Elliotte Friedman is one of the premier hockey insiders in the world. When he Tweets, speaks, or writes, you should list. Just after noon today, Friedman would report that Travis Green will fill in Andrew Brunette’s spot on the bench for the New Jersey Devils. Sportsnet’s staff wrote in further detail about their insider’s report in this link. Nothing has been made official yet. But if Friedman says it, then there is a good chance it is happening.
For the unaware, here is a short history of Travis Green’s background. Green was a journeyman player in the 1990s and early 2000s. His longest stay was with the Islanders from 1992-93 through 1997-98. Then various deals and signings saw him spend time with Anaheim, Phoenix, Toronto, Boston, Anaheim again, Toronto again, and one last pro season with Zug in Switzerland in 2007-08. After that season, he joined the staff of the Spokane Chiefs of the WHL, as an assistant coach and GM. Green took over for the 2012-13 season after Mike Johnston was suspended and the Chiefs went on a monstrous tear through the league with Green as the interim head coach and GM. They finished first in their division, won the WHL championship by going 16-5 in the playoffs, and lost in the Memorial Cup Finals to a powerhouse Halifax team led by Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin among others. Talk about a successful head coaching debut.
The performance was impressive enough for Vancouver’s staff to hire Green and place him as the head coach of their AHL affiliate: the Utica Comets. Yes, the same one that is currently New Jersey’s affiliate. He spent four seasons there. His four-season tenure was bookended by missing the playoffs and one first round exit in 2015-16. His best season was in 2014-15 when they won 47 games, took first in the North, and went all the way to the Calder Cup Finals only to lose to Manchester. Per Ben Birnell of the Sentinel, that was the one season where Vancouver helped their AHL franchise. Not exactly a coincidence that Green performed when management was able to help him.
After Willie Desjardins was let go after the 2016-17 season, Vancouver decided to promote Green. It did not exactly go well. Desjardins was let go after a 30-43-9 season where the team finished seventh in the Pacific. Green’s first season ended at 31-40-11 and the team finished seventh in the Pacific. There were some modest gains in 2018-19 (9 more points and a fifth place finish). The team was on pace to compete for a playoff spot in 2019-20 when the Pandemic ended that season early. They made it to the Return to Play format and went on a bit of run. They beat Minnesota 3-1 in the play-in round, beat St. Louis in six games, and took Las Vegas to seven games in the semi-finals. Unfortunately, that was followed up with Green going 23-29-4 in the 56-game 2021 season and a return to the bottom of the Pacific. He was on the hot seat going into 2021-22. A miserable 8-15-2 start sealed his fate and he was fired on December 5, 2021.
Also fired on December 5 was general manager Jim Benning. While you may look at those coaching records with Green and wonder where the sustained success is, a big reason why that has not happened was Benning and his management. Benning, to put it bluntly, stunk. Especially around the turn of the decade. This Sportsnet article written shortly after his firing hits on his several dubious decisions. The Oliver Ekman-Larsson trade aged even worse given his recent buy out. The best thing about Green - and why so many staffers get “recycled” in sports - is that he may be a legitimately smart coach but was hamstrung by matters out of his control. Green did not sign those awful contracts or paint his team’s salary cap situation into corners or make or develop draft picks (well, outside of his time in Utica). There is a reasonable argument to be made that Travis Green deserves a shot at coaching in an organization that was not run by Jim Benning.
That said, the report from Friedman is that Green is replacing Andrew Brunette’s spot on the coaching staff. While the roles may still be shifted, that would suggest that Green is taking over the power play. I hope that is not necessarily the case as the Vancouver power play under Green and his staff - something I am sure Green did have a say in - was not that good.
At a glance, it looks like the power play just fluctuated between awesome and not awesome before Green’s early departure in the 2021-22 season. The Canucks only consistently improved in giving up shorthanded goals while staying mostly good at drawing calls. However, that kind of fluctuation made me wonder whether they were shooting hot as opposed to generating a lot of offense.
That appeared to be the case based on the numbers at Natural Stat Trick. Most power plays are going to look great if the team is shooting the puck in at a 15-16% rate! When the Canucks were shooting at a cooler 10-12%, the lack of offense showed. The team was below the league median in expected goals rate in all four seasons where Green ended the season with Vancouver; and they were below it in actual goal scoring rate in three out of those four. The team did get better at generating shots and attempts, but some of those rates show that was more of an improvement within the league rather than in specific rates. While Vancouver’s talent was certainly questionable, the team still had some great attacking players in Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat, J.T. Miller, and Quinn Hughes available for Green to manage (and the Sedin twins’ final season). I am underwhelmed looking at these charts I put together. Green does not have the track record of power play success for a team that could really hit another level with a more consistent and threatening power play.
Of course, Green was the head coach in those four seasons and change he spent in Vancouver. It is possible that he was not primarily in charge of the PP. Then again, I am confident he had a say in how the power play was run there - even if it was just in assigning the role to an assistant. And it was good enough to be highlighted by The Coaches Site at one point (thanks to this Person Who Matters for telling me on Twitter). Again, the best case scenario is that Green will perform differently and better in a different organization than he did in Vancouver. If it is a repeat of what it was for the Canucks, then either the Devils need to be shooting hot to make it work, or the Devils will try someone else to run their power play in the near future.
To end this on a more positive note, do note that Friedman stated that Green chose New Jersey over Toronto or Calgary. This is another positive sign of much better the Devils’ reputation has improved. One sign of that is when other organizations are interested in hiring the team’s personnel. Another sign is that the Devils were picked over Calgary and, what I would think is a very, very hungry and wealthy Toronto organization. While there is much to prove after a sensational and overachieving 2022-23, the Devils’ image has been much better than what it was in recent years. This is to the credit of Tom Fitzgerald. Someone who is considerably better than Jim Benning when it comes to being a GM.
Now I want to know what you think. Are you pleased that Travis Green is going to join the Devils’ coaching staff to replace Andrew Brunette? Would you have rather seen that spot go to someone else? Whether that is Sergei Brylin or someone else out in the coaching market? Do you believe Green can be better without Jim Benning’s management? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this news in the comments.