Travis Green, the new coach of the Vancouver Canucks, reflected on how the challenges of his NHL playing career have readied him to lead a rebuilding team whose roster will be young and inexperienced.
Green had been a hot-shot goal scorer as a teenager in the WHL and was drafted 23rd overall by the New York Islanders in 1989. But it took Green three years to make the Islanders and another three years before he produced a 20-plus goal season in the NHL, at the age of 25. He grinded out a 14-season NHL career.
"It has helped, being drafted where I was, thinking I was going to be this high-scoring goal scorer in the NHL," Green said during an introductory news conference Wednesday at Rogers Arena.
"You were, weren't you?" joked Trevor Linden, the Canucks president, sitting beside Green.
"Sometimes," Green said.
Green, a 46-year-old from the small B.C. city of Castlegar, was presented by Linden as the right man for the moment, a coach who understands young players and can best develop raw prospects into strong pros.
Three years ago, when Linden took over the Canucks, the team's strategy had been to vie for the playoffs while also bringing in younger players.
The team made the playoffs in Linden's first season but then twice finished at the bottom of the NHL. Management no longer promotes playoff contention as a short-term goal.
The rebuild is officially on – and Green will be its steward.
Green was coach of Vancouver's AHL team in Utica, N.Y., for the past four seasons. He has guided young players such as Jake Virtanen, who he will now be responsible for in the NHL. Green was the only coach Vancouver interviewed following the firing of Willie Desjardins two weeks ago.
Other promising new NHL coaches have failed in situation similar to Green's.
Dallas Eakins had been an AHL head coach for four seasons when he was hired by Edmonton in 2013 at 46. Eakins lasted 1 1/2 seasons. Scott Arniel coached Vancouver's AHL team for four years and in 2010, at 48, was hired by Columbus. Arniel had a few stars on his roster along with up-and-comers. But he, too, lasted only 1 1/2 seasons.
"There's always going to be certain examples of coaches that have gone on to have success from the AHL and ones that haven't," Green said.
"I'll be prepared and I am now."
Asked if he was ready for several difficult seasons ahead, as Vancouver loads up its roster with young players, Green said: "For sure. I'm not sitting up here saying, 'Hey, we're going to win the Stanley Cup next year.'"
The immediate challenge is scoring goals, one Green knows personally. The past two seasons have been the lowest scoring in Canucks history. Vancouver has several prospects who could become goal scorers and the team has about a 1-in-3 chance in landing a top-three pick in this June's draft. The lottery for the draft placement is Saturday night.
"I know we have to create more offence," Green said.
He said that coaching tactics could help produce more goals, even without elite scorers.
"There's a way that you can create offence nowadays, with the way that the game is played," Green said. "Finding goal scorers is different than creating offence, for me."
After considerable tumult since the firing of coach Alain Vigneault in May, 2013 – followed by one year of John Tortorella and three years of Desjardins – the Canucks are on Green's shoulders now. And ownership is preaching "patience," a first since the Aquilini family bought the club in 2004. For Linden, three years on the job, patience is essential, because he needs this bet on Green to pay off.
"We have a lot of faith in Travis," Linden said.