The ’12 Days of Christmas’ is a classic holiday song first published in its current form in 1908. In a nod to the classic carol, join The Hockey Writers as we count down the 12 Days of Hockeymas. Each day, we will provide you with a piece of hockey history as we eagerly await the start of the 2020-21 NHL season.
The Vancouver Canucks have employed 19 head coaches since they were inaugurated as an NHL team in 1970. Some have had relatively short shelf-lives while others have cemented themselves as a few of the best coaches of all-time. As we continue our 12 Days of Hockeymas, let’s take a look at eight head coaches who have stuck around long enough to join the 200-game club.
Phil Maloney (232)
Final Record: 95-105-32
Phil Maloney became the fourth head coach in Canucks’ history when he took over from Bill McCreary during the 1973-74 season. Of all the coaches in this club, he was the only one who coached some of the first members of the Canucks in legendary first captain Orland Kurtenbach, little known goal scorer Dennis Ververgaert and dynamic former Montreal Canadiens sniper Andre Boudrias.
Maloney had some success with the Canucks, making the playoffs two times during his tenure, but never advanced past the first round. His best season came in 1974-75 when his team posted 86 points and finished first in the division. Unfortunately, they met the powerhouse Canadiens in the first round led by 21-year-old future Hall-of-Famer Guy LaFleur and star goaltender Ken Dryden. As you might imagine, they were quickly ousted in five games. LaFleur was the star too, with five goals in the series.
Maloney coached two more seasons with the Canucks before getting fired during the 1976-77 season. His coaching career did not continue after that.
Travis Green (233)
Current Record: 102-103-0-28
Travis Green was a rookie head coach when he took over from the turbulent John Tortorella at the beginning of the 2017-18 season. He was a veteran of 970 NHL games with six different teams, so he definitely knew how to connect to players, having been in the league before. He also had coaching experience in the WHL with the Portland Winterhawks and the AHL with the Utica Comets where he spent four seasons before making his way to the NHL.
Green’s first season was a bit of a roller coaster. The Canucks started strong out of the gate with a 6-3 record in the month of October but then went into a tailspin after Christmas. At one point, they were on a seven-game losing streak and had only won eight games in two months. Suffice it to say, his coaching career did not get off to a great start. Though he did get to stand behind the bench for Daniel and Henrik Sedins’ final season, so I guess it wasn’t all bad.
The 2018 NHL Draft was good to the Canucks though, as they selected current franchise forward and fan favourite Elias Pettersson. His presence was a boon to the team and Green’s career. He took the league by storm and enabled them to win more games and bring excitement back to the city of Vancouver. Along with Boeser and Bo Horvat, they finally had a young new core to build around.
The shortened 2019-20 season was Green’s best as an NHL head coach. He not only won his 100th game behind the bench but also made the playoffs for the first time too. When the 2020-21 season finally begins, he will be starting his fourth season in the NHL.
Willie Desjardins (246)
Final Record: 109-110-0-27
Willie Desjardins was the first coach after the long-tenured, uber-successful reign of Alain Vigneault. He was also current general manager Jim Benning’s first hire as the new front-man for the Canucks.
Success followed Desjardins right away after he was hired in 2014. He led the Canucks to a 101-point season, a division title, and their first playoff appearance since 2013.
Unfortunately, that success was short-lived. Desjardins could not replicate his 2014-15 season in 2015-16 and fell to a 31-38-13 finish. The 2016-17 campaign was even more of a nightmare as the Canucks lost 43 games and wound up near the bottom of the NHL standings. He was fired at the end of the season as a result.
Pat Quinn (280)
Final Record: 141-111-28
Pat Quinn was easily one of the Canucks’ top coaches of all-time. Heck, he probably could be named one of their top general managers of all-time as well. He may not have presided over the best teams in franchise history, but he definitely stood behind the ones with the most heart. The 1993-94 team was not a Stanley Cup contender by any means but found a way to not only make it to the Stanley Cup Final but come inches away from winning it all.
Quinn had an uncanny way of getting his players to buy into a system and play it to a tee. He remains the Canucks’ fourth-winningest coach with 141 victories and is still their second-most successful coach in the playoffs with 31 career wins. He was respected across the league and was a mentor to many bench bosses and players over the years, including Canucks’ legend Trevor Linden.
