Canucks coach Green on impressive prospects, Linden, ownership

Kaleb Bulych scored the game winner as the Vancouver Canucks beat the Winnipeg Jets 4-3. While the Calgary Flames would go on to beat the Edmonton Oilers 7-3.

It says something about where the Vancouver Canucks are in their evolution that Travis Green’s “lifetime” National Hockey League winning percentage is .445 — behind John Tortorella’s .506 with the Canucks, ahead of Mike Keenan’s .416 — and yet no one in hockey thinks the head coach is the problem.

The 31-40-11 Canucks missed the playoffs last spring by 22 points in Green’s first NHL season. He oversaw the arrival of Brock Boeser and the departure of Daniel and Henrik Sedin. And he was at the epicentre of intense debate in Vancouver about the ideology of merit-based ice time and opportunity for young players trying to make the NHL on a team that desperately needs them.

Green just saw a pile of talented young players at the Young Stars tournament in Penticton, where Canucks prospects Elias Pettersson and Jonathan Dahlen looked dominant offensively. Centre Adam Gaudette and defenceman Olli Juolevi are other rookies trying to make the NHL team, as is minor-league goalie Thatcher Demko. Can you have too many rookies? We figured it would be a good time to ask Green, whose second Canucks training camp opens Friday.

Sportsnet: What was your general impression of Canucks prospects who swept two games against the Winnipeg Jets?

Green: There has been a lot of talk about our young prospects and to see them in person, live, it was nice to see. Man, the puck movement, the skill.

Sportsnet: Most of us thought Elias Pettersson already had a Canucks roster spot to lose, even before he stood out in Penticton. What did you think of the 19-year-old?

Green: The one thing I’ve learned about this tournament is you can’t make quick decisions. I remember Bo Horvat didn’t have a great tournament. Mark Scheifele one year didn’t look great. I’ve been to enough of these now to know, good or bad, you don’t jump to decisions until you see them in camp and where they fit in. But Elias is a player with an elite skill level and I think he has a good chance to play on our team. We should think that way. He was a great player in the Swedish Elite League and that’s one of the better leagues in the world. There’s no reason not to think he has a good chance to help our team.

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Sportsnet: Your old boss, former hockey operations president Trevor Linden, told us in June there is a limit to how many rookies any team, even one that’s rebuilding, can incorporate at one time. Do the Canucks have room for four or five rookies if they all look ready for the NHL?

Green: It’s not very often a team has four or five rookies who are ready to play in the NHL. We have a good amount of prospects who have a real good chance to play in the NHL (eventually). And we have to make sure we do right by them and make sure we put them into areas where they can succeed and develop into the right player in the right situation. We don’t want a high-end skill player to have to play those hard, grinding minutes (on the fourth line) where they might not succeed.

Sportsnet: One of your predecessors, Alain Vigneault, whose winning percentage was .632, once said not all players are treated equally but all players are treated fairly. Will someone like Pettersson or Dahlen get more leeway because of what he might bring offensively?

Green: You can’t treat every player the same. They’re different people. The accountability you hold for each player has to be different because of their personal makeup and how they handle certain situations. You don’t want to take the skill out of a player. I’m fine with players making mistakes, but it’s how they react afterward. Do they continue to make the same mistakes? Are they capable of not making that mistake? And I don’t mean with the puck necessarily.

You can ask a power forward to win his puck battles, but is he capable of winning his puck battles? Or is he going to lose those battles and then lose confidence, and then you lose confidence in him? To me, the players who have really good hockey sense and are really smart, when you tell them something, nine times out of 10 they already know. Those are the ones who usually don’t continue making mistakes.


Sportsnet: General manager Jim Benning made it clear when he signed veteran free agents Jay Beagle and Antoine Roussel to four-year contracts that you wanted these players. How does adding them help young players make the NHL?

Green: Players that are great examples and play the game extremely hard, they help those young players to become really good pros – pros you can win with and not pros that are good NHL players but don’t win. We don’t want to be a team that just wants to get into the playoffs. We’re in this to win championships. How fast those players mature into that type of (winning) player will determine that. It’s so hard to win in the NHL. You have to have tough lessons to win. And you need support to do that. These guys (Beagle, Roussel and Tim Schaller) will help support those players on the ice and off the ice. They’ll help them during those tough lessons.

Sportsnet: Everyone says you have to be patient, which infers accepting losing now for the chance to win later. But unless you’re Mike Babcock and sign a $50-million contract, NHL coaches don’t usually have the luxury of patience. Are you patient?

Green: I’m never going to accept losing. We’re going to go into this season and I’m going to push guys to try to win every game. But coaches, you have to be real careful that you understand the makeup of your team and push them in a direction that is realistic. I know that if your team plays aggressive and plays their best, it gives them the best chance to win. That’s the process I worry about. I want them to play their best every night. As bad as we want to win every night, you have to be able to sit back and say: ‘OK, how did we play?’ You can play a strong game and lose. Sometimes you can play really bad and win. If you don’t keep your eye on that, you can make wrong decisions as a coach and push buttons the wrong way. I think the key with our group right now is making sure the process is right. If we do the right things every night, and do it for 60 minutes, don’t even look at the scoreboard. If we do that, the score will be in our favour over time.

Sportsnet: But you don’t have a $50-million contract?

Green: No, I don’t, but I believe that’s the way we have to do it. For our team to win championships, we have to go about this the right way and make sure our young players (are trying to do more) that just make the NHL. Otherwise, they get there and you’re stuck another five years trying to make them winners.

Sportsnet: How does Trevor Linden’s departure in July after clashing with ownership change things?

Green: Trevor means a lot. He has meant a lot to our team and organization. It surprised everyone when he left. But our team is united and our group has a strong belief in what we’re doing and where we’re going. Trevor meant a lot to us and our city. He still does.

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Sportsnet: Owner Francesco Aquilini mentioned you by name in Chapter 5 of his 12-part Twitter series trying to explain Linden’s departure. Do you, as coach, have direct contact with ownership?

Green: Not a lot. I feel like every owner wants to know what’s going on.

Sportsnet: But will he call you about the lineup, suggest who should be on the power play?

Green: No, no, no, none of that. I’ve been asked about that already; it’s just people fabricating things. If we want to make a move, Jim Benning will talk to ownership. That happens everywhere. They own the team.

Sportsnet: Nearly everyone, including all the sportsbooks in Las Vegas, are picking the Canucks to be one of the worst three teams in the NHL this season. Do you care?

Green: People have their predictions. Every year there’s predictions. Just do what you need to do to make sure your team plays well. Obviously, when you see that or hear that, it drives you. It’s a motivation. Everything motivates. But whether we were picked to finish first or last, that’s not going to change how we do things.

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