Look, I know this is a tough subject to tackle.

I never want to be the guy who is calling for a guy’s job, and I won’t be.

I want to be clear that I do not think Travis Green should be fired. There aren’t a ton of outstanding free agent coaches out there right now and it’s still way too early to start doing research into who could be a good fit. Trent Cull is a no, Mike Babcock is a hell no and Bill Peters is another four-letter-word no. That leaves the Canucks with Travis Green as their best option, for the time being, at least.

The Canucks have a handful of good players on their roster, a few great players, and then they have Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson. Everyone has all seen the positive articles going around on this website and others throughout the season. The overall attitude in the market has been mostly positive, and yet the Canucks sit with a mediocre 16-15-4 record. They are coming out of a weekend that included back-to-back losses against Pacific Division teams where they looked like a Survivor contestant who got to the final three and didn’t receive one vote to be the winner.

They were out-shot, outplayed, outwitted and outlasted.

The first 14 games of the season were great for the Canucks. They were scoring at 5-on-5, the powerplay was booming, and they boasted one of the most effective penalty killing groups in the league. Those in the analytics community told us that it wouldn’t last, but some of us didn’t listen, including me.

The rose-coloured glasses have come off in the past 20 games, and Travis Green has not been able to make the necessary adjustments to counterbalance the slumps that every single player goes through at some point in a season. This is an area where a different coach might have had better luck.

I was taken aback hearing Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice talk about his team in postgame scrums. I just wanted to give an example of him speaking about his team after a tough game. Here’s one example I found, following a 1-0 win over the Canucks on December 22nd of 2018.

Paul Maurice does a tremendous post game interview. He answers every question with great description of what the problem was and what they could have done to fix it. That attitude is what I would love to see given to players like Pettersson and Boeser when this team needs some scoring from the top.

Travis Green was in the same situation, coming off of a 1-0 win where his goalie played great and the team found a way to get the one goal that would ultimately win the game.

In contrast to Maurice, Travis is short and simple with his answers. Some coaches want to say less than more to the media but you can see that Maurice is so much better at explaining a problem or speaking about his young players stepping up in key moments. Green often talks about wanting to watch the game tape before commenting on situations. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but it reveals a possible deficiency in his ability to think on his feet, which is important when your team isn’t playing the way you want and you need to make in-game decisions to turn the game around.

Green is no stranger to throwing his lines in a blender.

A shake-up can be great for a slumping team, but the Canucks haven’t been able to find much sustained success with many in-game changes lately. The Roussel-Gaudette-Virtanen line comes to mind when thinking of an example of a successful recent change to the lineup. Bo Horvat has once again been unable to find much chemistry with any wingers, and with players like Sven Baertschi and Nikolay Goldobin on this team’s payroll, it’s a little surprising to see Loui Eriksson get 17 games while Baertschi and Goldobin have combined for only 7.

Though it may feel like the sky is falling, it isn’t. To the contrary, I think it’s fair to say that the sky’s the limit for this team. Their roster should be good enough to make the playoffs this year, and more importantly for years to come. Travis Green gets along with these young players well enough, but does he possess the coaching ability to be able to get the best out of his players? This Canucks team is in the beginning stages of transitioning from a horrible couple years and excellent coaching could be the thing that gets them over that and onto greener pastures.

Is Travis Green The Team’s Biggest Problem?

No, not right now.

Sure, he’s made questionable lineup moves. Routinely deploying Josh Leivo on the power play and at six-on-five over a player like Jake Virtanen is one example. Not giving Sven Baertschi a legitimate shot is another. And I’m sure our readers can sound off in the comments with more examples, too. But he was also prescient enough to play the hell out of Quinn Hughes early in his career, and to start Elias Pettersson at centre just a year ago.

Green’s influence hasn’t been enough to keep the Canucks’ out of the basement, but he’s not the reason they find themselves there, either. Quinn Hughes, Elias Pettersson, and Adam Gaudette are on the cheapest contracts they will ever be on in their careers, while Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat, JT Miller have mostly been worth every penny. Unfortunately, apart from them, there aren’t many other players on this roster that are playing up to their salary.

Travis Green may not be great in postgame scrums, he may not be able to elevate young players when they need it, and he may make some questionable choices when his team is a man up with the powerplay or with the net empty and he may not have the greatest system for this team but he isn’t one of the biggest problems in this organization.

The biggest issue, really, has been how the Canucks have played over the past 20 games. There are a few words we could use to describe their performance over that span, and “mediocre” would be generous.

The Last 20 Games have been the Problem

Let’s compare the top scoring players first 14 games to the 20 that followed.

Name First 14: Goals For /60 First 14: Goals Against /60 Last 20: GF/60 Last 20: GA/60
Elias Pettersson 5.14 1.71 1.91 2.97
JT Miller 4.41 1.70 1.39 2.19
Brock Boeser 5.07 1.69 1.80 2.60

This is a young trio of players who got off to an incredibly hot start and had much of the league talking about it being potentially one of the best in the league. Travis Green has broken up the trio, reassembled the trio, rinse and repeat. But not much has worked.