He loved to teach and he made sense of the game…He was a very proud individual and tremendous leader. For me, he was a real mentor. He really taught me the game. A lot of the lessons he taught me, I still think about today.Trevor Linden (from ‘Former Canucks players reflect on Pat Quinn coaching years’, The Georgia Straight, 11/24/14)
Quinn will forever be remembered as a coach who cared, not only for his players but the fans as well. There’s a reason there is a street called Pat Quinn Way in Vancouver. He loved the city of Vancouver and wanted it to be respected across the NHL. That’s why he was credited for turning the team around in the late 80s and early 90s.
Tragically, Quinn passed away in 2014 at the age of 71 after battling a long-term illness. His face is immortalized on the walls of the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder and the Canucks Ring of Honour at Rogers Arena. His contributions to the game of hockey will never be forgotten.
Bob McCammon (294)
Final Record: 102-156-36
Bob McCammon only coached two teams during his tenure in the NHL, the Canucks, and the Philadelphia Flyers. Unfortunately for him, only one of those stints were successful, as he never had a winning season in Vancouver. He did have two great seasons in Philly, but his luck must have run out when he reached the West Coast.
Harry Neale (407)
Final Record: 142-189-76
Harry Neale became the Canucks’ sixth head coach in their history at the beginning of the 1979-80 season after Kurtenbach led the team for two campaigns. He never finished a season above .500 but did make the playoffs four times.
While Neale did coach the third-most games for the Canucks, he’s more known for the suspension that gave Roger Neilsen the reins to the team. After an altercation with a fan during the 1981-82 season, he was suspended, and his assistant coach took over.
Neilsen immediately went on a lengthy winning streak and ended up bringing them all the way to the Stanley Cup Final versus the powerhouse New York Islanders. They of course didn’t win, but those playoffs marked the beginning of Towel Power in Vancouver, and Neale was a huge reason why it ended up happening in the first place.
Marc Crawford (529)
Final Record: 246-189-62-32
Marc Crawford is the only coach in Canucks’ history to stand behind the bench when two dynamic duos were a part of the roster. Daniel and Henrik Sedin and Markus Naslund and Todd Bertuzzi. Granted the Sedins were not the dominant players they turned out to be in 2011, but they were still legitimate second-line players.
Crawford was the bench boss of the Canucks for seven seasons before he was fired in 2006. Despite not ever making it past the second round of the playoffs, he was responsible for one of the most exciting teams the Canucks ever had, especially during the 2002-03 campaign. The West Coast Express that featured Naslund, Bertuzzi, and Brendan Morrison was the most dominant lines of all-time, and he put it together. He ranks second in wins with 246 and will probably stay there for the foreseeable future, as Green still needs 144 wins to match his total.
Alain Vigneault (540)
Final Record: 313-170-0-57
After Crawford was given his walking papers at the end of the 2005-06 season, the Canucks turned to the AHL for their next head coach. Vigneault was very successful with the Manitoba Moose and was then-GM Dave Nonis’ first choice to take over from him.
Just like Desjardins, Vigneault’s first season with the Canucks went off without a hitch, as he posted a 49-26-7 record and returned to the playoffs after a one-year absence. But again, that success was short-lived as they dropped 17 points and missed the playoffs the next season.
However, unlike Desjardins, Vigneault turned the ship around in a big way by firing off four straight seasons with 100 or more points, two Presidents Trophies, and a Stanley Cup Final appearance. You couldn’t spell success without Vigneault during that era of Canucks hockey. They were probably the most dominant team in the NHL for three of those four campaigns and boasted two of the biggest stars in Henrik and Daniel Sedin, who won back-to-back Art Ross Trophies in 2009-10 and 2010-11 respectively. They also had franchise goaltender Roberto Luongo who was good for 30 wins almost every season he was with the team.
Vigneault of course won a Jack Adams Award during his time with Canucks, and will go down as one of the most successful coaches in franchise history. He stands on top of the mountain in all statistical categories, from games coached to regular season and playoff wins. Bottom line is, he was the best coach they ever had, and should not have been fired in 2013 and replaced by Tortorella, who drove the team into the ground during his only season on the West Coast.
Will Green Ever Join the 500-Game Club?
Green is sitting on 233 games with the Canucks entering 2020-21. By the end of this season, he will have 289. For him to join the 500-game club, he would have to remain in Vancouver for another two and a half seasons. If the upward trend continues and he leads them to more playoff appearances, I can definitely see him sticking around. Though, his future right now is uncertain, as his contract is up for renewal very soon. There has been little movement on that front, so he may not even hit 300 games if Benning doesn’t feel like he’s the right man to lead the new core into the next era of Canucks hockey.
Catch Up on All 12 Days of Hockeymas:
Day 10: 10 Hall of Famers
Day 9: Nine 40-Goal Scorers