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Green looking to capitalize on second NHL gig: 'I'm a better coach today'

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Travis Green had plenty of time to reflect.

Fired as head coach of the Vancouver Canucks in December 2021 with the team in a tailspin, he stepped away from hockey awaiting his next chance.

"I unplugged for a while," Green said this week. "I studied the game a lot … just got ready for another opportunity."

That came in June when the New Jersey Devils added the Castlegar, B.C., product to Lindy Ruff's coaching staff in an associate role to help guide a young group that put up 112 points and made the second round of the playoffs in 2022-23.

Taking on a supporting role or waiting for one of the NHL's 32 gigs in the spotlight to open up can be a delicate balancing act.

"I wanted to coach. I love coaching," Green said in explaining his decision. "The Devils have a real bright future. Coaching with Lindy, to me, was gonna be another way to learn, get better."

But with the Devils having taken a significant step back for a number of reasons in 2023-24 — injuries, a young defence corps and sub-par goaltending among them — the axe fell on Ruff earlier this month.

New Jersey general manager Tom Fitzgerald, who played alongside Green with both the New York Islanders and Toronto Maple Leafs, tabbed his former teammate for the job on an interim basis in an attempt to salvage the season and make a playoff push.

"This is not the way I envisioned being (back) behind the bench as a head coach," said Green, who led Canada at the 2022 Spengler Cup in Switzerland. "But sometimes things happen. It's been a process from Day 1 to install my thoughts on coaching and how teams should play. I like the way we're progressing."

As he should.

Green has the Devils in the fight with victories in four of their last five games, including Tuesday's 6-3 victory in Toronto, to sit five points back of the Eastern Conference's second wild-card spot — albeit with just nine games left on their schedule.

"He's been great for our team," New Jersey defenceman Luke Hughes said. "Just new ideas."

Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe has matched wits with Green in the minors and the NHL throughout their careers.

"His teams compete hard," Keefe said. "They play a good, hard, honest and direct game. It's good to see him back behind the bench.

"(The Devils) have always been a great offensive team, but they've played a much better team game defensively. And that's a credit to how Greener's been able to keep that going."

Green is focused on the future, but also looks back fondly on his time with the Canucks that included four seasons in the minors before getting promoted to the top job in 2017.

He had the opportunity to coach franchise icons Henrik and Daniel Sedin, and worked with the next generation of stars led by Quinn Hughes — Luke's older brother — Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser and Thatcher Demko.

"Great period in my life," Green said. "Obviously things didn't go the way you want at the end. But nothing but great memories from Vancouver."

He's taken his West Coast lessons into this second kick at the NHL coaching can.

"It's like anything in life — you get better the more you do things," Green said. "You get to look back at yourself and evaluate yourself in certain areas. I think that's important. Not just in hockey, but in all walks of life.

"I'm a better coach today."

PRIME-TIME VIEWING

The NHL GM meetings in Florida produced some nuggets, including news the league has signed a deal with Amazon for a behind-the-scenes reality series.

The idea is to follow the lives of some of the hockey's brightest stars, similar to the popular F1, tennis and golf offerings.

"It's done amazing things for those sports," Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid said. "I think all of us hockey guys are interested in growing our game, and that's part of it — opening the doors to some of that stuff. All within reason, of course.

"But I think you've got to be open to it."

HIT PARADE

Nashville Predators defenceman Jeremy Lauzon leads the NHL's hit category by a wide margin with 328.

New York Islanders winger Matt Martin owns the first three all-time spots for total hits in a season — 382 in 2014-15, 374 in 2011-12 and 365 in 2015-16.

Already in the top-10 for a season total even if he doesn't deliver another shoulder this spring, Lauzon is averaging slightly less than five hits per game in 2023-24. If the six-foot-three, 225-pound blueliner continues running into opponents at that rate, he'll finish with 375 and take over No. 2 all-time.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 27, 2024.

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Joshua Clipperton's weekly NHL notebook is published every Wednesday.