The Dallas Stars wasted no time making big moves surrounding their franchise. On Friday, it was announced that Rick Bowness would be stepping down as the head coach.
“After careful consideration with my wife Judy, we feel it’s best to step away and allow the organization the opportunity to pursue a different direction at the head coaching position,” said Bowness. “I’d like to thank all the passionate fans and the dedicated staff for their support and hard work in my time here. It has been an honor for me, and my family, to represent the Stars and the city of Dallas.”
Along with Bowness, assistant coaches Todd Nelson, Derek Laxdal, and John Stevens will also not return next season while video coach Kelly Forbes and goaltending coach Jeff Reese will remain with the team.
“We wish John, Derek, and Todd, as well as their families, all the best and are forever grateful for their contributions and hard work,” said Stars general manager Jim Nill. “The search for a new head coach will begin immediately.”
Bowness was appointed interim head coach after the surprise firing of Jim Montgomery in December of 2019. He led the Stars to one of the best records in the league before the world shut down due to COVID.
His most memorable moments came in the bubble up in Edmonton as he pushed an underdog Stars team to within just two wins of the Stanley Cup, knocking off the heavily favored Calgary Flames, Colorado Avalanche, and Vegas Golden Knights on the way. Following the playoff run, Bowness was officially named the 24th head coach in franchise history.
“When he was called upon to lead our team a few seasons ago, he stepped into the role seamlessly and helped guide our team through unprecedented global events that affected our players and staff both on and off the ice,” Nill continued. “On behalf of the entire organization, I want to wish Rick, Judy and the rest of their family nothing but the best moving forward.”
Under Bowness, the Stars went 89-62-25 across three seasons, a .577 points percentage that ranked 16th in the NHL over that time. They made the postseason in two of three seasons, reaching the Final in 2020 and falling in the first round this year to the Flames in seven games.
“Rick is one of the most respected and beloved individuals to have ever coached in the NHL,” Nill said in a statement. “His dedication and commitment to the game, and the impact that he’s made on countless players, coaches, and support staff throughout his five decades in the League is unmatched. He has dedicated his life to our game, and we are honored to say that the Dallas Stars are part of his legacy.”
Stars Fans questioned the coaching style of Bowness throughout his tenure as the Stars struggled to find a lot of consistency while also failing to put the puck in the net. The team ranked 30th with 2.13 goals per 60 minutes at full strength under his watch but they also ranked third in goals-allowed per 60 with 2.19. To put it simply, they were mostly a middle-of-the-pack club that did not create a lot but usually played very solid structured defense and relied on strong goaltending. The lack of goal scoring certainly hurt them this season and was a huge reason for their defeat in the playoffs.
“Do we need to score more?” Nill said Tuesday. “Yes, and that’s something we’ve got to build on and find that, but you cannot lose that identity. You’re not going to win in this league, just not going to win.”
What Comes Next for Dallas?
The Stars are in a bit of an odd situation when it comes to coaching and management. Bowness decided to walk away after his contract came to an end, the assistant coaches will not be back, and Jim Nill only has one season left on his current deal. So far, all signs point towards Nill leading the hiring process for a new coach despite the fact that his own future remains unclear.
Would a coach want more stability in the GM position before committing to move to Dallas? Could the Stars promote Nill for his final year and start fresh with a new GM and coaching staff? Or has Nill earned himself enough of a reputation that finding a hopefully long-term coach will not be an issue? It is all possible and we will dive into the future of Nill in a later article.
“That’s something we’ll have to discuss,” Nill said. “I’ll see if that comes into play or not. I’m not worried about my contract, personally, I’m not worried about that. Does that come into play when we hire a coach? We’ll have to wait and see if that comes into play.”
When it comes to coaches, there are a handful of options out there. Dallas could choose to go with an established name such as Pete Deboer, Barry Trotz, or Rick Tocchet, or they could fly under the radar as they did with Montgomery in 2019 and hire a coach with little or no NHL experience. What we do know is that the next coach needs to make some changes to bring this club back up to the contender status that it should be. And it would definitely help if they could find someone who will stick around as the next coach will be the fifth for this team in the Jim Nill era.
What’s Next for Bowness?
As for Bowness, he spoke adamantly about his desire to continue coaching after the Game 7 defeat in Calgary. Now 67 years old, he continues to stand by the words that he spoke all season, “if I wake up one day and don’t want to come to the rink, that’s when I’ll retire.” So as far as we know, he will be open to speaking with other clubs around the league. Whether that is for a head coaching job or something else, we are not sure but he certainly sounds like a man who wants to stick around.
“That excitement and that pressure and everything, man, that’s what we live for and that’s what we sign up for,” Bowness said. “I just loved it. I’m not emotional, [but] at the end of that game, I have tears in my eyes because it’s over. Everyone lays it on the line and gives you everything you can and it’s tough to walk out of that rink losing in overtime of Game 7. “That’s still the driving force [winning a championship], but as you get older, you also want to leave an impact on the game. Your legacy becomes just as important to me. Only because I’ve been there three times and had a shot at the Cup, injuries took us out of it. I can’t control that.”
No matter the scrutiny he faced or the adversity he went through, Rick Bowness is one of the better men in the sport. He is spoken highly of around the league and never misses a chance to ask you about your family or crack a joke. His legacy has grown strong as he has coached in more games than anyone in NHL history. He will be missed around the rink by fans, media, and most of all the players.
“He’s handled it, done a great job,” Nill said. “The players respect him. He’s handled the situation very well. We had 98 points this year, that’s a pretty good year, so he’s done a good job.”
Sam Nestler is a credentialed Dallas Stars contributor for the ‘The Hockey Writers’. Growing up in New Jersey, Sam has been playing hockey since he was 7 years old. Developing a love for writing in college, Sam uses his hockey knowledge to create analyses and articles on every aspect of the game. Sam also hosts his own podcast on Spotify, the “Slapshot Sammy’ podcast, breaking down action across the Stars, the NHL, and college hockey. Check out the podcast here, and give his latest article a read!