Miller meshing perfectly with Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser was a big part of this, as was the brilliant rookie season of Quinn Hughes. Secondary scorers did their jobs, so suddenly there was more than a single threat for opponents to worry about. The Canucks returned to the playoffs with unexpected success. What had been cautious growth after a failed “retooling” showed concrete progress.
Now, the Punchline!
The 2020-21 season has been hard, starting almost immediately after their playoff run. Losing out on free agents for various reasons, the cash crunch, and the massive COVID-19 outbreak all made for a chaotic year. A never-explained season-ending injury to their most skilled player put a bow on the year, even if it took a month to recognize it. Even as the team drags itself to season’s end, delaying the playoffs for the Scotia North division, questions abound.
The most obvious one is whether the coach who has been with the team for their return to playoff hockey will remain.
But What’s He Done For Us Lately?
Travis Green‘s record isn’t great. He’s made the playoffs once in four years. Even counting overtime losses as “ties” (they aren’t) won’t get him to .500 during his Canucks tenure. Team scoring has dried up, especially compared to other years. Four years isn’t exceptional for an NHL head coach, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him fired.
The general manager Jim Benning says he’s not interested in changing coaches. The players say they like playing for Travis Green. Media observers have a lot of respect for the job Green has done in a trying year. Even the owner has tweeted out his support, whatever that means in sports. Green himself, of course, refuses to discuss it beyond wanting to stay with the team. But if he does go to free agency once his contract expires in June, it’s likely he won’t last a week. Jobs are already available in a few markets, and others may well open between now and the start of the playoffs.
By any normal metric, Travis Green should be signed by now. Leaving him as a “lame duck” coach has to have an effect not only on him but on how he approaches the last week of his current deal. This goes for the rest of the coaching staff as well. The only reason for holding off on signing your coaching staff is because new general managers like to hire their own.
This means that while Green may not make it to next year, it could be not because of his actions, but because of a change over his head.
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