Rick Bowness doesn’t mind being the second choice.
The new Winnipeg Jets head coach took part in his first news conference Monday, a little more than a week after first target Barry Trotz declined the team’s offer because the veteran wanted to spend more time with his family.
“If I’m in his chair, I’m going after Trotzy, too. I am. It’s that simple,” Bowness said with a laugh, referring to Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff sitting beside him.
“Trotzy is the perfect guy for this, I get that. With his résumé, I would have done the same thing Chevy did. I got a nice text from Trotzy a couple days ago, but it didn’t work out and that’s fine. So do I feel bad about second choice? Absolutely not. I would have done the same thing. He would have been my first choice”
Cheveldayoff said his pivot to Bowness was made quickly.
“If you ever get a chance to sit one-on-one, [Bowness is] easy to talk to, very engaging and that’s what players are looking for,” Cheveldayoff said.
“They’re looking to be heard, but yet they want to know that someone is in charge. Over that evolution process of his career, I think that’s probably been one of the most remarkable things, his ability to evolve and connect with today’s players.”
Cheveldayoff said he talked to about a dozen candidates, including many who got head coaching jobs elsewhere such as John Tortorella (Philadelphia) and Bruce Cassidy (Vegas).
Bowness stepped down as head coach of the Dallas Stars after the season, explaining he felt the club needed a “new voice.”
The 67-year-old native of Moncton guided the Stars to an 89-62-25 record in 176 regular-season games over almost three seasons and an 18-16 mark in the playoffs. His record as an NHL head coach is 211-351-76 over parts of 12 seasons.
Dallas lost in overtime in Game 7 to Calgary in the first round of this year’s playoffs. It reached the 2020 Stanley Cup final in the playoff bubble in Edmonton and lost to Tampa Bay.
Bowness, who signed a two-year contract Sunday, is the Jets’ eighth head coach in franchise history and third since the club’s relocation to Winnipeg from Atlanta in 2011.
The Jets missed the playoffs this year for the seventh time since the relocation.
Many players expressed frustration about the season, which included Paul Maurice unexpectedly resigning as head coach last December. The club finished with interim bench boss Dave Lowry and went 39-32-11.
Bowness said he’s talked to some Jets players already, including centre Mark Scheifele, but only exchanged messages so far with captain Blake Wheeler.
When Scheifele met with the media at the end of the season, he said he wanted to know the direction of the team and implied he might want to be traded because he was so unhappy.
Bowness said he and Scheifele discussed that and the conversation went well.
“Honestly, when I hung up from him I was very encouraged,” Bowness said. “And I know he’s a great player and he’s a huge part of any success this team is going to have.
“And you talk about buy-in, it just sounded to me, just with the tone of his voice and the words, that he’s in. And he’s all-in. And I look forward to working with him.”
The Jets were also seeking someone with a connection to Winnipeg. Bowness has that.
The former right-wing ended his 173-game NHL playing career with Winnipeg. He played 45 games for the Jets in the 1980-81 season and played and coached with the organization for nine seasons until 1988-89. He was head coach for the team’s last 28 games in 1988-89.
Bowness said he turned down three coaching positions since leaving the Stars, but none were for a head coach.
He was excited when Cheveldayoff called him and said he took the job because it wasn’t a rebuild and he could “work with good people, work with a good team in a great market like Winnipeg.”
“There was something missing there,” Bowness said of the Jets last season. “I’m not getting into it because I wasn’t here. It just got derailed a little bit.
“But if you go back and you look at the roster, how competitive they were for a while, it’s there. We just have to work together, all of us, players included, to get it back.”
Bowness has already hired former Jets player Scott Arniel, an assistant with the Washington Capitals this year, as associate coach. Goaltending coach Wade Flaherty was the only assistant retained at the end of the season.