The Jets Are Piss And Rick Bowness Is Pissed
9:58 AM EDT on April 28, 2023
The Jets' vibes were extremely fucked last summer (which in Winnipeg lasts approximately six days). The team had missed the playoffs for the first time in five years, didn't really address any of their problems in the offseason, and struck out in a very public, one-sided courtship of Barry Trotz, settling for the well-traveled Rick Bowness, who is, shall we say, not a players' coach. All the ingredients were in place for a wretched season, but the Jets went and won some games early and got their hopes up. It was a fatal error.
The red-hot Jets of the first half were a mirage that served only to make the down-the-stretch Jets feel worse by comparison. They scuffled on the ice and sounded fed-up and miserable off it. There are eight-seeds that are just happy to be there and hope to make some noise, and then there are eight-seeds so overmatched that their postseason feels like an extended playing-out-the-string. Winnipeg, after a 4-1 loss in Vegas Thursday night that eliminated them in five games, was clearly the latter. They crashed out by losing four straight, three of them by multiple goals, and looked tired and bored and perfunctory. This was the team that they were supposed to be last summer. But after all was said and done, Bowness was steamed like a guy who thought they'd underperformed.
As a connoisseur of press conference meltdowns and tirades, you'll be thrilled to realize that Bowness's entire press conference lasted under 90 seconds, and what that short runtime implies for its content.
Oh, he's mad-mad. It feels a little excessive to me. This was a team that, just by making the playoffs, probably overachieved. And it was a team that by the end was a skating MASH unit, facing a significantly superior opponent in the Golden Knights. They did what they were supposed to do: lose. Whether that deserves a reaming or not is for your heart to decide.
Bowness knows far more than I do about specific effort levels or lack thereof, and of dressing-room sentiment. (A complicating factor here is how much of the Jets' gloom and indifference is due to the players not liking their coach.) But this is what Bowness was brought in here to do: be a red-ass culture-changer for a franchise that has long preached stability, to diminishing returns. Calling them out is an emotional catharsis for him, and perhaps emotional motivation for them. Bowness's frustration, in the end, may have been more about where the Jets are in the long-term, not just how they performed in this series.
But the real work begins shortly. If Winnipeg's window exists, it is now closing. Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele have one more year on their contracts. Nikolaj Ehlers has two. Pierre-Luc Dubois is an RFA this summer and wants out. Nino Niederreiter, Brenden Dillon, and Dylan DeMelo hit free agency next summer and will never have more trade value than they have now. The Jets can ride this thing out another season, even though the core that's been in place seemingly forever has made for a team that's won just one playoff series since a conference final appearance in 2018. They can try to change up things on the fly, while Connor Hellebuyck remains in his prime. Or they can blow it all up. Realistically, that's probably what's needed, though it's sentimentally difficult to say goodbye to lifers when a team is still on the fringes of contention. But that's a problem for Kevin Cheveldayoff, the only GM the second incarnation of the Jets has ever had. Sentiment is not in Bowness's job description. He made that abundantly clear.