Travis Green has been put in a tough spot all season long. Not only did he coach through one of the strangest and most challenging seasons in NHL history, but he did so on an expiring contract, with no assurance that he would return next season.
That’s an unusual situation for an NHL head coach to be in and it put him in a difficult position, particularly when he was front and centre for the media as the Vancouver Canucks dealt thorny off-ice issues.
As first reported by The Fourth Period’s Irfaan Gaffar and confirmed by multiple other sources, the Canucks and Travis Green have agreed on a new contract for next season. The deal is not yet finalized and there’s no word yet on the rest of the coaching staff, including goaltending coach Ian Clark.
The news will come as a relief to the Canucks players who went to bat for Green after their final game of the season and during their end-of-season media availability.
“Would we like to see Travis and the coaching staff back? Of course,” said Canucks captain Bo Horvat. “I think they've done a great job here.”
Green oversaw Horvat’s transition from young player working his way up the lineup to top-six forward and Canucks captain over the past four years.
“Travis has been awesome towards not only the team but towards me, helping me through this process in growing my game and teaching me how to play the right way and trying to be a good leader,” said Horvat. “We'd like to see him back, for sure.”
"He set the bar higher and kept everyone accountable."
More than just helping Horvat transition to a leadership role, he helped the whole team transition from the Sedin era.
“We obviously weren't great there for a few years and he came in and he set a good standard — a higher standard of what players need to do and built more of a winning culture here,” said Alex Edler. “I think we've been getting better and better every year, not counting this year. I think for me, he set the bar higher and kept everyone accountable and I think that helped me and that helped the whole team.”
A big part of that transition was the infusion of young talent into the lineup. A major argument in Green’s favour has been his willingness to put rookies into positions to succeed, whether it was playing Elias Pettersson at centre despite playing wing in the SHL the previous season, immediately challenging Quinn Hughes with tough competition, or recognizing Nils Höglander could handle a top-six role.
For a defenceman like Hughes, some of the credit also has to go to defence coach Nolan Baumgartner.
“For me personally, I love Greener and Baumer and since I've gotten here they've really — maybe nurtured is the word,” said Hughes. “I think they've done a tremendous job. I don't think people can lose sight of the fact that we were one game out of the Western Conference Finals last year and I think they're a huge part of that. I know that was almost a year ago but I think that they deserve a lot of credit.”
“With the young guys,” he added, “Brock comes in, he has a great year, and Petey comes in and has a great year and then I came in, Högs is having a really good year this year and I think that's a result of Greener and Baumer.”
"Every coach that we have has a lot of respect from our players."
Baumgartner’s future is up in the air, as it is for power play coach Newell Brown, assistant coach Jason King, video coach Darryl Seward, and skills coach Chris Higgins.
“I know that every coach that we have has a lot of respect from our players and we all wish they can be back,” said J.T. Miller. “They've given me every opportunity in the world so I'm super thankful for that.”
“The talks the guys have had in the room the past couple weeks with everything going on, I know we all think very highly of the coaching staff, from Travis to Nolan to Newie and Kinger, all the guys,” said Tyler Myers. “I think we have something good going in the group right now. I think everyone feels like we're moving forward. We don't know a lot about what goes on behind the scenes with that stuff but all I can say is, as players we think very highly of them.”
The biggest question, however, is what will happen with goaltending coach Ian Clark. Goaltender Thatcher Demko said that he “desperately” hopes the Canucks will bring Clark back but there have been rumours that he already has one foot out the door.
“I think Clarkie is one of the best — or the best goalie coach in the league,” said Holtby. “He probably deserves the ability to decide for himself where he wants to go but I think when you have something good you don't let it go. That's up to the higher-ups to figure that out.”
Clark also received praise from an unexpected source: defenceman Tyler Myers.
“All the guys really like having Clarkie around,” said Myers. “He's one of the best coaches I've had at holding guys accountable, and the way he does it, the guys really enjoy it. I know how highly Demmer and Holts think of him and how much they feel that he helps their game.”
"This season doesn't fall on them."
There is one distinct argument against bringing Green and the coaching staff back: they finished last-place in the all-Canadian North Division this season.
“It wasn't a really normal year to really evaluate the whole staff,” said Antoine Roussel. “Sometimes if you plan things and they don't go as you plan, that doesn't mean the talent and the personnel are bad or we need to do a revamp or a full renovation of the house.”
For Brandon Sutter, judging the coaching staff on this season wouldn’t be fair. Instead, he pointed to last season, when he felt the team was taking a step forward.
“Last season in the building, you could feel it with the fans and just the energy we had last year. It was a fun year, and that's all because of our coaching staff and what they've done,” said Brandon Sutter. “This season doesn't fall on them, it falls on everybody — players and staff included — but I personally sure enjoyed everything they did for me and for the guys here.”