Vancouver Canucks head coach Travis Green would have been speaking to the media one way or another Tuesday. He would have much preferred it be leading up to Game 2 of the Western Conference Final, not as part of end of season availability.
The Canucks lost Game 7 of the Western Conference Semi-Final to the Vegas Golden Knights 3-0 this past Friday night, ending an unexpected playoff run, and successful season overall, which few outside Vancouver's organization predicted.
The Canucks finished the COVID-19 shortened 2019-20 season with a record of 36-27-6 in 69 games, good for third in the Pacific Division with a point percentage of .565. An example of how surprising Vancouver's season and playoff run was is evident by only one (Rob Reese, fantasy editor) of 20 NHL.com writers predicating a post-season appearance for the Canucks.
Not only did Vancouver make it to the playoffs (after beating the Minnesota Wild in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers), the Canucks then ousted the defending Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues in six games. With gas left in the tank, the Canucks, who trailed the best-of-seven series 3-1 to the Golden Knights, won back-to-back games and battled Vegas for 60 minutes in Game 7.
Although Green said he needs more time to properly process his team's season, including a unique 41 days in the Western Conference Bubble in Edmonton, he's very proud of what the Canucks accomplished.
"It's still fairly fresh and upsetting that we lost," said Green, speaking to the media over Zoom Tuesday, alongside Vancouver GM Jim Benning. "It's invaluable experience for what the players have gone through. It's one thing to play three or four playoff games, it's another thing to play as many as we did and understand the importance and value of how hard it is to win at many different levels. The play on the ice goes up, the emotional level, the wear and tear on your body, what you have to play through as you go through the playoffs, the grind, it's a lot.
"I'm proud of what our group did getting to Game 7 and almost making the Western Finals, that was an accomplishment, but it's also a learning experience and should drive the hunger, compete level and preparation gearing up for the years to come."
Video: Canucks Head Coach and GM End of Season Media
Green and the Canucks are now tasked with maintaining that hunger to ensure Vancouver's positive season is a stepping stone to more success, and not a blip on the radar. The Canucks had previously missed the playoffs in five of the last six seasons.
"We've talked about that a lot, having a burning desire to win," said Green, who has led Vancouver to a seventh, fifth and most recently third place finish in the Pacific Division. "I think we have a group that wants to win badly, we've got players that are younger and are still going to get better and improve…that's part of the excitement with our group: they have a strong desire to win, they'll do whatever it takes to win, they've shown that and they're going to continue to develop and get better."
GM Benning, asked for his thoughts on the season, mirrored what Coach Green said, stating that there is much to be proud of. Benning said his main takeaway from Vancouver's on-ice performance is how much they developed defensively; that was a major priority for the team heading into the Stanley Cup Qualifiers against Minnesota.
"I thought Travis and his staff did an excellent job through training camp getting the team ready to play," said Benning. "We were way better defensively when we showed up in Edmonton, we may have allowed a lot of shots against, but we took away second and third opportunities from the high-danger scoring areas of the ice. I know Travis was focused on that going into camp and I think we saw it when the team played and kept progressing. The attention to detail, the back pressure, how hard our guys competed when they didn't have the puck to get back and defend, we've taken a step in that direction. You look at the final four teams playing right now and they're all good defensive teams, so I think that was a step we took as a team."
The next step for the Canucks, according to Green, is to use this experience, and the confidence that came with it, to train more confidently this off-season.
"They should be proud of how they played and they should be equally confident and have belief in the future, but also understand the work level and commitment needed to win at that level. I think we have those elements within our team and to a player, they've learned a lot about themselves, and as a group, and they'll be excited to push forward."
Green and Benning will now meet with players and staff this week before continuing preparations for the 2020 NHL Draft on October 6th and NHL Free Agency on October 9th.