NHL general managers and coaches like to temper any excitement or pessimism they have about their teams until the first-quarter pole. Twenty games in simply provides hockey execs an accurate reading as to what direction their club is headed.
But what has gone down in Vancouver with the Canucks in the early going merits enthusiasm. Rookie head coach Travis Green has pushed his team out of the gate with an impressive 6-3-1 fashion for the second-best win percentage among the seven Canadian-based NHL clubs, behind only the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The 46-year-old Green had a definite plan and identity he wanted to develop with the Canucks and has exhibited a stubbornness to stick with what he believes in. If he wants to play 37-year-old twins Henrik and Daniel Sedin around 12 minutes a game like he did in recent wins against the Buffalo Sabres and Washington Capitals, Green will.
If he wants to lean on young centre Bo Horvat, the Canucks leader among forwards in ice time at 18 minutes and four seconds a game, grinding centre Brandon Sutter and the team’s hottest sniper Derek Dorset, a career 44-goal scorer in 495 career regular-season games who leads Vancouver with six goals, then so be it. If Green wants to go with the hot hand in goal and play Anders Nilsson (3-1-0, .943 save percentage) over Jacob Markstrom, the new coach will.
Green has turned heads. He has positioned his team well to coach the Canucks the way he wants to.
Vancouver general manager Trevor Linden could not have asked for a better start — including a current four-game win streak — for his team that has missed the playoffs in three of the past four years. Attendance has fallen. The Canucks have dropped to 20th at 17,418 through five home dates this season after placing 11th at 18,509 in a non-playoff year in 2016-17.
As a player, Green admits he wasn’t an easy player to coach. The native of Castlegar, B.C. was moody and inconsistent early on. He arrived on the scene as a hotshot rookie with the New York Islanders scoring 51 goals and 60 goals in his final two seasons of junior.
As Green progressed in his 14-season NHL career, he became a dependable two-way player who was one of the top faceoff men in the league. He also was exposed to an impressive list of coaches that included Al Arbour, Rick Bowness, Pierre Page, Bobby Francis, Pat Quinn, Mike Sullivan and even Sean Simpson with EV Zug in Switzerland. Simpson has been lauded for steering Switzerland to a surprising silver medal at the 2013 world championship.
Coaching natural step
After Green’s playing career ended with a championship with Canada at the 2007 Spengler Cup, he felt coaching was a natural next step. When Calgary billionaire oil businessman Bill Gallacher bought the Portland Winterhawks in 2008, he had a stack of resumes to fill out the coaching, scouting and training staffs under his head coach/general manager Mike Johnston. Even though Green had no experience, Johnston, who was living in Los Angeles at the time, met with Green at his off-season home in Anaheim. The two immediately “connected in a lot of areas,” Johnston recalled.
“He really enjoyed all aspects of coaching and worked hard at it. Sometimes when players retire they don’t understand the commitment and time coaches put in throughout the day. That was not the case with him.
“He had a good rapport with the players. He could be stern and strict but in a way that motivated the player to do better. He had a good balance of humour and direction. He enjoyed the teaching aspect of the game in practice, working with players on individual skills. He knew how to do it then he learned how to teach it.
“I felt over the first two years he really developed an eye on the bench for not only what was happening in the game and how to adjust to it, but also which players were going.”
That eye was evident when Green took over Portland as head coach and led the Winterhawks to the 2012-13 Ed Chynoweth Cup championship and four strong years with the Canucks AHL affiliate in Utica, N.Y.
Now he has attained impressive early season results with the Canucks. It will be interesting to see if this success continues.