Winnipeg Jets fans understand the definition of disappointment and frustration. The team made no significant changes over the summer, except for one; one that general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff described as “seismic.” The hiring of Rick Bowness as head coach. Can a coach make that much of a difference? After an enlightening training camp, words like hope, refreshed and excited are being used to describe the team. With the regular season finally here, fans will get to see if Bowness’ communication, new systems and expectations will translate into wins.
In a nutshell, Rick Bowness was brought in to fix the Jets, much like a mechanic on a misfiring sports car. He has been tasked with taking the already existing and expensive components of the team and transforming them into a high performance machine. By hiring him and keeping the roster intact, the Jets’ front office has decided that the coach alone can make a difference.
“I look at Winnipeg and I’m wondering, there’s this big debate of how much is a coach worth, right? Bowness is gonna test that this year. Can a coach add wins to your team by the way he forces you to play, and the distribution and control he has over your room? We’re gonna find out this year in Winnipeg.”– Elliotte Friedman, 32 Thoughts Podcast, 11/10/2022
Elliotte Friedman believes he can. In a poll of Sportsnet’s NHL Insiders, his pick to win the 2022-23 Jack Adams Award for Coach of the Year is Bowness. He was not alone. Mark Spector also chose Bowness to win the award.
Jets Ready to Unveil Their New Look
I’m not going to compare Bowness to former head coach Paul Maurice other than to say they have opposing coaching strategies.
Related: Jets’ Full Potential Won’t Be Reached With Maurice Behind the Bench
As Jeff Hamilton noted in the Winnipeg Free Press, “Bowness admitted Thursday he’s had to correct several old habits by players borne out of the previous systems, which he classified as normal behaviour after years following a different scheme. He envisions the Jets returning to the playoffs after missing out last year, but that success hinges on finding consistency within the new systems,” (from ‘Jets ready for takeoff,’ Winnipeg Free Press, 13/10/2022).
The Jets have virtually the same roster as in the fall of 2021, and that club was expected to make a deep playoff run. That didn’t happen, but the prediction should remain the same this season if you take into account these factors: the Jets have a new and healthier mental outlook, the locker room is under Bowness’ control and not the players, and there is a new focus on speed and defence. How can they not improve? However, how high they elevate their game remains to be seen, but Bowness has already had a positive impact.
“I give credit to Rick Bowness. He’s coming in, and clearly, not just in the words out of his mouth but just through his actions as well, like this is a guy who clearly has the authority to put his stamp on the team. I mean, if there was doubt about that, obviously stripping Blake Wheeler of the captaincy was a bold move.”– Mike McIntyre, Illegal Curve Hockey Show, 01/10/2022
Jets Are a Family
Bowness has referred to the team as a family on many occasions this preseason. He has his players using the word “we” and has preached an “all for one, and one for all” mentality. During their last exhibition game against the Calgary Flames on Friday, Cole Perfetti was sent into the boards on a questionable hit and the Jets as a team retaliated. Bowness was very content with that.
Change May Take Time for the Jets
Although Bowness preaches a different style, it will take time for it to become automatic and ingrained in his players. Jets fans will have to be patient while they improve and still make mistakes.
As defenseman Brendan Dillon said, “Ultimately, (with) our team, we’ve got speed, we’ve got size, we’ve got all of the intangibles you need, but a little bit of direction is all that we needed. We’re understanding that we’ve got enough skill and offence to score goals, but we’ve got to take care of the defensive end. We’re as ready as we’re going to be. Obviously, there are going to be a few shifts here and there where guys are still on the old program, but we’re getting better and better every day.”
The long and short of it is the Jets have been reborn under Bowness. They believe in themselves and their coaches, and they are excited to prove the pundits wrong. If they rebound and make the playoffs, it should reflect Bowness’ value as a coach and provide an answer to the question, “How much is a coach worth?” He has brought a new direction, a new focus and new energy. Now it is time for the Jets to execute the plan. They’ve told us what they want to do, now it’s time for them to demonstrate they can.