Is it better to try and get scoring from your top players or if a depth player is buzzing around out there should he get an opportunity to move up the lineup and play with more skilled players? The head coach of the Edmonton Oilers Dave Tippett was asked a similar question in October.

“Every game, you get a feel,” Tippett said. “It’s going to be that way. If you just say, ‘These guys are together and here you go,’ it doesn’t work that way. You have players that are top players but they’re players that can help other players and other players can help them. That’s coaching. You got to find a spot to feel like you can get advantages or take advantages the other team has away.”

JT Miller is used to being a pair or be part of a trio. His most consistent linemate was Steven Stamkos last season, but he also had tremendous underlying numbers when he playing on a line with the pair of Alex Killorn and Anthony Cirelli.

Right now JT Miller has played a lot with Pettersson and Boeser, after that it’s Horvat and whoever was on the other wing. JT Miller has drastically improved all these forwards ability to control the puck in the offensive zone and evacuate their own zone with ease.

JT Miller is incredibly valuable for the team as it’s currently constructed. He can play with basically anyone on the roster and raise their Corsi percentage in the process. He even makes an already impressive player like Quinn Hughes almost 8% better when it comes to CF%. It’s up to the coach to use him correctly and JT Miller is a bigger key to this team than we could have ever imagined when the Canucks traded a 1st and 3rd round pick for him at the draft.

I don’t know the answer for how to use JT Miller right now. That’s probably part of the reason why I’m not an NHL coach and why I expect more out of Travis Green.

Green has moved Brock Boeser around the lineup over the past few games, which isn’t a bad idea. If the Canucks want to have a top nine that can control the goal share, it needs to be filled with difference-makers in the top-six and a third line that brings enough energy to dominate the lesser matchups that they receive.

Here are some linemate stats for the big three over the past 20 games at even strength.

Here are some linemate stats for the big three from the entire season at even strength.

This team has Brock, Bo, Petey and JT as their definite top six players, after that there aren’t any players that have forced themselves into that role. That is not Travis Green’s fault, but he could be more open to the idea of one of Jake Virtanen, Sven Baertschi or dare it say it, Nikolay Goldobin being used in combinations with two of the big three to create stronger depth in the top nine.

Defensive Downfall

There has been a lot of tough defensive nights for the Canucks lately. Over their past nine games they have given up 27 goals at even strength. The Canucks are missing Alex Edler and that is showing with the defensive play lately. Oscar Fantenberg has came in and played pretty great, the Canucks are struggling defensively aside from Quinn Hughes.

The Canucks have had at least a handful of games where they have been severely outshot and outplayed at even strength, which is reflected in the defence corps’ shot metrics and goal-differential over the past 20 games.

The defence is lead by Quinn Hughes, no news here. He is already the Canucks best defenceman and can play with any defenceman and have success due to his ability to move and control the puck better than likely 95% of defencemen in the league.

When Tyler Myers goes down like a newborn fawn out of the womb and gets dangled by big Joe Thornton, it makes me wonder what a pair of Hughes and Stecher would look like. Jordie Benn or Tyler Myers have been effective defencemen at times this season and when they are slumping, you have to ask yourself whether it’s better to change the pairings or  ride through the tough stretch and hope that they figure out what has been going wrong and address it.

These are the questions that Travis Green is paid to answer. It seems Travis wanted to get even more offence out of Hughes and that is why we see him playing with Myers now. You could see the frustration in Hughes face on the bench after he lost his stick and Myers went full Gudbranson trying to defend the net.

What Needs to Change?

Honestly, I can’t say for sure. The Canucks have had some seriously bad luck over the past 20 games, and that combined with low effort in games and playing from behind by giving up the first goal 22/34 isn’t good either.

Over the past 20 games there are still players that are controlling scoring chances but they have had some horrible luck that is shown with their OISH% and OISV%.

The Canucks have the players necessary to make the playoffs and that is likely the best case scenario, unless you are still on #TeamTank and think they could bottom out and draft one of these much talked about top players in the 2020 draft. Obviously it would be great if the team’s young core could get some playoff experience, but they still have core players coming and one or two more high picks in this draft would make the core even deeper.

This team isn’t built to win a Stanley Cup right now, but it should push for a playoff spot. The team needs prospects like Nils Höglander, Tyler Madden and Vasili Podkolzin to come in and be impact players. It comes back to the management and what they want to see compared to what we are seeing.

Honestly a coach can only make so much of a difference on a team unless he is a premier coach who is placed on a team that can immediately benefit from a system change. Think recent Jack Adams winners like Gerard Gallant and Barry Trotz.

Since 1974, two Canucks coaches have won the Jack Adams: Alain Vigneault in 2006-07 and Pat Quinn in 1991-92. This roster has some great pieces and with the addition of their prospects they are setting up a great spot for a coach to make a case for the Jack Adams award in the near future.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear likely to happen this season. The whispers of a coaching change can change to howls within a week or two if this downward dive into the bottom half of the league continues.