VANCOUVER — A chat towards the end of his playing career planted a seed in Travis Green’s mind.
The veteran centre had already thought about staying in hockey after retirement when a conversation with Paul Maurice, then his head coach with the Toronto Maple Leafs, really got him thinking.
“We were just talking one day and he gave me the advice: ‘You should be a coach,’” said Green. “It stuck with me.”
Some 10 years later, Green was introduced as the 19th head coach in Vancouver Canucks’ history on Wednesday, tasked with injecting youth and increasing scoring for a franchise that has fallen on hard times.
The native of Castlegar, B.C., inherits a team that just finished 29th in the NHL and was near the bottom in several offensive categories, including setting a club record for futility with just 178 goals that led to the dismissal of Willie Desjardins after three seasons in charge.
“I know we have to create more offence,” said Green. “Our special teams have to get better. I think there’s a way you can create offence nowadays with the way the game is played, but that’s definitely an area where we’ll have to improve.”
Green spent the last four seasons coaching Vancouver’s top farm team, the Utica Comets of the American Hockey League. After retiring as a player, he joined the Portland Winterhawks as an assistant in 2009 before leading the club to the 2012-13 Western Hockey League title and an appearance in the Memorial Cup final as interim head coach.
Flanked by Canucks president Trevor Linden and general manager Jim Benning, Green’s first press conference at Rogers Arena saw him field a number of questions about his style and approach, especially with young players, for a team that seems a long way from respectability.
“I’m not sitting up here saying: ‘Hey, we’re going to win the Stanley Cup next year,’” said the 46-year-old. ”But I will tell you we’re going to get better. We’re going to start the process of building the right culture.”
Part of that means getting young assets involved in Vancouver’s rebuild.
The Canucks are still led by Henrik and Daniel Sedin, who turn 37 in September, but have a promising group of younger players led by Bo Horvat, Sven Baertschi, Markus Granlund, Ben Hutton and Troy Stecher.
Brock Boeser also impressed late in the year, while Jake Virtanen, another former first-round pick, spent most of 2016-17 with Green in the AHL working on his game.
Add to that the Canucks’ acquisition of Jonathan Dahlen and Nikolay Goldobin prior to the trade deadline, as well as having the second-best odds of winning Saturday’s draft lottery, and Green should have plenty to work with.
“We need to get younger, it’s no secret,” he said. “We need to infuse more young players into the lineup.”
Similar to Desjardins when he took the job in June 2014, Green has zero experience as an NHL head coach. He has also never been an NHL assistant and is Canucks’ fourth head coach since May 2013.
That lack of NHL experience didn’t concern Canucks’ brass, with Linden telling reporters Green was the only candidate interviewed for the job, a process that took just two days.
“We have a lot of faith in Travis,” said Linden, who added there was interest from other clubs for Green’s services both last year and again this spring. ”We wanted to be really decisive.”
Green led the Comets to the Calder Cup final in 2015, but lost out in the first round last season before missing the playoffs altogether in 2016-17 with a depleted roster as a number of players expected to be in the AHL instead wound up in Vancouver.
As a player he scored 193 goals and added 262 assists in 970 games over 14 NHL seasons with the New York Islanders, Anaheim Ducks, Phoenix Coyotes, Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins, playing for coaching greats like Al Arbour and Pat Quinn.
“I’ve taken something from every coach that I’ve been under,” said Green. “I’ve not necessarily applied it, but learned from it to become the coach that I am today.”
He comes to Vancouver with expectations that couldn’t be lower for a team that has missed the post-season three of the last four years.
Desjardins made the playoffs in 2014-15 with 101 points, but was axed after following up a 75-point effort in 2015-16 with a dismal 69-point campaign this year as the Canucks pivoted into a full rebuild over the season’s final six weeks.
While Desjardins was initially tasked with trying to guide an aging roster back into contention in the wake of Vancouver’s run to within one game of winning the 2011 Stanley Cup, Green should have more leash to develop the Canucks’ youth with less emphasis on the standings in the short term.
“There’s pressure whenever you coach,” he said. ”I like challenges. I like when our team has a tough game, has a big game. You learn a lot about your team when you have a challenge.
“I’m not nervous about it, I am excited about it.”