Winnipeg Jets head coach Rick Bowness announces retirement

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Rick Bowness is retiring after two seasons as Winnipeg Jets head coach, the team announced Monday. Bowness, 69, had a 98-57-9 record in his two seasons as head coach, bringing the Jets back to the playoffs and losing in the first round against Vegas in 2023 and Colorado in 2024. He’s a finalist for the Jack Adams Award this season.

When the Jets hired him in 2022, Bowness inherited a team that had just missed the playoffs. Paul Maurice had resigned early in the 2021-22 season and Dave Lowry had taken over as interim coach. At the end of that season, Paul Stastny famously talked about a lack of respect, Blake Wheeler spoke critically of the team’s commitment to a 200-foot game, PL Dubois didn’t want to be a Jet and Mark Scheifele and Connor Hellebuyck were both unclear about their plans for 2024 free agency.

Bowness spent that summer talking to his new players at length and asking them — not telling them — what the Jets needed most. At summer’s end, he changed the Jets’ leadership group, removing Wheeler’s captaincy and ultimately paving the way for his summer 2023 buyout. The locker room was democratized — instead of belonging to Wheeler and the veterans, Bowness made sure more players’ voices were heard. Sources have told The Athletic that the impact of this was substantial — that players who didn’t feel as comfortable speaking up in the previous era found their voice in Bowness’ first season.

On the ice, Bowness and his new coaching staff — associate coach Scott Arniel plus assistants Marty Johnston and Brad Lauer — changed the way Winnipeg defended. A man-to-man/zone hybrid was tossed. In came zone defense with a greater emphasis on protecting the “guts of the ice” between the faceoff dots, all the way up the ice. And Bowness held people accountable for it, reducing Winnipeg’s goals against from the 253 it allowed in 2021-22 before him to 224 in his first season. This year, the Jets allowed a league-best 198 goals against, not including shootout goals, while winning 52 games and finishing with 110 points.

That’s a massive step forward for an organization in two seasons. Remarkably, Bowness and his staff achieved this while also making concessions for Bowness’ health and for him to be away from the team, with his wife Judy, when she suffered a seizure in October.

Arniel took the reins at that time, with substantial long-distance input from Bowness, guiding the Jets to a 9-2-2 record. Later in the season, Arniel took over again when Bowness underwent a minor medical procedure. Arniel is one option to become Winnipeg’s next head coach, although one expects a formal search to begin soon.

Some of Bowness’ decisions telegraphed his exit. Arniel and his assistants ran most Jets drills in Denver during the playoffs, as one example, and were heavily relied upon during Bowness’ full tenure. Assistants would sometimes speak to the media in Bowness’ stead. This was proactive on Bowness’ part, giving his staff a chance to grow, and would have been proactive whether Bowness retired now or next summer.

The Athletic also learned that Bowness didn’t participate in players’ end-of-season meetings last week, suggesting he knew his plans even at that time.

Bowness coached for eight different franchises and was behind the bench for 17 playoff appearances, including trips to the Final as an associate coach with Vancouver in 2011, an assistant with Tampa Bay in 2015 and as Dallas Stars head coach in 2020.

He’s one of only three head coaches, along with Scotty Bowman and Pat Quinn, to serve behind the bench in five different decades. His 2,726 games as an NHL coach are the most by anyone in league history.

Required reading

• How Rick Bowness helped revitalize the Winnipeg Jets — and earned an All-Star Game trip
• Rick Tocchet, Rick Bowness, Andrew Brunette named 2024 Jack Adams Award finalists

(Photo: James Carey Lauder / USA Today)

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