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Rick Bowness is at his best when crisis-management coaching, which may have always been the plan in Winnipeg
The Jets lost their first-round series to the Vegas Golden Knights in five games.
Rick Bowness had the expected blow-up after a Game 5 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday.
The Winnipeg Jets lost the game and the series 4-1, they had a 1-0 series lead but were ultimately handled the Gentleman’s Sweep in five games.
“I’m so disappointed and disgusted right now,” Bowness said in a a brief presser. “That’s my thoughts.”
“No pushback. It’s the same crap we saw in February,” he added. “As soon as we were challenging for first place and teams were coming after us, we had no pushback. This series, we had no pushback. Their better players were so much better than ours, it wasn’t even close.
“We have to push back. There has to be a pushback. There has to be pride. You have to be able to push back when things aren’t going your way. We had no push back. Their better players were so much better than ours tonight. They deserved to win. They were the better team in the regular season, they were the better team in this series.”
I spoke to Bowness before the Vegas-Winnipeg series, and he essentially laid the ground work for these comments before a puck was even dropped in the playoffs.
“There’s still work to be done with the team with the team itself both on and off the ice,” Bowness told me. “But let’s put it this way, we are in a lot better shape than we were in September and when the season ended last year. We had to come in, we had to make a lot of changes, and had to get the team back in the playoffs. But in saying that, I still see there is a lot to be done on and off the ice. But we did what we were brought in to do, that being said, and I can’t emphasize enough, there is still a lot of work to do.”
“We are completely dialed in on Vegas, but in the big picture the players will completely dictate to you how the play and whether they are part of the big picture moving forward,” Bowness said. “And how much work has to be done moving forward, we’ll learn an awful lot about our personnel and that will take care of itself and show itself as the playoffs go on.”
Bowness isn’t going anywhere, that would be stunning to see his departure. Neither is GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, who is at least on a slightly hotter seat since this is his core and his responsibility.
Bowness understands the media side of this business better than most coaches. Everything he’s said in a public sector is designed to set something else up, right or wrong, he plays the media game properly and his post-series rant on the Jets core is simply reflective of deeper feelings he and Cheveldayoff have already discussed themselves.
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It’s time to blow things up. This series against Vegas, after the way Winnipeg crashed from first-place contender to wildcard team, was the show up or move out moment.
Pierre-Luc Dubois, Blake Wheeler, Connor Hellebuyck, maybe even Kyle Connor, have already played their final game for the Jets if this summer is as tumultuous as it potentially looks in Winnipeg.
And it feels like this was all part of the plan, because if Cheveldayoff is making those moves, going full scorched earth, it’s the time and space Bowness does his best head coaching.
One of the reasons Bowness has never won the Stanley Cup as a head coach, even though he came close with Dallas in 2020, is because he’s not a great head coach for a good team.
He manages top talent, but he doesn’t really drive them, that falls on the players themselves. When he took over in Dallas in 2019, he was effective because he was able to drive the proper narrative that led the group to success, they were a family that went through a shocking in-season blow, but it didn’t happen without Jamie Benn and Joe Pavelski effectively carrying the message to the rest of the team.
Two seasons later, with that narrative no longer effective, he struggled to get more out of the Stars, and the two sides mutually split ways.
Bowness is the coaching version of a crisis manager, he can help calm things when they are rocky, and with his defensive structure and philosophy he can make an average team a playoff contender with the right goalie — it won’t be exciting, but it’ll be enough to sell a “playoff push” to season ticket holders every season.
And that’s what it feels like the Jets are doing right now.
They brought the crisis manager in, he was given a year to oversee the full crisis, and now he’ll get a chance to lead a plucky under-dog group next season that won’t score much, but will be in most games because of their structure and defensive effort.
For Winnipeg, a small market, this may be the solution. The Jets don’t want to fully tank, there’s internal fear in the organization that doing so would kill them financially. The Arizona Coyotes can tank because they have an owner with deep pockets and sit in a TV market that Gary Bettman will never give up on. The Jets are the team that would be a bigger threat to re-locate to Quebec City than anyone else in the NHL (although it would really be Houston or, gasp, back to Atlanta, since Gary loves top-10 American media markets and they would inflate the NHL’s TV deals) — Winnipeg has serious small market problems.
So Bowness will be charged with managing that crisis and keeping the Jets relevant enough during a tear down. They’ll be in the playoff conversation, play an annoying boring style, but it will kick the major problems down the line that can only be fixed by fulling imploding and lucking into generational talent in the NHL Draft.
For other teams, take note, today might be a wonderful day to make a call to Cheveldayoff about Kyle Connor.