Make no “Bones” about it — Rick Bowness is blunt, and his straightforward communication style is a welcome change from his predecessors.
Bowness Calls Out Jets’ Vets After Victory
The new Winnipeg Jets head coach’s most recent post-game presser was a perfect example that he will not BS when when assessing a team in desperate need of a rebound season.
The Jets beat the Ottawa Senators 5-3 on Tuesday night in downtown Winnipeg. Despite capturing the first win of the preseason, Bowness wasn’t too happy, and aimed pointed criticism squarely at the Jets’ veterans — most of whom were in the lineup against a less-experienced Sens squad — and their shift length. He cited their too-long shifts as an example of the bad habits that have crept over the past few seasons.
“The veterans can’t be the issue,” Bowness said. “We’ve got to fix the veterans and they’ve got to be leading the way showing the kids how to play the right way. So that’s going to be our job. We have a lot of work to do.”
“I’ll never complain about a win, but listen, there’s a lot of work to be done here,” he continued. “I thought we started to skate better in the third… but other than that, no. I’m not happy with it at all. For a lot of guys, that was their first game but that being said, we have to play a lot faster than that. The two things that slow you up are long shifts and turnovers, and we’re guilty of both tonight. Take out the Xs and Os and everything, if you want to stay out there for 55 seconds and you’re going to turn pucks over, you’re going to play very, very slow, which we did.”Rick Bowness
Using the figure “55” was a clear shot at Mark Scheifele, who was guilty last season of egregious defensive indifference and has plenty of work to do this season to prove himself a team player.
Post-game figures show Bowness’ 67-year-old eyes are still sharp. Scheifele had the longest shift average at 1:01 and had no points and one giveaway. Kyle Connor was tied with Scheifele for shift length, but he had three points and no giveaways.
Bowness Continues to Set Himself Apart from Paul Maurice
It’s clear the man pegged to lead the Jets back to relevance after a disappointing season is not in Winnipeg to make friends.
“I just see bad habits that I don’t like, and we got to fix them,” Bowness said in the same presser. “We just got to learn to play the right way and we got to stop playing slow. And I don’t like that one bit.”
Using the word “fix” implies some things are broken and anyone who watched the Jets stumble to a sixth-place Central Division finish last season can surely attest they did not play “the right way” nearly enough. It was quite refreshing to hear someone be honest and not beat around the bush about the state of the team.
Paul Maurice, coach of the Jets for nine seasons from 2013-14 until December, 2021 (and now the Florida Panthers’ head coach) had most of the media fooled with his charm. He held court well and with his mixture of gregariousness, endearing world-weariness, and propensity to provide just enough fun sound bites, had scribes on a string. They were bamboozled into thinking he was communicating effectively even when he was not saying much of substance.
After losing winnable games against lowly opponents, Maurice would obfuscate issues and deny flaws most could see were systemic and pervasive. He’d say he “liked most of our game” after low-effort losses to league bottom-feeders. He’d make excuses about travel and time zones. He’d give his veterans a free pass and never would have dreamed of calling them out like Bowness did.
Dave Lowry — who took over after Maurice resigned midseason saying he’d taken the team as far as it could go and that they needed a new voice — was perhaps a bit more honest. Mostly, though, he just seemed in over his head and was “Maurice-lite” in the way he ran the same systems. He couldn’t stop the bleeding and was not renewed.
Old-School Approach Could Be Just What Jets Need
Bowness may be a little surly, but his old-school approach could be just what the Jets need. His practices at training camp have been noticeably up-tempo and he’s done enough barking to need a whole pack of cough drops. He wants the team to be a lot more aggressive and he expects maximum effort from everyone.
He made that clear in early July during his introductory press conference when he said he had no problem disciplining or benching players not giving their all. “If (a player) wants to win, he buys in,” he said. “And if he doesn’t buy in, then you’re taking away his ice time…his ability to get all those points. Because the team has to come first.”
On Tuesday, Bowness reiterated that he’s “ride or die” with his way.
“When I got into coaching, I said two things: I’m going to coach the way I’d want to be coached, and I’m going to do it my way,” he said. “If I’m going to get fired, I’m going to get fired doing it my way. But to be somebody you’re not, I can’t do that.”
He made that sensibility apparent earlier this month, when barged in and shook up the status quo by stripping Blake Wheeler of the captaincy he held for six seasons.
He didn’t name anyone else captain, and instead will expand the leadership core. There are a number of compelling options for new alternates, whether there’s one or two new ones named.
“We’re changing,” Bowness said after removing the C from Wheeler’s sweater. “That’s what we’re doing. We changed the coaching, we’re going to change the way we play. We’re changing the way we do things.”
Time will tell if the Jets will buy into Bowness’ changes and get back into the playoffs to avoid another lost season. Bowness, Scott Arniel, Marty Johnston, and Brad Lauer have a massive challenge ahead of them.
One thing is already certain despite the puck not even having dropped on the regular season: if something’s not going well or players aren’t meeting Bowness’ expectations, he’s going to be up front and public about it. That’s a much-needed and welcome development.
“What am I supposed to do, pretend it’s not happening?” Bowness asked Tuesday. “I’m going to tell you what I see happening.”
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Declan Schroeder is a 27-year-old communications specialist and freelance journalist in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He holds a diploma in Creative Communications with a major in journalism from Red River College and a bachelors in Rhetoric and Communications from the University of Winnipeg.
Deeply rooted in the city’s hockey culture, the original Jets skipped town when he was two and the 2.0 version came onto the scene when he was 17.