May 25, 2024

Jets coach Rick Bowness retires after 38 years in NHL

Watching the Winnipeg Jets‘ season end with a Game 5 loss in the Western Conference quarterfinal round was something that bothered coach Rick Bowness.

He didn’t like the way the Jets played. He was unhappy with himself, and he was unhappy that they lost.

This was the moment that Bowness realized it was time for him to retire.

Bowness retired Monday after spending two seasons with the Jets for a total of 38 seasons behind an NHL bench. The 69-year-old Bowness is retiring after having one of the best seasons of his career. He guided the Jets to a 52-win campaign that saw them finish with 110 points before they lost in the quarterfinal round to the Colorado Avalanche.

“As I was standing there and looking around, it dawned on me,” Bowness said during his retirement news conference. “Coaches have always told me — I’ve talked to the older coaches, older than me — they’ve always said you’ll know when it’s time. When I was looking around and wasn’t happy with the job I had done, it hit me. It’s time.”

Bowness, who sat next to Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, joked that Cheveldayoff talked him out of retirement before he took the Jets job two years ago.

Bowness said he told his coaching staff about an hour after Game 5 last Tuesday that he was done. Bowness said that his staffers asked if he was sure of his decision before he confirmed to them he was going to walk away.

He said that he reached out to Jets captain Adam Lowry along with the rest of the team’s leadership group Monday night to let them know he was going to retire. Bowness said he called them because he didn’t want them to find out about his decision elsewhere.

“I knew in my heart it was time,” Bowness said. “It goes back and [my wife] Judy and I talked about this after Tampa. I had a couple of offers for three- and four-year contracts with other teams. I went to Dallas on a one-year deal. I love [Stars GM] Jimmy Nill, trust Jimmy Nill … and loved our time in Dallas and so we kept going. There comes a time, and right now seems to be the time.”

Bowness said his only regret was that he didn’t take the Jets any further than the first round.

The decision to retire also comes as Bowness was named one of the three finalists for the Jack Adams Award that goes to the coach who is “adjudged to have contributed the most to his team’s success.”

Bowness, who was jovial during his news conference, joked how his wife, Judy, was going to miss the NHL more than him. He recalled how as he was walking off the ice after what would be his final game that she was in the stands cheering on the Jets.

Reflecting on his career also made Bowness open about his relationship with Judy. He said they’ve been together since they were 16 and that she has been with him throughout every step of a career that has taken them all over the continent.

Earlier this season, Bowness took a temporary leave of absence to be with Judy after she had a seizure. In March, Bowness took another brief leave to have what the Jets said at the time was “a minor medical procedure” that saw him return later that month.

Bowness said his health along with his wife’s health was something that factored into his decision.

“Like I said at the time, those are life-changing moments. They are, they are,” Bowness said. “And I’m still dealing with some minor issues that I got to get resolved. The last thing I want to happen is for me to go to [Jets ownership and management] in November and say, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ There was no way I was going to let that happen. There’s some issues we got to get fixed and they’ll be fixed.”

As a player, Bowness played 173 games in a career that saw him play for the Atlanta Flames, Detroit Red Wings, St. Louis Blues and the original Jets.

He began his coaching career as a player-coach with the Jets’ AHL affiliate in 1982-83. He then became a Jets assistant once the 1983-84 season was finished.

That started Bowness down a path that led to him spending an NHL-record 2,726 games behind a bench as either a head coach or an assistant. It’s a career that took him from an assistant with the Jets to stops as a head coach or an assistant with the Boston Bruins, Ottawa Senators, New York Islanders, Phoenix Coyotes, Vancouver Canucks and Tampa Bay Lightning.

Bowness spent five years with the Lightning before the Stars hired him as an assistant in the 2018-19 season. He was later elevated to head coach in December 2019 after the Stars parted ways with Jim Montgomery. Bowness led the Stars to the Stanley Cup Final in the Edmonton bubble, where they lost to the Lightning. The Stars would miss the playoffs a year later before returning to the postseason in the 2021-22 season.

The Jets hired Bowness before the start of the 2022-23 season. His first season saw them win 46 games and finish fourth in the Central Division before losing to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights in the first round.

What ultimately became his final season in Winnipeg saw Bowness lead the Jets to a level of success that had him named an All-Star Game coach for the first time in his career.

Bowness finishes his head-coaching career with a 310-408-48-37 record having made five playoff appearances.

Cheveldayoff said he joked with Bowness and his wife that they probably regretted seeing his phone number when he called to see if Bowness would want to coach the Jets and delay his retirement plans in 2022.

That led to Bowness quipping how that call, “took me off the golf course.”

“We asked them to put their lives on hold to come to Winnipeg and help give this group a voice, a different path, some strong structure,” Cheveldayoff said. “Just listening to hear Rick talk just right now, those are the things being around Rick that you sit and think about each and every day. I think I have a greater appreciation for the National Hockey League and what it means to be in the National Hockey League each and every day for being around Rick and how he carried himself and what he talked about.”