Vancouver Canucks Head Coach Travis Green is the 7th longest tenured bench boss in the National Hockey League, just behind Boston’s Bruce Cassidy who was hired two months before him back in 2017. Green enters his 5th season running the show here, coming off possibly one of the most bizarre years any NHL coach has ever experienced. We’ll talk about Covid and the “summer that wasn’t” in part-2 of this. Right now, Green reacts to the recent changes and additions made to the roster by GM Jim Benning. The coach spoke to Vancouver Hockey Now from California.
The big ticket item is defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, he of a $50-million price tag over the next six years. And even though Arizona retained 12% of that nut, the pressure to perform here in Vancouver will remain the same.
“A couple of years ago this guy was looked at as one of the premiere defenceman in the western conference and he’s admitted he probably hasn’t played his best hockey last season and maybe the season before,” Green points out. “After we watched video and talked to people, I think this guy has a lot of gas left in the tank. He’s excited to play, obviously there was a lot of talk about him being traded last year, a lot of times that will affect a player. But again, when you see the name Oliver Ekman-Larsson, people in the NHL think of a top defenceman and we’re lucky that we have him.”
A Canadian market, especially the one arguably the most passionate and critical in Anglo-Canada, will be a new experience for OEL. It’s actually an attraction for him after often playing in front of crickets with the Coyotes. It’s definitely an attraction for winger Conor Garland, who arrived as part of the same deal and promptly signed a five-year contract for just short of $25-million.
“It feels like the big name was OEL, and rightfully so, but this Conor Garland is probably just as big a piece in the trade,” Green stated. “He creates a lot of offense, he’s a dynamic player, he’s competitive, he’s feisty, he’s hard on the puck, even analytically, when you look up his analytics, he’s pretty impressive. And he’s still relatively young in the league, so we don’t think he’s come close to reaching his ceiling yet. I’m looking for him to have a real positive impact on our group.”
Although he’s an RFA who’s filed for arbitration and has yet to sign, centre Jason Dickinson, who came from Dallas for a 2021 3rd-round pick, was Benning’s first acquisition in his series of late-July maneuvers. He’s a 26-year-old third-line centre who helped the Stars make it to the Stanley Cup Final two seasons ago.
“What Jim has done this summer … brought in some pieces that can definitely play in the top end of our line-up,” Green projected. “I think Dickinson has already played a lot of meaningful games in our league, but again he’s still relatively young in the NHL. He just hit that 200-game mark (221), and I think players once they hit that mark, they’re still finding their way in the league a little bit … I think this guy is gonna be better than he is now just like a lot of our young players.”
Later, among others, projected 4th-line centre Brandon Sutter was re-signed for a year, right shot D-man Travis Hamonic re-signed for two, free agent righthanded defenceman Tucker Poolman signed for 4 years, another righty-D Luke Schenn was brought back to town for two, and depth, lefty D-man and potential Abbotsford leader Brad Hunt was signed for a year.
“You talk about some of the depth of the players we added, there’s guys like (Nic) Petan, (Phillip) Di Giuseppe, (Justin) Dowling, (Sheldon) Dries, (Justin) Bailey we re-signed, we signed Hamonic and Sutter and obviously “Schenner” and Poolman,” Green continued. “And Brady Keeper, there’s gonna be some good competition and some guys pushing from within our organization and I think you need that. I think you need that, for injuries, but also if guys aren’t playing well, you need that competition and guys pushing from below.”
Given the unpredictable nature of goaltending in the NHL,Vancouver Hockey Now last week provided examples of short-lived success stories, and played devil’s advocate knowing that number-one netminder Thatcher Demko has just 72 games of regular season experience. Jaroslav Halak was signed to a one year contract in hopes of being that steady, veteran presence as back-up. Green didn’t hesitate.
“I’m very comfortable with our goaltending,” Green stated. “I’ve been asked that question about our goalies a lot, it’s a hot topic in Vancouver every year. For Thatcher Demko, the one thing our team has done, our organization, has brought him along the right way. It was maybe a little bit slow for some people in Vancouver but we think it’s such an important position that we wanted to make sure we did right by him and right by our group, to make sure he was ready for the challenge.
“The timing is right and we have full confidence in him as a starting goalie and with Halak coming in I think you have a proven guy, a veteran guy who will win you games,” Green continued. “That’s important in today’s NHL, you’ve got to have a guy who can go in and play 25 or 30 games, or if your (main) guy goes down with an injury, can come in and take over and win you hockey games and he’s more than capable of that.”
Green will return to Vancouver in about four weeks to begin preparation for the season in person, but the work has already begun with video and meetings via zoom. In part-2 of this conversation, among other off-season items, we’ll address what Green refers to as “the summer that wasn’t” and talk about the toll of the Covid pandemic, the fact it swept through him and his team, and the psychological and emotional impact it left behind.