In a decision that seemingly came out of nowhere, the Winnipeg Jets hired Rick Bowness to be their next head coach.
A ton of names swirled around after Jets’ number-one option Barry Trotz turned them down in late June, including Scott Arniel, Andrew Brunette, Jim Montgomery, Kirk Muller, Rick Tocchet, and Pascal Vincent.
Most pundits thought the “Plan B” front-runners were Montgomery and Tocchet. But late morning Canada Day, Darren Dreger broke news that the man the Jets will task with steadying a team in turmoil is someone who wasn’t on most writers’ radars — 67-year-old Rick Bowness. As the Winnipeg Free Press’ Mike McIntyre quipped, “Plan B apparently stands for Bowness.”
While he is not a splashy signing like Trotz would have been, what the Jets are getting in Bowness is an experienced, defensively-focused head coach who has been the bench boss for six different teams over four different decades, including the Winnipeg Jets 1.0.
Bowness’ Coaching Experience Stretches Back To early 1980s
Bowness most recently coached the Dallas Stars between 2019 and 2022 and took to the Stanley Cup Final during the summer 2020 “bubble” Playoffs in Edmonton, after the NHL’s COVID-19 pause. He took over in December, 2019, after Jim Montgomery was let go due to unprofessional conduct.
The Stars lost in six games to the Tampa Bay Lightning that season, but the deep run was more than enough to get Bowness’ interim tag removed. He was the head coach through last season, where the Stars finished 46-30-6 and grabbed a Western Conference Wild Card berth but lost in the first round to the Pacific-winning Calgary Flames in seven games.
Bowness was not fired, but stepped down in May, saying “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. 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 honour for me, and my family, to represent the Stars and the city of Dallas.”
It turns out that new direction is way north, as he’s opted to return to the place he began his coaching career.
Bowness’ Jets Connections
True North Sports & Entertainment is exceedingly loyal and loves to promote insiders and hire people with past connections to their organization. However, some people — this author included — have expressed the opinion that hiring old friends who may be hesitant due to their friendships to speak truth to power about the Jets’ myriad of issues is no way to get the team back on track after a highly disappointing season.
Bowness seems to strike the right balance between being a known commodity and not being too “buddy buddy” with True North. While doesn’t have a connection to the Jets 2.0, he does have one to the 1.0 era — he began both his assistant coaching and head coaching careers with that franchise.
Bowness’ coaching career began before his playing days were over. The right winger joined the Jets in 1980-81 (playing 45 of his 173-career NHL games that season.) In1982-83, became the player-coach of their AHL affiliate, the Sherbrooke Jets.
After retiring in 1984, he became an assistant coach with the Jets under Barry Long for the 1984–85 season. He then coached under John Ferguson after Long was fired in 1985-86, and under Dan Maloney in 1986-87.
In 1987-88, he became the first head coach of the Jets’ new AHL affiliate, the Moncton Hawks. He began the 1988–89 season in Moncton, but was promoted to the NHL when the Jets fired Maloney and named Bowness as his replacement.
Bowness coached his first NHL game on Feb. 9, 1989, and down the stretch, the team went 8–17–3 and missed the postseason. After the season, the Jets hired Bob Murdoch as the new head coach and Bowness left the organization.
Bowness the Most Experienced of the Eligible Candidates
Bowness has more head coaching experience than all four coaches we looked at last week in Brunette, Tocchet, Muller, and Montgomery. He’s been around the block more than a few times and is considered “old-school” in his approach, which could be an asset when it comes to sorting out the toxic personalities and oversized egos that exist in the Jets’ dressing room.
He was the head coach of the Boston Bruins in 1991-92, taking them to the Conference Final. He was then tabbed to be the first head coach of the expansion Ottawa Senators, serving from 1992 to from 1996, when he was fired. He moved on to the New York Islanders, where he was head coach for parts of the 1996-97 and 1997-98 seasons; he was also briefly the Phoenix Coyotes’ head coach in the 2003-04 season, taking over for Bobby Francis.
Between the Phoenix and Dallas head coaching gigs, he was an assistant/associate coach for the Vancouver Canucks from 2005 through 2013, the Tampa Bay Lightning from 2014 through 2018, and the Stars from 2018 until Montgomery’s dismissal.
Overall, his head coaching record of 212-351-48-28 is nothing to write home about. However, one has to consider the Senators were abysmal in their early days — expansion drafts were not as generous then and did not allow a team to be immediately competitive like they do today — and in their inaugural season went 10-70-4. As The Athletic’ Murat Ates put it, “as if what he did with the expansion Senators in the 90’s is going to have an impact here.”
Bowness Should be Given the Benefit of the Doubt
A lot of Jets fans on social media are not taking the hire well bur probably would have dunked on whoever the team ended up hiring, simply because he’s not Trotz. Indeed, hiring Trotz would have been akin to signing a prized free agent and would have reenergized the whole organization, which is barely containing a free fall. But with the 2022 Entry Draft and Free Agent Frenzy fast approaching, the Jets — who waited on Trotz to make a decision for six weeks while other teams snapped up many of the other candidates — needed to expedite the hiring process.
Bowness deserves a chance. He will not be one to allow the loosey-goosey, free-wheeling style the Jets tried to play last season under Paul Maurice and Dave Lowry to their continued detriment. With the Stars, he was noted for putting a focus on sturdy team defence, something the Jets struggled with massively under the old regime.
No one will be able to shirk their defensive responsibilities — Mark Scheifele was the worst offender in that regard last season — and the beleaguered, overworked Connor Hellebuyck may say a prayer of thanks if he faces fewer high-danger chances per night in the Bowness era.
Bowness’ focus on defence has come at the expense of his offences at times. He will have to find a balance between preaching defensive responsibility and allowing talented players such as Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers, and Scheifele leeway to be creative. The Jets do not have to be a “dump and chase” team.
to finish off the compliment sandwich, Bowness is noted as being simply a good person who is a strong communicator and able to work well with players of all experience levels. The Jets need someone who can relate to veterans and youngsters alike; much of their core is older but top prospects are also knocking on the door for NHL work. Maurice had a veteran bias and had a couple of favourites who he did not hold accountable even when they played poorly.
Overall, Bowness has a huge challenge ahead of him to prevent the talented-but-troubled Jets from wasting another season and falling further into irrelevance, but it’s unfair to say he’s not up to the task before he’s had a chance to do anything.
While It’s always possible the Jets revisit the whole “Trotz as head coach” scenario next summer after he’s had a year to rest and refocus, Bowness is the man for now. The on-ice results in 2022-23 will speak for themselves and show if he was the right choice.